In many ways the lead up to this film reminds me of the death-march that audiences gave Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) before it had released; almost as if audiences (or a loud minority), had announced this movie was destined for failure before it had even released. Funnily enough, just like how Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) turned out to be a perfectly enjoyable adventure film in spite of all of the premature criticism, Aladdin follows in these very same footsteps.
Disney’s attempt at recapturing the whimsical and nostalgic magic of the 1992 classic may not be entirely successful, but what it does capture is perhaps a small identity of its own. Despite the doubts various people had about this film, there are moments in this remake that work quite well, and not in the ways you’d expect; comedy was one of these. To my surprise much of the comedy didn’t come from the comedic relief character of Genie, but from the goofy interactions between the human characters themselves. That’s right, Aladdin finds strength in its characters and genuine connection. I often found myself laughing more at Princess Jasmine’s handmaiden than I did at any character that was intending to comedically central within the script.
And so, this begs the question that everyone wants to know: Did Will Smith’s Genie work? Well, kind of. Simply put, Smith’s Genie just wasn’t as potent of a comedic relief character as audiences will expect; in fact he isn’t much more of a comedic character than Aladdin himself. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it is clear that Smith isn’t trying to replicate anything, most certainly not the legendary Robbin Williams, he wouldn’t dare – instead he is merely placing his own spin on the character, as any actor would do. Sure, he shape-shifts, he jokes around, and he has compassion for Aladdin, but he’s in so many ways a different character. Director Guy Ritchie didn’t want Smith to comedically compete with the glamorous charm and wit of Robin Williams. Instead, we get a version of Genie that aims at being more of a mentor character, and having more human motivations. In summary, Smith’s Genie doesn’t hold a candle to Williams, instead he lights a match and tries his own thing. The wild energy of comedy-centry genie is missed, even though Will does an admirable job here.
With the big blue guy out the way, what of Aladdin himself? Well, Mena Massoud hits his comedic beats better than his emotional ones, convincing me that he’s neither a street rat nor a prince, he’s somewhere in between. Aladdin finds its star power with Naomi Scott’s take on Princess Jasmine, as this remake expands upon her character allowing for Scott’s talent to outshine every other performer. From her singing to her chemistry with Aladdin, Scott does a great job with the romance, unfortunately that chemistry is not reciprocated by Mena Massoud.
As for Jafar, it is clear that actor Marwan Kenzari is not the problem – it was the fact that he was casted for the role. Kenzari displays some admirable acting chops, but this simply isn’t Jafar, and even if this remake was attempting to do a spin on him, he still does not embody any interesting qualities as a standalone interpretation of Jafar. My three wishes? Have an expressive comedian play Genie. Make Jafar a more threatening villain. Balance the story’s pacing.
Guy Ritchie has a certain visual style that usually contains high-octane action and slow-motion shots as well as quick cutting jump cuts. In Aladdin, Ritchie is clearly restrained on a visual level as you can hardly see any of his distinctive visual style with doses of quick cutting jump cuts and slow-motion shots to which they are poorly used. While the camera-work provides high quality spectacle, the films cinematography is let down by poor lighting and a basic colour scheme. In the original Aladdin, a scene that takes place in the cave of wonders, it is beaming with gold from treasures as the colours from the jewels pop and in with contrast; this similar scene in live-action is flooded with a mixture of greys and blacks as the blue genie comes into frame – don’t look for flashy CGI to add anything either.
The fantasy world that takes place in Arabia is hardly explored on a visual note and the cultural inspiration for the design of Agrabah feels more Indian/Moroccan than Arabic. The ostentatious costuming spread throughout this film draws you into the picture and fleshes out the culture of this fantasy world. Where the visual medium doesn’t pull through is when Aladdin relies on its music, as the bells of nostalgia ring through and pull the audience closer to the film. The songs used in this live-action Disney remake once again capture nostalgia and reminded me of why I love this story so much. The addition of new songs is welcomed as they are intended to flesh out certain characters and assisted with excellent production quality. Though hearing DJ Khaled begin to rap during the credits made me want to bury our heads in the sands of Agrabah.
Did the 1992 classic really need a friend like this? Remaking classics will undoubtedly bring in a crowd, but doing so leaves the film’s chest exposed to ruthless comparisons to the source material. In many ways, it’s impossible to “make it its own thing”, as fans take personal ownership of the property. Had the audience’s memory been stripped of the 1992 classic then perhaps the reception would be warmer. In a vacuum, this film is fairly entertaining if it was its own thing; however, we don’t live in that world, the original does exist, and people do remember it, and so the reality is, it doesn’t compare. Perhaps it’d be better if this live-action remake was kept in its lamp, perhaps not. For many, this film is worth it just to witness A Whole New World performed in a new format. One thing I know for sure is that live-action remakes will continue to be divisive.