One of the best things about Disney reimagining their great animated movies into live action films is seeing how each of the writers and directors put their unique spin on the stories. It’s got to be a scary thing to try to reproduce a Disney classic in a new, fresh way that fans will accept. Sometimes it’s done well, like in the case of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book where the story is essentially the same but there are enough changes to make them stand out on their own. Other times the end result is too close to the original, as was the case with Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, where there wasn’t enough surprises. When that happens, the new film becomes a bit boring because you feel like you’ve already seen it before and in the case of Beauty and the Beast, you had (for the most part).
Unfortunately, the new Aladdin falls into the “seen that, done that” category. That’s not to say that Guy Ritchie’s film isn’t any good. It’s actually very good, but if you are a major fan of the animated film, it’s hard not to compare the two.
In case you’ve never seen the 1992 animated classic, Aladdin is an orphan forced to steal from others in order to survive. The evil villain Jafar sees something in the boy and tricks him into going into the “cave of wonders” to retrieve a lamp which the legend says must be taken from one who is like a “diamond in the rough.” Aladdin is successful, but gets trapped in the cave. It’s all good though. He meets Genie and is given three wishes to do with whatever he wants.
What Aladdin wants is the pretty girl, aka the princess Jasmine, that he met in the marketplace and goes to great lengths trying to impress her be pretending to be something that he’s not. Jafar sees through his “Prince Ali” disguise and wants that lamp so that he can have his own Genie not to mention the entire city of Agrabah. Add a few song numbers, lots of hijinks, a big battle of wits, large doses of magic and a few pulling of the heartstrings. The end. It’s everything you want in a Disney movie. Why try to recreate it?
About a half hour into the new two-hour-long film and I realized that I was becoming disappointed. From the dialogue to the music, so much of this film had already been done before in the same, but better way.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room: Genie. Robin Williams, even in animated form, is hard to beat. Will Smith does a good job creating his own version of Genie, but even so, it pales in comparison to Williams’ blue man. That probably has more to do with the fact that Williams adlibbed a lot of his lines and put a lot of himself into the character. Had Will Smith put a little more Will Smith into the part, it would have been better. Don’t get me wrong, he was good, just not great.
Second, Jafar and Iago were miscast in this movie. As with Robin Williams, it’s hard to beat Johnathan Freeman and Gilbert Gottfried. Freeman, who has not only voiced the character of Jafar but also played him on the Broadway stage, was born to play this part. Like Smith, Marwan Kenzari is good in the role of Jafar, but he’s too young and good-looking. The cartoon version of Jafar is older and creepier which makes him that much more evil. His wise-cracking bird has been reduced down to just a mimicking parrot.
Now, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are good in the roles of Aladdin and Jasmine and they play off each other very well and boy can they sing. However, it is the side characters that almost steal the show. Billy Magnussen has a bit part as Prince Anders, one of Jasmine’s potential suitors, and is hilarious. If Disney made a Prince Anders movie, I would go see it. However, Nasim Pedrad’s Dalia character (not featured in the previous film) was by far my favorite. Her brand of comedy is most welcome here. Finally, the CGI animated magic carpet and Abu the monkey were great as well.
This new version of Aladdin does differ in a few ways. Although Jasmine has always been a strong female role, she is a bit more feistier here. She longs to become Sultan in her own right rather than marrying a prince to do the job for her. At one point the movie comes close to overshadowing Aladdin’s character with Jasmine’s empowerment song “Speechless” (which is the only new song added to the story). In the end though, I think the film portrays Aladdin and Jasmine as equals.
Where the new Aladdin movie shines though is with the photography and choreography. During the opening credits, the camera zooms through various scenes as if we were riding our own magic carpet introducing us to the various characters without saying a word. The Price Ali song is also impressive featuring 250 dancers and 200 extras. The scene was shot with seven cameras capturing the action from every angle. There is also two other dance numbers in the movie (one in the middle and one during the credits) that are also really fun.
Finally, I have to say that I do recommend this movie especially if you haven’t seen the first one. It’s colorful, funny and features a number of good messages we can all appreciate.
I write about arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.