Aladdin is directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kanzari, Billy Magnussen, Alan Tudyk, Navid Negahban, and Will Smith. This film is the latest addition to Disney’s new wave of live-action remakes hoping to use beloved names to reinvent Disney magic for modern audiences (and, let’s face it, make a few dollars in the process).
For anyone not familiar with this film’s story (which I assume isn’t very many of you), allow me to bring you up to speed. The story follows Aladdin; (Massoud), a kindhearted thief on the streets of Agrabah, a lively city in the Middle East. When he stumbles upon an antique lamp housing a magical genie (Smith) with the power to grant three wishes, he sets out on an adventure to win the admiration of Agrabah’s Princess, Jasmine (Scott). But, when a power-hungry Grand Vizier named Jafar (Kanzari) plots to use the lamp to take over the world, Aladdin must race to stop Jafar and save Agrabah, all the while proving his worth as more than just a street rat.
Nostalgia is known to be a wildly powerful tool for studios and filmmakers to utilize in the circulation of modern pop culture. It’s pretty much the reason us filmgoers are no strangers to an ever-growing number of remakes, reboots, and sequels. But, for as powerful as nostalgia has proven to be on the big screen, it also has a tendency to be a sort of double-edged sword. People can be extremely protective of the properties they held dear in their youth, which is why these cinematic regenerations aren’t always unanimously welcomed in today’s filmgoing market.
Furthermore, many consider various Disney animated classics to be especially sacred ground, one of the most venerated being this film’s 1992 predecessor. After a less-than-average reaction to Dumbo (2019) earlier this year, and a mixed-at-best reception to this film’s trailers, many people were left skeptical if the same magic could be replicated nearly 30 years later for a new audience.
Short of the long, there’s a lot riding on this film. Does it manage to revitalize a whole new world for this generation, yet still maintain the essence and spirit of the beloved original?
Honestly? In a lot of ways, yes, but not without some pretty heavy baggage.
As a bit of a skeptic myself initially, it’s actually quite remarkable how impressed I was by this film. Narratively speaking, it’s largely faithful to the original, (it is a remake, after all) but still manages to add a few new character and plot threads to revamp a story we’re all largely familiar with. Fans of the original will recognize a number of moments and sights throughout the 128-minute runtime, yet will also clearly notice how certain things are expanded on this time around. Despite not always going the distance as fully as it should, there is a very clear effort from this film to be unique, yet stay rooted in the same essence as that which came before it. That’s essentially what a remake should set out to do, and win or lose, I give this movie props for understanding that.
Like I said before, various characters and narrative elements from the original get a bit of an overhaul this time around, ranging from new and original songs to full-on character arcs getting a metaphorical facelift. Furthermore, in being a live-action remake of an animated film, there’s plenty of CGI to go around. While a lot of it is very ambitious and colorful, breathing new life into the world of the film and the city of Agrabah, it, like a number of the other new elements, doesn’t always work in the film’s favor. Basically, a lot of the new stuff works, a lot doesn’t, and what ends up being what for you is going to depend on how attached you are to the original.
As the titular character and therefore one of the largest focuses of the film, Massoud is actually a pretty solid Aladdin. Having not seen him in anything previously, I’m very impressed that his performance wasn’t outright terrible, and I can definitely see him taking on more leading roles in the future with a bit more time and experience. The rest of the cast ranges anywhere from good to serviceable, with one glaring exception that we’ll get to later on. In a shocking turn of events, the only performance in the entire film that I ended up really enjoying/outright loving is the one that many people were convinced was going to be a complete trainwreck.
And that’s Will Smith as the Genie.
From the moment this film’s production was announced, there was one question above many others floating in the atmosphere of the conversation: “Who was going to play the Genie?” Every inch of the grand standard performance left to us by the late Robin Williams oozes brilliance through and through, so filling those shoes and doing the O.G.enie homage would be nothing short of impossible.
And while he doesn’t reach the level that Williams traversed in his performance, (again, an impossible task) Will Smith’s performance as the beloved Disney icon is still full of vibrant energy and charisma, resulting in what is truly the best thing this film has going for it. Smith hits the ground running from his very first seconds onscreen, and embraces all the wild lunacy that comes with a role such as this. Smith’s dedication to his performance combined with some remarkably well-done VFX made for tons of fantastically hilarious and magnificently vibrant moments. Smith is largely absent until the start of the second act, and any moments he isn’t onscreen from there on out are felt with a something of a begrudging dread.
In keeping with its big brother, this film (as I’m sure many of you know) is a musical adventure, attempting to breathe new life into many of the original’s famous song and dance numbers for a new audience. And while these numbers aren’t as well made as their older doppelgangers, there is still a fair amount of enjoyment to be had within them, especially for those who know and love the songs to begin with. The one VERY notable exception to this rule is “Friend Like Me,” which is some of the most fun this movie has to offer, and is a loud, proud, and bashfully joyous sequence worthy of the legacy it follows.
Now, let’s touch on that aforementioned baggage.
For starters, this film is paced terribly. Despite a 35-minute runtime upgrade from the original, the film immediately shoots out of the gate right from the word go, and never once even attempts to maintain anything resembling a constant speed throughout. Plot elements you may recognize from the original are completely brushed over in lieu of the painfully slow expansion of the film’s newer elements, or even vice versa at times. It’s imperative that any competent remake possesses this balance, the absence of which hurts this film in a number of places.
Touching again on the newer elements, there are definitely some that work and some that don’t. One of the most glaring examples of one that doesn’t is the only new song written specifically for this film, sung not once but twice by Scott’s Princess Jasmine. My problem with the song lies not so much the song itself, but the way it’s utilized as a means to an end. Without giving too much away, it appears at two intervals that, narratively speaking, are unbelievably poor times to insert a musical number. You’ll know exactly what I mean when you see it for yourself.
And finally, there’s the odd-performance-out that I mentioned earlier. The only performance in this film I had anything resembling a true problem with is Kanzari’s Jafar. One of my favorite things the original film had to offer was its villain, something I found myself truly disappointed in this time around. Not only is Kanzari’s performance rather bland and seemingly empty throughout, but it’s clear to anyone paying attention that he’s missing the essence of what makes Jafar such a great villain, something I found myself noticing more and more as the film went on. (Also, when that moment happens right at the peak of the finale, Kanzari’s CGI looked super weird. Like, laughably weird. I’m sure you’ll clock this one at the right time too).
Remakes can be tricky for any number of reasons, and while not perfect, there’s still plenty to enjoy and admire about Aladdin. Despite the moments when it falters (and falters spectacularly, might I add) it’s still got quite a few things going for it that make the price of a ticket worth paying (the best of which being Will Smith). While in no way superior and only sometimes worthy to the legacy of its predecessor, Aladdin is a fairly well-made and even entertaining time at the movies for Disney fans, families, and moviegoers of all kinds and sorts. I’m gonna give Aladdin a C+.
This review and its content were edited by Kayla Randolph, Chief Editor at Reel Thoughts.
This review is dedicated to the life and memory of Robin McLaurin Williams.