Aladdin - Review
Another Disney live action remake of one of their animated classics was released this month in the form of Aladdin. While I had my reservations about Guy Ritchie’s live action version, for the most part it was a perfectly entertaining crowd pleaser that did exactly what it was supposed to.
A straight up remake is never going to work, because there is no point to seeing it. You might as well just watch the original again. An adaptation that is so far removed from the original source material that it feels like something else entirely doesn't work either. It might as well just be something else entirely. These Disney movies have to trigger nostalgia by giving you iconic moments, yet offer something fresh and new at the same time, without insulting the original vision. It is a very fine line to walk.
Aladdin has a few bumps and bruises from trying to walk that walk, but it still completes the task. The movie expands on the animated classic, while still staying true to the essence of the characters. Even the aesthetics of Agrabah, and the costumes worn by the main character look exactly like how you’d expect them to look. They have more of a real feel, yet are still visually reminiscent of the animated characters.
Mena Massoud was the perfect choice for Aladdin. He had the charm, physicality, and voice to pull the character off. He was instantly endearing, and there was no doubt that he was Aladdin. Naomi Scott was the real MVP of the film though. She provided a depth to Jasmine that was hitherto unseen from the character since her introduction into the Disney canon in 1992. This version of the character is far superior to her animated counterpart, and that is a difficult thing to do, given how special the animated version is to people.
Perhaps the most difficult role in the movie though, was that of Will Smith’s Genie. He had the monumental task of taking over for Robin Williams, who I assume would have been offered the role if he was alive today. The comparisons are inevitable, but treat the Genie like you would a superhero. Adam West is Batman. Michael Keaton is also Batman. So is Christian Bale. All 3 have vastly different takes on the character, yet all three are beloved from their time as the Caped Crusader. More importantly, all 3 captured the essence of what Batman is. Smith did the same thing for the Genie. He was able to turn in a performance reminiscent of Williams, but it wasn't a copy or an impression. He made it his own, yet still kept what made the Genie so fun there throughout the entire movie.
The introduction of Nasim Pedrad as Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia allowed for there to be a parallel love story running alongside Aladdin and Jasmine's. In doing so, Aladdin serves as a live action remake of its animated predecessor, and a spiritual sequel to Will Smith’s Hitch from 2005 at the same time.
Unexpectedly, one of my favorite character journeys in the film was that of the Numan Acar’s Hakim, who was a soldier for the Sultan (Navid Negahban). The movie would have been able to survive without it, but it was a nice little touch that made the story, and that world all the better.
On the flip side of "interesting characters" was Marwan Kazari’s one-dimensional Jafar. He had mustache twirling intentions, just like the animated version. While the film took the time to make Jasmine a deeper, richer, and more driven character, it did nothing of the sort for Jafar. He was a utility villain, used as a catalyst to further story, nothing more. His character development was utterly non-existent.
Outside of the Genie, the other non-human roles were used mostly as comic relief, or plot devices. Raja the tiger, Abu the monkey, the magic carpet, and Iago the parrot all served their purpose to the story. Inanimate objects being characters is a tried and true trope. From Doctor Strange’s cape in the MCU, to Mr. Weasley’s car in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, or the TARDIS from Doctor Who, giving a non-living thing, living characteristics always makes for a fun moment.
The most important thing to get right in these adaptations is the music. After all, those are the most iconic things about the film they are remaking. Aladdin hits all the right notes with the music, though some of the updated lyrics don’t land as well as they should. The new music, which lets Scott shine even brighter, is a nice addition that fits right in with the classics people have come to love. Having Massoud sing the lyrics while running looked like a bit of a technical cheat, and they didn’t quite pull it off as well as they should have. The scenes where he is running but singing at the same time looks like they slowed the background down, and sped the foreground up while dubbing the words. This was more noticeable in 3D than it probably would be in 2D, but it was definitely noticeable nonetheless. I might not have what they did exactly right, but there was something off about how those scenes looked.
The way Genie moved looked like it contained some shoddy CGI at times too. It was actually quite jarring when Genie would go from human form, to Genie and back quickly. The way the Genie moved felt choppy and not at all organic or natural. It is hard to say that was an aesthetic choice, as it is only present in some scenes. In others, Smith’s blue genie form moves around quite smoothly.
There were moments in the film that were pretty low-energy. They almost felt like they were doing a high school play. But just as it was really starting to deflate, the charm or humor of one of the other characters would kick in, and it picked the movie back up again.Then there is the matter of Aladdin's regression, which lasts for all of 2 minutes before he "learns his lesson". The animated version actually did that part of his character journey better. It felt like that was thrown in there as an after thought, like it had to be in there even though Ritchie and Co. didn't want to deal with it. The uneven tone hurt the overall feel of the movie, but not so much to keep it from being enjoyable.
All in all, Aladdin gave the summer blockbuster movie crowds what they wanted, while making a statement of its own. There are worse ways to spend two hours in the air conditioning, that’s for sure.
Aladdin is in theaters everywhere.