If there is one thing we have learned for certain by now it’s that Disney knows how to make money. Sure, they also know how to make solid entertainment, run a massively successful theme park and inspire hope in children or something magical like that, but first and foremost, they know how to print cash like a printing press. One of their most recent strategies to bring in the big bucks has been to remake old animated Walt Disney Studios films as live-action blockbusters to capitalize on the nostalgia of millennials while making palatable entertainment for kids. It began with 2015’s “Cinderella,” continuing with 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Both were met with lukewarm critical receptions but made millions at the box office so Disney has decided to keep the trend alive. The newest attempt at these efforts is a remake of the beloved 1992 classic, “Aladdin.”
When the film was first announced, it was met with a lot of trepidation and outright anger. People weren’t confident in Disney’s ability to recapture the magic of the original film and were skeptical about being able to find anyone capable of filling the big shoes left by Robin Williams as the Genie. Worries grew even more when the trailer for the film revealed the new Genie, played by Will Smith, images of which spread like wildfire on Twitter as people shared their disdain. All of this is to say, expectations for the film have been low across the board.
But, it turns out, the film is actually pretty good.
The 2019 remake is helmed by famed director Guy Ritchie (“Sherlock Holmes,” “Snatch”) and stars Will Smith as the Genie, Mena Massoud (“Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”) as Aladdin, Naomi Scott (“Power Rangers,” “Lemonade Mouth”) as Princess Jasmine and Manwar Kenzari (“Murder on the Orient Express”) as Jafar. Fan favorite characters like Abu, Iago, Rajah and the Magic Carpet also all return with fun, slightly more realistic portrayals.
The story is essentially the same as the original. Jafar, who serves as the number two to the Sultan of Agrabah wants to be the Sultan of Agrabah. He believes he can do so with the help of a magic lamp hidden in The Cave of Wonders, which can only be retrieved by “a diamond in the rough.” Enter Aladdin, a puckish rogue stealing to get by in the city when he meets a “handmaid” to the mysterious Princess (It is the princess! Whoa!). Aladdin gets captured by Jafar and is forced to go into the cave to retrieve the lamp only to find out a Genie resides within it who will grant him three wishes. He then wishes to become a prince and attempts to woo Jasmine with the help of his monkey, Abu, the Genie and a flying carpet. That is until mysterious unforeseen villainous things occur that almost ruin everything! It’s a Disney movie, and one you’ve probably already seen at that, you get it.
The big question with a remake is always, “How does it compare to the original?”
As its own film, “Aladdin” surprisingly does a pretty good job for itself. Guy Ritchie’s influence can be seen in specific instances and scenes but it seems he took more of a tame approach to much more tame subject material. The action sequences are where Ritchie’s fingerprints can be easily identified. Aladdin navigates the streets of Agrabah, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, swinging on conveniently placed ropes, and there’s one really interesting scene where Aladdin is sandwiched between two walls on his back and feet and spins his way down to the ground. The stunt work and exhilarating direction in these sequences are both a lot of fun to watch. There was only one scene near the beginning where it was obvious that they had sped up the footage to make things seem a bit more intense that really took me out of the movie.
Which brings me to Aladdin himself. Massoud does a great job bringing the original animated character to life, embodying the sort of light-heartedness and heart-stricken nature that define the character. It took me a bit to warm up to his performance but once his vocals kicked in “One Jump Ahead,” I was on board. Scott in her role as Jasmine was also excellent. She carries herself with all of the grace and beauty of a Disney princess and added a lot of depth to Jasmine’s character.
This was one of the most notable differences in this remake. Jasmine had a much clearer and defined arc as a character and even got her own song with “Speechless,” which was split up into two parts in the film, with each being sung at pivotal moments in her story. It’s hard to compare a new song with the nostalgia that fuels the rest of them but Scott’s enchanting voice makes the addition feel seamless. The chemistry between Scott and Massoud was visible on screen and though the rendition of “A Whole New World” seemed to feel a bit flat, but their dynamic was cute and fun.
Then there’s the biggie: Will Smith as the Genie. I’m pleased to report that Will Smith knocked it out of the park. His singing and acting were impressive and he managed to successfully ride the line between bringing his own spin to the character but incorporating a lot of the bombastic personality that Robin Williams brought to the character originally. A lot of his dialogue and characterization had been more suited to Smith’s interpretation, a change I was glad to see. He kept the movie light and kept me laughing throughout with the help of the surprisingly cute and charming antics of the magic carpet.
The Genie’s numbers be it “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me” or “Prince Ali” were far and away the stand out moments of the film. The vibrant visuals and colors, accompanied by thrilling dance choreography and Will Smith’s singing and rapping, captured some of that patented Disney magic. The only thing that fell completely flat was a moment in “Friend Like Me,” which incorporated some beatboxing that made me want to cringe in my seat a little bit.
I was pleasantly surprised by “Aladdin” in almost every way and would definitely go back and watch it again with my friends or family. It capitalizes on nostalgia and does it’s own, fresh thing in a balance that Disney has now seemed to perfect.