A kind-hearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Guy Ritchie, John August (Screenplay by), Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio (based on Aladdin screenplay by)
Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen
The latest live-action remake to come out of Disney’s pipeline is here and this time it’s Aladdin. Aladdin hasn’t had the smoothest ride to the big screen with casting issues, accusations of colourism and the internet’s reaction to Will Smith as Genie at several points before the film’s release. While this version is unlikely to replace the 1992 animated film as people’s preferred version of the Aladdin story, it is a bit of fun and a solid modernisation of the story.
Plotwise, Aladdin is almost beat for beat the same as the animated version. Street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud) meets Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) in the markets of Agrabah as she’s sneaked out of the palace and they have an instant connection. Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the Royal Vizier convinces Aladdin to go into a mysterious cave and retrieve a oil lamp in exchange for enough gold to impress a princess. After ending up trapped in the cave, Aladdin rubs the lamp which releases the Genie (Will Smith) who grants him 3 wishes.
Guy Ritchie’s take on the classic animated film is more grounded and less cartoony, which to a certain extent makes sense given the transition to live action. This Genie doesn’t change into animals or different people, Iago only says a few words at a time like a real parrot and they don’t travel to various famous landmarks around the world in “A Whole New World”. Even the Cave of Wonder is just a tiger shaped cave in a rock cliff rather than a magical cave that appears out of the desert sands.
Will Smith’s take on the role of The Genie is certainly going to be divisive. It is only natural that anyone playing that would be compared to Robin William’s performance. The film and Will Smith do the smart thing and play to his strengths and rarely try to replicate William’s manic and cartoony interpretation, with the performance of “Friend Like Me” the one exception. Smith is charming, fast talking and slowly wins you over. The scenes where he is just having a conversation with Aladdin are the strongest in the film. He even evokes his role in Hitch, especially when he is trying to help ‘Prince Ali’ impress Jasmine and The Sultan. The Blue Genie CGI is not going to work for everyone but at a certain point in the film, I just accepted that that is how he looks and went along with it.
Naomi Scott’s role as Jasmine has been significantly beefed up and is honestly the best justification for this movie to exist. Rather than being just upset that decisions are being made for her and that she needs to marry a prince, Jasmine wants to take over the role of Sultan from her father and help the people of Agrabah as their ruler. There is definitely more of an emphasis on Jasmine being a driving force in the film rather than an idle passenger. Her role is helped by the addition of Nasim Pedrad’s Dalia as another woman for her interact. Pedrad is also very amusing, especially in her interactions with the Genie, and has a fun dynamic with Scott.
Mena Massoud is solid in the lead role, being charming, funny or awkward when required and just generally being likable. There is a slightly off moment where Aladdin considers not keeping his promise to Genie which felt out of character, but it was kind of out of character in the original too so… Marwan Kenzari is ok as Jafar but is definitely the weak link. I feel like he was a bit to young, a bit too loud or visibly angry and was missing a talkative Iago to bounce off and explain why he was doing what he was doing. He also isn’t helped by an incredibly rushed final act that feels like it is sprinting to the finish line while we had previously been going at a comfortable pace.
Visually, Aladdin is a real treat. Agrabah looks like a place you would actually want to go to instead of the bunch of buildings in the desert that are depicted in the animated version. The “Prince Ali” number is very impressive as is “Friend Like Me”. Admittedly, the Cave of Wonder is not very wonder-inducing and some of the CGI is not great, particularly in the final act. I also find it very amusing that several characters are way more clothed in this than they were in the animated film. It is honestly surprising there wasn’t at least one scene with Aladdin just wear his vest but the costuming is top notch across the board.
Set the unenviable task of living up to the beloved animated classic, Aladdin is a fun ride that, while never quite hitting the levels of the original, has a lot of nice updates and changes that make it a worthwhile time investment.