I’ve been skeptical for a while of the Disney live-action-remake-moneymaking-wave that everyone seems to be riding on, so I wasn’t particularly excited for Guy Richie’s Aladdin. The trailer left me unimpressed and somewhat overwhelmed, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it more than I expected to!
The beginning was a little shaky, grounding itself as a new perspective on something familiar – throwing us straight into the boy-meets-girl story-line, so it isn’t quite a “whole new world”, but I’m not expecting that from any Disney nostalgia-fest. The plot also follows the original animated film, reusing elements of the script and characterization. Some of this works – if it’s not broken, etc. – but sometimes it included a few stereotypes that should have been erased. The new characters, songs and dialogue (especially those centered around the female characters) are relevant to a modern audience, focusing on women’s rights and empowerment to address the sexist tones of the original, where Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) had been the only main speaking female character. However, the remake still fails to pass the Bechdel Test; the additional female handmaiden translates to me like a “boy-obsessed” teenager.
With that being said, I was very impressed by the cast with Mena Massoud really standing-out as a newcomer. I found that he really embodied the awkward yet adorable character of Aladdin for a new audience. Will Smith did his best to fill the very large shoes that Robin Williams left behind with his beloved vision of the Genie; at times the script fell a little flat, as it really required the original chaotic energy that Williams brought through his constant improvisation and the character being built around his humor.
Still, there was some excellent new content from Smith bringing elements of his own personality into the character – especially shining in the somewhat improvised and definitely awkward “jam” scene. Some musical scenes and characters definitely look better through the art of animation, so I was very distracted whenever the blue-version of Genie was on screen – it felt out of sync, on a similar level as glitchy video game.
Another character I really focused on is Jafar. As an all-round Disney fanatic, my favorites are always the villains and always feel let down with the live-action incarnations. Patrick Stewart apparently campaigned for the role after regretting turning it down in 1992; given the backlash to rumors of Tom Hardy, though, this probably wouldn’t have been well-received, and would have taken away from the 90% non-white cast. Regardless, Marwan Kenzari (also known as “Hot Jafar” on set) performed well with the script and direction he was given.
I do find that live-action villains aren’t nearly as expressive and the on-screen villainy isn’t as intense; with the remakes I feel there’s more pressure to be realistic with a physical performance rather than voice-acting, and perhaps the fear of embarrassment is a factor with portraying an exaggerated villain if the risk doesn’t pay off. I was disappointed that they didn’t include the over-the-top “Prince Ali” villainous reprise (the one part that gives Jafar a rare musical moment!). The villains are usually the most memorable characters for me, so I’m surprised that he was outshone by a CGI carpet.
The singing ability across the cast was, again, better than I expected; after being let down with the huge amount of auto-tune in the Beauty and the Beast remake, it was a nice surprise to find that the songs sounded natural, though the additional songs felt very modern compared to the rest of the score. I will admit I really enjoyed “Prince Ali” as it’s one of my favorite Disney songs; it translated really well as a live-action piece with the energy and vibrancy it brought to the screen.
The traditional dancing and costuming also brought this vibrant energy throughout the film – bringing elements from the Broadway musical. It’s something I feel doesn’t stand out in the animated version as all of the characters appear in the same style throughout, so here, Jasmine’s extensive costume changes and the party scene gave the opportunity to portray the culture on-screen further to a broader mainstream audience.
However, comparing this vibrancy to the CGI locations, scenes seemed very busy and cluttered – and this was certainly the case in some locations, with the Cave of Wonders’ background scenery taking my concentration away from the plot (although of course, anyone who’s seen CGI blue Will might think that’s a good thing). The scene cluttering was my major gripe for the film as a whole; sometimes there was too much happening with questionable editing choices, sometimes scenes felt bland without the vibrant colors which the fictional Agrabah setting could lend itself to.
So if you’re looking for a familiar, fun, family-friendly film to fill your time – Disney’s live-action reincarnation of Aladdin might be the movie to grant your wishes. It isn’t a whole new take on ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, whilst including small links to the other stories; I wouldn’t describe it as a Cave of Wonders, more like a Diamond in the Rough of Disney remakes – however, you could always watch the animated film straight after like I did.
Aladdin is now available in theaters worldwide.