From the company who brought you Hermione Granger as Belle, and Angelina “I’ll-Adopt-You” Jolie as the malevolent fairy Maleficent—comes the tale of a politically correct Agrabah, a Power Ranger princess, and a toothy street rat. It seems like the very moment Aladdin was greenlit under the tutelage of Director Guy Ritchie, the project experienced immense scrutiny. It’s not that fans weren’t seemingly eager to see a live-action rendition of this beloved Disney classic, but the undertaking of creating a suitable translation almost seemed unimaginable. It’s safe to say the majority of hesitance stemmed from the fact that comedy legend Robin Williams not around to reprise his iconic role of Genie. Understandable as that worry might have been, the creative team behind Aladdin decided it wasn’t reason enough to deny audiences of their spectacle. If Broadway could find a solution to that conundrum, so could they. And that’s where this film shines brightest, it’s filled with creative problem-solving. No obstacle was too great to recast, rehash, or refurbish. It’s the stuff of fan-servicing wish fulfillment, genies need not apply.
Welcome To Agrabah
Aladdin follows many of the same beats as the original, not straying too far from the source material, but it’s by no means a shot for shot recreation. Ritchie provides a new take on the tale, it’s modern, feminist, and beautifully diverse. Agrabah is still a bustling, merchant-filled kingdom but it feels more politically and racially aware. This mindful depiction goes a long way, proving that it’s possible to tell a story set in the past without being accosted with jarring, insensitive tropes. It’s not a change that feels forced either. The culture resonates as natural and appropriate. Agrabah represents everyone.
Never Had A Cast Like Them
Selecting the correct actors for a film as important as Aladdin is no small feat, but Casting Director Lucinda Syson’s choices paid off tenfold. Mena Massoud is the perfect Aladdin, with a smile that is eerily similar to the cartoon counterpart. His heroic heart is evenly paired with relatable self-doubt, making him the underdog you can’t help but root for. Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) is undoubtedly the crown jewel of the film. She’s determined to take care of her kingdom, and leave a mark on her family’s royal legacy. The two leads are perfectly rounded out with Will Smith who brings his own hip-hop flavor to the Genie of the lamp. This is not a Genie you’ve seen before, but a great one none the less. He’s charismatic, bubbly, and humorous in a way that does not feel reductive of Willaims’ prior portrayal.
Jafar (Marwan Kaenzari) felt the most different tonally, but change felt mostly purposeful. He was presented in a more grounded regard, as an ex-street rat vying climb the kingdom’s ranks to assume power. A scarier performance might have felt in line with what audiences were anticipating, but he was believable in the context of Ritchie’s universe. Nasim Pedrad was a welcome addition as Jasmine’s handmaiden, Dalia, and the Sultan (Naveed Negahban) was maybe the most accurately depicted of all. His performance was incredible! Negahban embodied the kind ruler, with overwhelming affection for his only daughter.
Alan Menken: Sultan of Sounds
When Alan Menken is onboard, your film is guaranteed to have a magnificent soundtrack. He knocked the score out of the park, yet again (no surprise). Some of the songs are slower or paced differently to accommodate dialogue or action sequences but they all are nearly equal parallels to their predecessors. Will Smith brings his energy and rap-fueled skillset to “Prince Ali” and “Friend Like Me” and it just works. DJ Khaled brings his screaming to the “Friend Like Me (End Title)” and he…serves his purpose.
In an effort to consistently keep things fresh, songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land) were tasked by Menken to create new music for the movie. The fruit of their labor was “Speechless”, Jasmine’s breakout song where she asserts her status a woman who will not sit down and be quiet in the face of adversity. The song is powerful, it feels a little misplaced in the pipeline of the film, but that doesn’t make it any less catchy. This is one princess who has always deserved a musical moment of her own, and at last, she has one. Wherever Jafar’s grandiose, Disney villain song may be, that is yet to be determined.
Shining, Shimmering Improvements
True fans of the first Aladdin are bound to love the meticulous attention to detail that went into elevating the storyline and fixing some of the questionable moments from the animated feature. There are countless positive changes (like the melted treasure all over the Cave of Wonders, ooh ahhh). The words to “Arabian Nights” were altered to be less distasteful, the guard doesn’t threaten to cut off Jasmine’s hand in the marketplace—the list goes on and on in the best of ways. One of the biggest controversies from the original was that Aladdin did not actually make three wishes. While he’s drowning underwater, Genie rushes to Aladdin’s aide and that act is silently counted as a second wish. The live-action film does away with this problem by having Aladdin sign a contract, binding Genie to use a wish to rescue him upon sudden doom.
Genie’s concept of gray area wishes makes Jafar’s demise to be far more believable. No one would accidentally wish themselves into shackles. But if you wish to be “the most powerful being in the universe” that leaves a great window for trickery. Shortly after, Aladdin using his third wish to turn Genie human was a great payoff for Smith’s character. This sub-plot perfectly circled back to the beginning to give audiences a dose of proper validation.
Jasmine was subject to much change. In this iteration, Scott aspires to be Sultan of Agrabah. She is still against marrying for anything but true love, but her dreams of leadership take precedence over all else. Even finding love at all. Scenes like fifteen-year-old Jasmine seducing Jafar from noticing Aladdin from sneaking into the palace have been swiftly cut. In their place, scenes that showcased the princess’ intellect were added. Most notably, where she asks Prince Ali to locate Ababwa on a map because she is unsure of his questionable backstory.
There was not a lot left to be desired from Aladdin, but it’s not an entirely perfect adaptation either. Most of the important plot pieces were present, but a few opportunities were missed. Mainly at the beginning of the story, the audience has very little time getting to know Aladdin away from Jasmine. Her inclusion in “One Jump Ahead” was a smart way to build their characters’ bond, but kind of left Aladdin playing to a stranger’s needs without conveying any of his own. A brief moment to sing “Proud of Your Boy” from the Broadway musical or even, just some additional dialogue with Abu could have done the trick to bridge the gap. The abundant chase sequences were very true to Guy Ritchie’s style but came off as too quick to take in. Too many cuts and unique framing made the pacing a little hard to follow, but that was rectified by the second half of the film.
Jasmine ditched both her red and purple cartoon outfits. Quite possibly, they held negative connotations from the animated feature—but it would have been cool to see translations of her classic wardrobe (much like they did with her teal outfit, inserting the flesh-color pieces in the midriff read as skin without being revealing), instead of just giving her new clothing (although it was beautiful). Sidenote: to those who feel the void of the hourglass sequence, this princess isn’t to be caged. A jail rendering her helpless would only pedal against the independent princess Naomi Scott was aiming to depict.
Lastly, the biggest outstanding issue fell to genie-Jafar, he wasn’t monstrous enough, red enough, his ears weren’t pointed enough. This was his big finale to appear truly frightening, but instead, his design comes across as a bit too human-esque and even fails to successfully mirror Smith’s genie. Another respectable attempt at pseudo-realism, but sometimes pure fantasy is the necessary evil.
The critics unfairly judged this film. Point blank. Callous pre-viewing assumptions lead too many people to guestimate what Aladdin should be, instead of going in with an open mind, and witnessing what Aladdin in 2019 could be. It’s surely different, but different is never inherently bad. Aladdin delivers a colorful experience that people of all ages can enjoy. Whether you’re a fan of the original or coming in with fresh eyes, it will lift your spirits, delight your ears, and whisk you away to a whole new world.
What was your favorite part of Aladdin? Let us know in a comment below.
Aladdin is in theaters now