Out this week is Aladdin. This latest remake of a Disney classic from director Guy Ritchie stars Mena Massoud in the title role, alongside Will Smith, and Naomi Scott.
The story follows Aladdin (Massoud) as he tries to win the affections of Princess Jasmine (Scott) utilising the abilities of a powerful Genie (Smith). Meanwhile in the shadows plotting to take over the kingdom of Agrabah through nefarious means is the “evil” vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari).
Aladdin was one of those films. A film that defined a generation with its iconic characters, showstopping soundtrack and endearing story. Now 27 years on can Disney recapture that magic?
How many times a year am I going to have to ask this question? I’m serious, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Dumbo, and very soon The Lion King. Where have all the ideas gone!?
As you can tell I was a fan of the original. In particular the legendary performance of Robin Williams. It’s always held a close place to my heart. So when the live action remake of Aladdin was announced you can imagine my trepidation.
This was further made awkward by the questionable CGI that created the new Genie (many a meme was born that day). Thus the anticipation levels for Aladdin have been something of a mixed bag (at the time this review is being written there is a boycott planned due to “fan” disapproval of a song).
Never had a friend like me
So let’s get down to it. Is Aladdin any good. Honestly, it’s not half bad. The main hook of the film this time around is Jasmine and her finding her identity as a royal. The audience is watching this through the eyes of Aladdin and his attempt at being worthy of her. It’s handled well (for the most part) and this is mainly down to Naomi Scott who has this wonderful strength. She’s smart, quick-witted and her journey through the film feels earned.
The issue with this new and appropriately improved journey for Jasmine is that it’s not original. In fact, it feels like Disney took a big page from Twisted a musical from YouTube sensations Team Starkid.
Now onto Aladdin our titular hero this is where the negatives of the film start to rear their ugly head. Massoud is not bad as Aladdin, he’s just nothing new. He’s unapologetically average and it’s a shame. There is no nuance to his story. It’s strange that an animated image has more depth to it than an actual human being. He’s competent in his performance but there’s nothing behind his winning smile.
Phenomenal cosmic power, itty bitty living space
As I write this I realise the main issues come from the director and his team trying to adhere to the original film. With Massoud playing a paint by numbers hero he can’t inject the full potential of his charm which you see in brief moments throughout the film. Another character who wrestles with these constraints is Will Smith’s Genie.
There was a lot of pressure on Smith to pull off the impossible, make audiences see him not Robin Williams as the legendary Genie. When Smith is allowed to do his thing Genie is fun and sparkles with a different kind of charm than audiences may be expecting. However, when he is lifting lines from the original he begins to fade in character.
Thankfully Genie is given a new lease on life with an additional subplot that wasn’t present in the original and it works adding further depth to his wants and desires. This new subplot involves himself and Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad). Pedrad brings something to the film that is desperately needed, originality. She’s an original character that gives Jasmine an opportunity to further develop as a character as they discuss how they both feel throughout the film.
Your eternal reward
Do you know what made the classic Disney films so potent as stories? People will say the songs, the relatability of the heroes and heroines. For me though it was always the villains. Ursula, Scar, Gaston, Jafar. They were all monsters and they were all legends. They made you feel worried about your heroes because they were so dangerous. It always felt like the stakes were sky high and I loved it.
So when I tell you that Jafar (Kenzari) in this film is a bland piece of toast with no presence or sense of import about him you will understand the complete lack of threat when he enters a room. He is devoid of that key ingredient every villain needs, menace. Not only that Iago who is voiced by the brilliant Alan Tudyk is nothing more than an average parrot with a few more words in his vocabulary.
The songs of Aladdin are a mixed affair. In my opinion, they still have charm but in a diminished fashion. There’s not nearly as much pomp and circumstance in them as there was in the original. One particular example is the ‘Prince Ali’ song. Smith does his best to inject his own style into the song but you can’t help but miss Williams’ inescapable giddiness.
Also, the musical number itself doesn’t look as wondrous. In the original Genie is injecting himself into the audience watching “Ali” make his grand entrance. He’s transforming, shapeshifting, and breaking the fourth wall. Smith does one moment of drag and that’s it, unfortunately. It doesn’t feel as whimsical as it should.
Aladdin is decent and that’s the biggest compliment I can give it. There’s an added bit of flair from Smith, and the additions to the film are welcome. Unfortunately, it’s let down by a bland protagonist who hasn’t evolved with the story and a villain that at the end of the day leaves no impressions.
It’s a fun time at the cinema for the kids but it’s not a whole new world for fans of the original.