Aladdin (1992), created during the “Disney Renaissance”, is one of my favorite Disney animated features. In some ways, it’s the first full Disney animated comedy, thanks to Robin Williams’ impeccable, improvisational performance as Genie. So, when they announced a live-action remake, as part of their recent remake spree, with Guy Ritchie directing, I was actually expecting it to be a bit of a disaster. Thankfully, in spite of some bad marketing, I’m happy to report that this Aladdin remake is perfectly serviceable, blue Will Smith and all. I don’t think it’ll knock your socks off, but if you have a family, or are young at heart, I’m sure you will have a good time.
In terms of the plot, much like the recent Beauty and The Beast (2017), this version of Aladdin is virtually the same as the original in that Aladdin is a street urchin, who falls in love with Princess Jasmine, and ends up discovering a lamp where a genie (Will Smith) can grant him three wishes, while Jafar the Grand Vizier, who conspires to rule Agrabah, covets the map and genie. The ordering of events, however, are not the same. Instead of moving from the Arabian Nights sequence to Jafar at the Cave of Wonders and the One Jump Ahead sequences, this version skips right to Aladdin meeting Jasmine after we’ve been introduced to Will Smith. This robs Aladdin of a strong character introduction for the audience, as well as, takes away the mystery of The Cave of Wonders and Jafar’s threat, which instead, gets a passing throwaway glimpse during the Arabian Nights sequence.
Will Smith wisely doesn’t try to emulate Robin Williams, save for a few moments during the obligatory big numbers, and this leads to a cool spin on this character. Probably one of the best performances from Will Smith I’ve seen in some years, he really looks like he’s having a ball in the role. They added a romantic subplot for Genie with a new character named Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), Jasmine’s comic relief housemaiden. I actually thought their chemistry was more believable than the one between Aladdin and Jasmine.
Naomi Scott as Jasmine is actually pretty solid, she’s even got a nice singing voice, as heard in the film’s new tune, Speechless. Mena Massoud, who plays Aladdin, grew on me, and the “handsome” Jafar (Marwen Kenzari) is not the disaster I expected him to be, but any threat of this character is taken away immediately the minute he appears on screen, and speaks meekly compared to the animated character. I did miss the bickering between Jafar and Iago, who in this version is just a normal parrot. That said, there are some laughs to be had with this film, the majority of them coming from Genie. Abu, Aladdin’s sidekick monkey and a CGI creation was a little off, but the interior of The Cave of Wonders were solid. The interpretations of the original songs and music, with Alan Menken returning, just like he did with the Beauty and The Beast remake.
As far as live-action remakes of Disney films go, Aladdin falls squarely in the middle. Who knows, maybe if your kids like the film enough, they might want to seek out the earlier animated version, which is hard to top.
Now playing in Hanover at The Nugget Theater, Monday - Thursday at 4:10 in 3D, and 6:40, Friday and Saturday at 1:30, 4:10 in 3D, 6:40, and 9:10, and Sunday at 1:30, 4:10 in 3D, and 6:40 PM