Of all of Disney’s animated features over the years, not many are as beloved as Aladdin. Released in 1992 it was a sweeping commercial and critical success. The soundtrack has been a staple for 90s kids for the past two decades too.
Whether it was a 12th birthday party or drunken karaoke at 2 am, songs from Aladdin have been a huge part of growing up. Robin Williams’ incredible, infectious and energetic performance as The Genie is iconic as are Agrabah, Iago and the Cave of Wonders.
So then, it goes without saying that the live-action remake has some very large shoes to fill. Impossibly high expectations aren’t generally conducive to successes but thankfully Director Guy Ritchie has pulled it off.
Seeing Ritchie’s name at the beginning of the screening was certainly strange and I wondered just what I would be in for. That coupled with the casting of Will Smith as the Genie certainly made for some trepidation.
Thankfully, it was unfounded.
After a wobbly opening with a human Will Smith telling his children the story of Aladdin and the Lamp, the action shifts over to Agrabah and begins in earnest.
Sweeping shots of Agrabah give way to street level hustle and bustle showing a city in full swing. Ritchie is in full musical theatre mode here as the opening number “One Jump Ahead” kicks things into top gear.
We’re introduced to Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Abu — his faithful monkey — as they steal and scam their way around the streets. Massoud is absolutely perfect in the role. He has the confident cockiness and swagger that the character needs with just the right amount of boyish charm and wit.
The same can be said of Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine. However, in the years since Aladdin was first released, the trope of the damsel in distress has been, thankfully, mostly tossed aside.
Scott’s Jasmine remains faithful to the original character but is even more fiercely independent and self-assured. Her new, original song “Speechless” might well be an anthem for ‘Me Too’ and puts into song her desire to be more than dowry for whatever prince ultimately takes the throne.
Also unlike the original Jasmine, Scott’s is more concerned with being a fair ruler and providing for her citizens and has almost no interest in the pomp and pageantry of “Prince Ali.” His bluster doesn’t play well with her as she’s more interested in the real world than the royal one she knows from behind the palace walls.
Cave of Wonders
While Massoud and Scott are both wonderful in their respective roles, the highest praise has to be saved for Will Smith. Stepping into any role made famous by Robin Williams must be an insane prospect for any actor, but to bring to life a cartoon character voiced by Williams is on a whole other level.
The trailers did nothing to put to rest any fears that Smith may have been miscast and the “blue face” looked utterly terrifying. However, Smith is fantastic.
Instead of trying to recreate what Williams did, Smith’s Genie is something different. Sure, this new Genie comes from the same town as Williams’ but they live in different suburbs.
Smith’s Genie is brash and brazen and far more cocky than his cartoon counterpart. While the script is largely the same, Smith riffs more with the rhythm of the words instead of doing accents and impressions. There’s also quite a lot of Jonathan Van Ness in the Genie’s personality, especially when he’s making Aladdin into Prince Ali.
Watching Smith play the Genie it’s impossible not to see him having an absolute ball and his rendition of “Friend Like Me” isn’t the hip-hop recreation I feared. It’s pretty traditional with just enough Big Willy Style to make it pop.
For all of its successes, of which there are many, Aladdin does have a few problems. Marwan Kenzari’s casting as Jafar is great, but he veers too far to the pure evil side of the character’s personality for my liking.
He’s less charming and oozy and instead just a straight up bastard. It doesn’t suit the tone of the story or the film however Kenzari manages to still play it with some subtlety.
The Sultan is also changed and now not played for laughs, though that actually works in the film’s favour with the changes made to Jasmine. Some of the visual effects are a bit wonky too, especially those involving blue Will Smith.
On the whole, the visuals are bright, cartoony and suitably panoramic. The way Aladdin has been filmed gives it an unreal quality and almost looks like a live-action cartoon.
Some sections are oddly slowed down or sped up to emphasise the action and depth of field keeping both the background and foreground in focus really add to the live-action cartoon imagery.
Overall, Aladdin is a huge success and stays true to what made the original so beloved while updating it for 2019. Jasmine’s transformation from damsel into heroine is wonderful to see while Massoud is a picture perfect Aladdin.
The real star of the show is Will Smith though, who, like Robin Williams before him, uses the Genie to steal the show.
Fans of the original will adore it and it’s sure to please a whole generation of new fans too.
PowerUp! attended a preview screening of Aladdin as a guest of Disney Australia.
Movie title: Aladdin
Date published: 2019-05-23
Director(s): Guy Ritchie
Actor(s): Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith