Cast: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Marwan Kenzari
Director: Guy Ritchie
Tread lightly Disney, you’re in dangerous territory with this one. 1992’s Aladdin is my second-favorite animated movie of all time and I don’t need you going around messing with something that is already borderline perfect. But here we are, so let’s do this shall we? Does 2019’s Aladdin have the same charm and charisma that 1992’s did? Is it a complete dud that has Robin Williams spinning in his grave? What if I said it’s somewhere in the middle. While some of Ritchie’s directorial decisions weigh the film down, Aladdin is a fine addition to the live-action Disney movies and a good introductory movie to younger generations before showing 1992’s greatness.
The film follows Aladdin (Massoud), a petty thief in the streets of Agrabah who does whatever he needs to in order to survive. When he comes across Jasmine (Scott), the Princess of Agrabah, they develop feelings for each other but are separated by the law which states Jasmine must marry a prince. When Jafar (Kenzari), the Sultan’s chief advisor, finds a use of Aladdin, he takes Aladdin to the Cave of Wonders where he must acquire a magical lamp and in return Jafar will help him with Jasmine. After a mishap, Aladdin ends up with the lamp and unleashes Genie (Smith) an all-powerful being who grants Aladdin three wishes. Together, these two head back to Agrabah to get Jasmine to fall in love with Aladdin while also trying to avoid Jafar’s scheme. I’ll start off with the main negative of this movie, the first act is absolutely jarring and made me think I was in for a very rough 128 minutes. Aladdin’s introductory song may have some of the choppiest editing I’ve seen in years. The running sequences with Aladdin and Jasmine look like old footage of Lou Gehrig running around the bases and really shouldn’t look that way. If Buster Keaton directed this movie that would be acceptable, but come on Guy, it’s 2019, we can do better. Outside of Aladdin’s first song, I wasn’t impressed with how they changed Jasmine’s motivation when she’s looking for a husband. In the 1992 version, Jasmine doesn’t want an arranged marriage because she wants to fall in love. It’s been done before, but it makes sense. In this version, Jasmine originally doesn’t want a husband at all and questions why she can’t just rule Agrabah by herself. Considering we know how this story will progress, this decision just looks like Disney trying to be “woke” and then going back to their old ways when it benefits them. On top of this, Jasmine is kind of just thrown into the marketplace and that’s how we first meet her. In the original film, we see her break out of the palace and have a discussion with her father about finding love and how she needs to explore her city. In the 2019 film, Jasmine falls victim to the classic, “show don’t tell,” rule break and these details are told to us by Jasmine during a conversation, thus losing the power that the original movie’s scene had. Moving on to more of the positives, I’ll address the one thing everyone was thinking of before watching this movie; Will Smith as Genie. Now, Robin Williams gave potentially the most iconic animated performance of all time as Genie in the 1992 version and that’s the character many people associate WIlliams with over his illustrious career. With that in mind, there was no chance that Smith could ever live up to the expectations set before him, but at the very least he could be likable and not weigh the movie down. Fortunately, Smith is probably the best part of this movie. He brings the comic relief so desperately needed in this movie and it doesn’t come across as cheesy or forced. Sure it doesn’t compete with what Williams did before him, but it isn’t distracting and Williams would be proud with what Smith did. Outside of Smith, the film pretty much sticks to the original movie and presents what really looks like an updated, live-action version of the 1992. It doesn’t feel quite as fresh or original as the 1992 film, but it’s still very entertaining. As with any remake, there are some new additions to make it something that audiences haven’t seen before and these are mostly songs for Jasmine. I don’t exactly believe these songs were necessary, but Scott handled the role of Jasmine very well and was probably the second best performance behind Smith. One of the other changes the film makes is that Genie is given a love interest; Dalia (Nasim Pedrad) the handmaiden to Jasmine. I don’t mind this addition as it gives Genie and extra level of motivation with his desire for freedom and Pedrad is good enough in the role where her scenes feel special. Aladdin is a very mixed bag of a movie, which is why it’s so difficult to review. I think if 1992’s version didn’t exist, critics and audiences alike would enjoy this movie more, but due to the expectations set before it, this film probably won’t receive the praise it deserves.
Overall, Aladdin is a fun yet flawed movie that most people will enjoy but purists will probably have a problem with. I don’t particularly love Ritchie as a director and believe some of his choices ended up harming the film, and the interesting thing is that the original directors of the 1992 movie are still working for Disney. Maybe Disney wanted something different this time around, but different doesn’t always mean better. Aladdin is a few decisions away from being a pretty good remake and one that would probably stand out among the others, but by playing it safe, Disney failed to capitalize on a massive opportunity even if the box office says otherwise.
Overall Score: 5.5/10