Review: Aladdin (2019)

One of my very favorite Disney movies growing up, I was a little concerned about this one after seeing the first trailer. It looked very shot-for-shot, and I did not like when Beauty and the Beast did that a couple years back. But I will say that after seeing Aladdin last night, I was impressed with what they did. This live-action reminds me of The Jungle Book (2016) in how it was ultimately brought back to life. There were many of the same shots and lines and songs, but several things were changed to help the story make more sense and I believe that it works as a movie in and of itself.
Everyone should know the story of Aladdin, so I’m not going to even bother laying out the plot for this one. This movie does play with the loose parts of story line a bit, but I’ll go into more details with that. Overall, there are four things that I would like to focus on: 1) The Genie, 2) The score (particularly the sing-alongs), 3) The cast, and 4) The additions/changes.
Definitely the biggest role in the animated classic was The Genie, voiced by the great Robin Williams. It’s one of those actor-character pairings that was an absolutely perfect match, no reservations. Knowing this, there was a lot of speculation about Will Smith reprising the role. I heard plenty of, “He looks ridiculous!” and “He’s can’t do what Robin Williams did!” and even “I don’t him to ruin the music by singing!” I couldn’t believe the backlash, especially when it’s Will Smith! Will he replace Williams? Definitely not. But can he hold his own? 100%. Yes, he looks a little ridiculous. But other than that, he adapts Genie to fit this film, and I think people forget that he started his career singing and has been acting in the spotlight for 25 years. His Genie worked for me. He was funny, stylish, and sounded pretty good too. They even added some more character development with him in a little side-story that I thought was a nice touch. And most importantly, he plays just as big a part of this in the original Aladdin.
The other thing I remember most about Aladdin was the musical numbers: One Jump Ahead, Friend Like Me, Prince Ali, A Whole New World. They are all so memorable, and some of the most iconic Disney songs from that era. And I think they were also adapted well to fit this movie. Will Smith’s musical performances definitely resonated that of the previous film, but with his own flair and hip-hop/rap background. The new soundtrack likely won’t be as “sing-along-able” as the original, but kids today should find it just as fun as kids like myself did 27 years ago. Falling in step with other recent live-action remakes, Jasmine is given a new song to sing, “Speechless.” I liked this song and the message behind it, and thought it fit her character in this film.
Next, the cast of Aladdin was one of the things I was the most delighted with. Not only did the actors/actresses give great performances, but there was only one notable White person in the entire movie! The original was definitely of its time, like most other Disney movies back then, including a very poor diversity of ethnical talent. They took a while to find the cast this time around, but I think they did a nice job. Mena Massoud did a fantastic job bringing the titular character to life, and the new love, sometimes awkward romance between him and Naomi Scott (Jasmine) worked on screen. The actors playing Jafar and Sultan did fine for their characters too, however both were toned down in this film. The Sultan was not as bubbly and care-free, and Jafar was not as mustache-twirling and over-the-top. They’re receiving a lot of negative feedback for this, but I think that as a live-action movie it would have been strange to see their characters acting the same way as their animated counterparts did. And that ties right into my last thoughts on the changes and additions to the movie.
There were several things that this movie did differently, but ultimately I was on board with every single one of them because they either brought something new or fixed something old and outdated. As I already mentioned, a predominantly middle-eastern cast was a much-needed change for live-action. The more realistic nature of Sultan and Jafar fit the setting, including their respective political positions, and I don’t think anything essential was lost in either role. This movie also gave a little more to Jafar to help him be more conniving and “behind-the-scenes evil”. I already touched on Genie’s additional story, and I won’t spoil anything but I think that it was a nice change and added a little something to my interest in his character. It also helped him to not be too ridiculous and tied a nice bow on the entire story. In addition to these, Jasmine has a voice in this movie and is willing to stand up for herself and for what she believes to be both right and important for her people. Her courage was something missing from the animated version. Lastly, and also mostly absent in the original, was any dialogue about the friendship built between Aladdin and Genie. Will Smith does a great job showing and telling his friend how much he cares about him and how far he is willing to go to help do what’s right. Although growing up I knew that Genie was friendly, it was nice to see that highlighted this time around.
I recommend going to see this re-make no matter your age or level of Disney love, but don’t expect it to wow you. Director Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes) has a few scenes that bothered me with slowed-down action and heavy CGI, but overall did nice work, especially with the settings of the city of Agrabah, the Palace, and the Cave of Wonders. Next up is The Lion King, and as Disney continues to do more live-action films, I hope their flair and style continue to improve and fall closer to the approach taken with this one. If you saw the movie before reading this, let me know what you thought, or come back and comment after! Cheers!

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