07th Jun2019

‘Aladdin’ Review – Second Opinion

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen, Jordan A. Nash, Amir Boutrous, Numan Acar, Taliyah Blair, Aubrey Lin | Written by Guy Ritchie, John August | Directed by Guy Ritchie

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So, let me begin by saying that personally I’m not much of a fan of Guy Ritchie. He isn’t a film maker I strive to watch, and I haven’t enjoyed much of what I have seen of his output, so I was concerned and a little skeptical when I first heard that Ritchie would be directing the live-action remake of Aladdin.

Aladdin, oh how I love the original animated classic. I remember going to the cinema back in 1992, a nine year-old kid with a Genie toy on his lap, and watching this magnificent, magical, beautiful film unfold on the screen. I loved it. I still do, and I go back to it every year. One of those stand-out elements of Aladdin, one of the MANY stand-out elements of it, is the performance of Robin Williams as Genie. It was vibrant and anarchic and untethered. It was hilarious and charming and full of heart. It was one of the greatest voice-work performances ever. When Will Smith was announced as the guy to fill the lamp that Robin Williams had filled so well, there was an influx of negativity and outrage from many places. I can’t say I was “excited” about the news, but I wasn’t outraged either. After seeing the new live-action remake of Aladdin, I feel like I was right not to be.

Now, most of us know the tale of Aladdin. Street rat with a pet monkey but a heart of gold runs into Princess Jasmine in the local city, and they have a connection. He doesn’t know she’s a princess. They part, and Aladdin, through attempts to see her, winds up on a cave where he encounters a magic carpet and a lamp. He rubs the lamp, and out pops a big blue guy who promises Aladdin “three wishes”. Aladdin can only think about Jasmine, and his desire to be with her. She can only marry a prince. So… lamp-rubbing, a clash with the villain Jafar, and lots of comedy, music and love follows.

I mean, that’s a nutshell.

The story from the original classic is taken and adapted into a live-action version. Much of the story from before it carried into this story too, and you’ll be sure to find many of the iconic and memorable moments from that 1992 film here. Beloved characters are here, and played with sparks of that same charm. Will Smith, an actor who the world is so familiar with, managed to take the character of Genie and do something new with it. He didn’t try, thankfully, to copy the Robin Williams performance, but instead took some of that energy, the fun-loving and warm parts of the personality, and brought his own style. The songs are different with Will adding rap aspects and a more spoken-singing, which works very well. I was pleased with his work here. It wasn’t all great, sure, and it in no way matched or passed the phenomenal original Genie, but I still had a lot of fun watching Smith do his thing.

Mena Massoud as the titular Aladdin is someone who I haven’t seen before, and this is his biggest role to date, but I thought he did a very good job here. He had charm and humour, the right kind of smirk, a good chemistry with Genie and Jasmine, and his singing voice was pretty damn on-point too. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Massoud, but I really did feel like he put in a top-notch performance. Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine is also very good. She’s endearing and has the much-needed toughness that the character should always give off. I thought the scenes with her and Massoud were terrific, especially as they soared across the sky singing the classic “A Whole New World” song. Delightful.

Marwan Kenzari plays the Grand Vizier to The Sultan, Jafar. Now, Jafar is one of the most dastardly and visually striking villains in the Disney history books, he’s evil, he’s sociopathic, he’s power-mad. Now, I didn’t find anything offensive about Kenzari’s rendition of Jafar. It was fine. It did what it needed to do to progress the narrative of the story. Still… it was missing that jagged-edge cruelty and dark-eyed snarl of that character. His voice didn’t feel commanding enough. He was just not really what Jafar should be. He wasn’t bad, but I was left thinking that the role should have been darker and more malicious.

The cast did a brilliant job, overall, and there were even side characters that I got a kick out of. Nasim Pedrad as Dalia, the hand-maiden to Jasmine, brought plenty of humour to her scenes, and I thought she was a nice addition. I really did feel like they all did well, aside from a handful of gripes, mostly based on the handling of the Jafar character.

The music that we love is here and most of the time it hits. I loved seeing these moments again on the big-screen but in live-action, with “A Whole New World” and “Friend Like Me” being my favourites. I did have a bit of a problem with the addition of “Speechless”, the new song for Princess Jasmine. Now, I know they like to add new songs now as a way to freshen things up or give the live-action remakes a bit of something extra to set them apart from the animated counterparts, but Speechless didn’t really fit with the rest of the movie for me. It was like a pop song was thrown in here, and while it isn’t a “bad song”, I just didn’t personally feel like it worked like it should have.

I’ve heard some complaints about the flow of the movie, or some of the things missing that were part of the original, but I don’t have those same complaints. I’ve sat and thought about how I feel about this film since seeing it, and I just can’t think of much that I didn’t like about it. Now, it isn’t perfect, the CGI is a bit iffy on occasion, there are character elements that don’t work, and it will never hit the highs of the 1992 animation, but I think Ritchie did a pretty swell job at recreating some of that magic, and bringing about a thoroughly entertaining movie about in the process. When I find myself not looking away from a screen, smiling plenty of times, and leaving the cinema feeling like it was money well spent, I just can’t complain too much. I’m a Disney-nut. This ticked a lot of boxes for me as far as live-action Disney goes. Solid, good looking and whimsically cute, it exceeded my expectations and I’m glad that it did.

Aladdin is in cinemas now.

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