A modern rendition of the beloved story of a thief who meets a beautiful young princess, finds a lamp and befriends a Genie, and must fight against the evil royal advisor Jafar.
There is no real reason as to why Disney’s new wave of live-action remakes is needed, other than for the studio to gather more money, but some have even shown potential and paid off like The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast. We’ve also recently gotten Dumbo and will soon have a CGI Lion King. However, Aladdin was the one I was most skeptical about because of how close to my heart the original was and how many times I’ve viewed it. There’s so many aspects that can’t be changed or replaced, especially not Robin Williams’ Genie. This live-action rendition finds some highs and lows but ultimately never justifies its existence, but then again, I wasn’t really expecting it to. Aladdin plays it mostly by the books but even when it tries to reinvent itself, it often fails. The musical numbers don’t have much energy into them with weary long takes that don’t feel engaging, and attempts to “modernize” some of the songs with the addition of a drum backdrop was not a good call. We didn’t ask it to beat the original, but we certainly didn’t ask for an autotuned Will Smith singing “Arabian Nights” or a credits version of “Friend Like Me” that includes DJ Khaled. I know, I don’t believe it either. The cast finds some faults to but also brings the film its greatest strengths. Mena Massoud feels like the perfect embodiment of how a live-action Aladdin should look and sound. Naomi Scott is fantastic as Jasmine, who not only has a powerful arc as she seeks to bring Agrabah the true leadership it deserves and speak out against those who silence her and say she is better “seen than heard”, but the actress also has a gorgeous look and singing voice that make her one of the best parts of the film. Will Smith is also one of the most entertaining parts as the Genie. Does he live up to the performance of the role by Robin Williams? No, nobody ever can and it’s too much to ask from someone to do so. However, Smith still captures the fun spirit the Genie has and embraces every moment he has on screen, even though the horrid CGI on his blue form takes some getting used to. My main problem with the cast is definitely Jafar. Growing up, Jafar was one of my favorite Disney villains because of his menacing and thundering presence and how intimidating he felt. Jafar’s execution in this remake is rather weak and annoying, with his monotonous delivery making him feel extremely generic and unlikable. Other great actors cast in the film are Nasim Pedrad, Navid Neghaban, and Billy Magnussen, but they all have to do weird voices throughout the whole film. Pedrad’s new character is a highlight but her unnecessary “elegant” accent slightly bothered me, Neghaban was a good choice for the Sultan by doesn’t have the hilarity and over-the-top personality the Sultan is known for having, and Magnussen had no reason to be in the film and his terrible German accent makes you dislike his new and unnecessary character — he was definitely better off doing other projects.
Aladdin’s real main selling point is nostalgia, as for all of these remakes. Kids will find themselves bopping their heads to tunes like “Friend Like Me” or being enamored by the beloved anthem “A Whole New World”, but when this classic animated adventure was converted to the live-action treatment, it feels like a lot of the wonder was lost. Aladdin and Jasmine’s chemistry, is still there, as well as the friendship between the Genie and the titular character, but what feels loss is the character’s iconic journey from a street thief who steals for himself but also just cares for the other poor people around him, to a selfless, courageous hero who will fight for his love and the kingdom. His arc just doesn’t feel as effective and the movie doesn’t leave us thinking about the films’ themes and emotions like the original did for me all those years. It’s not like all animated stories can perfectly stay effective in all mediums, but Aladdin does definitely suffer from being too close but also changing too much of the wrong things. However, one thing that does land is the humor. There are some fun humorous moments that I did not expect, especially a scene involving a dance. There’s definitely some pacing issues that this remake faces, though. Since the original is 90 minutes but this remake is 130, there feels like a lot of unnecessary filler added to the third act which just makes it tiring and it drags on and doesn’t find much of a point until the climax. The visual look isn’t very impressive either. The cinematography looks so bland, sometimes almost as if someone went to the desert and started shooting on their iPhone. But even the production design isn’t very convincing and it all clearly looks shot on a film set. The movie also fails to capture the vastness of Agrabah that was so intriguing in the first film. Here, everything feels a lot smaller and less striking to the eye, as well as poor CGI for the Genie as well as a few action sequences which aren’t enticing at all. There’s even a character in the final battle who looks like all the DC Extended Universe villains combined, and believe me, that’s not a good thing. Making Iago look like a real parrot takes away all the humorous and cartoonish feel that’s made him a classic role, same with Raja, who’s just a tiger rather than a trusty sidekick for Jasmine. Guy Ritchie’s new Aladdin doesn’t necessarily ruin the film that inspired it, but it certainly doesn’t honor the beauty of the glamour and the story that’s taken us all by awe like something like, say, the new Broadway musical adaptation.
Aladdin clearly didn’t need to be made, but kids will still enjoy a remake that’s, not really different from the original and in the end is just an inferior rendition of a magnificent gem that came before. Despite some entertaining moments but mostly frustrating changes and updates, there isn’t too much to take away except lovable songs you already know, and a strong, fresher arc for Jasmine as well as a standout delivery from Will Smith.