Out of everything that a movie has to offer, I only ask that, at the very least, it does its most to entertain me. Entertainment can come in touching moments where I feel for characters. Or it can be the audience getting caught up in the action. But I want to have fun in a movie, wrapped up in the story, and have that roller-coaster experience with the folks on screen.
Aladdin actually does that. It makes me feel like a kid back in ’92 watching the animated film again. I don’t think there’s much to spoil about a movie that’s a live-action remake of a Disney classic. So let’s just say it hits on every plot point of the original film.
However, this movie carried it’s own flair and a bit more sensibility to the culture it means to address. And it also caters to the more woman-empowerment vibe we’ve been seeing in films more often. However, it doesn’t overpower the film. It navigates the source material for the most part. And I’m glad they didn’t change it too much so it can hit all the nostalgia points from my childhood while modernizing itself for a broader audience.
First, we have to talk about Mena Massoud playing Aladdin. After so much of Disney promoting titles featuring women like Moana and Frozen and Maleficent, it’s weird hearing a title with the male lead in 2019. Looking at his resume, it looks like Massoud doesn’t have the chops to take on the role of the male lead. I was curious as to how this guy would carry the film. He’s a relatively unknown actor outside of his voice-overs for Watch Dogs 2 and his role in the Jack Ryan television series.
I’m glad to say that he’s one of the strongest characters in the film. For me, he shines more brightly than even the super-star Will Smith, and that’s because he doesn’t have the CG or magic to help him. His stunts are practical. He oozes with charm and humor. I think he’s more Aladdin than even the cartoon character was.
I remember Disney would have the voice actor, and they would bring in another person to sing the songs during musical numbers. A minor character from the sitcom Full House was billed for the voice for Aladdin while someone else was his “singing” voice actor. After looking it up, Scott Weigner did the voice of Aladdin, but Brad Kane was doing the singing portions.
I wasn’t too familiar with Massoud for his singing, or dancing chops either. But I’m certain that Hollywood today doesn’t take anyone without some ability in song and dance. For Massoud, he has an ample supply of both. His parkour-like movements complimented his dancing and singing perfectly.
Massoud is a capable actor in his own right, and Disney did right in choosing him to carry the film.
There is a certain amount of reading about the history of what was happening at Disney for the original animated film and the concept for Jasmine. I’m happy to say that this version played by Naomi Scott is a vast departure from the 1992 character. This Jasmine seems to have a greater presence, and the film attempts to delve more into her history to explain her development.
Like I said, it does hit on points of female empowerment in a few scenes. Overall, it doesn’t become the theme of the film and Jasmine ends up being more a co-owner of the narrative rather than someone trying to take it over with her agenda.
The only issue I had with her character is that she seemed more static than the other two players in the film. Heck, the actor playing Jafar moved more than Scott’s character, and he’s just waving a snake staff around. She only gets a few moments to shine in her movements, but it’s her voice that carries for the most part. That’s why I think there’s a bit of irony to the two new songs specifically for her character.
And she can sing. Comparatively, she has the stronger singing voice and I think Disney wanted to bank on that by giving her the two solo performances.
The Blue Elephant in the Room
There’s a lot of opinion online about how Will Smith looks as the blue Genie.
However, Smith delivers as the Genie when he’s Will Smith playing the Genie. He has a certain energy to him that shines whenever he’s allowed to be himself. But when he’s trying to mimic a moment that carries a more Robin Williams type energy to it, he just doesn’t feel right for it. It’s like him being Hitch for certain scenes works great. But him being Mrs. Doubtfire for other scenes doesn’t.
That goes for the blue CGI moments too. There are times where his movement becomes so erratic and his body form starts to enter the uncanny valley territory. However, the camera isn’t focused on him too much or he’s moving around the room so quickly that we can’t get a trace on it completely, and it’s easy to miss if you aren’t really looking.
Smith’s dance numbers are great, and despite what we’ve seen online, the guy can sing pretty well. He actually does the first song, Arabian Nights, and I got chills listening to it. His rendition of Friend Like Me was energetic, fun, and a visual spectacle. And although it was in Will Smith’s style that threw me out for a second, I eventually got into it when the visuals kicked in and brought me back to being a 10-year-old kid.
Jafar, played by Marwan Kenzari, is forgettable as a villain. He doesn’t have the over-the-top villainy of the original animated film, but he does carry the same ambitious goals. I did appreciate that they gave him a little back story, making him a more cunning and capable thief than Aladdin. And I liked how they used that in a later plot point for the film that made it a little more interesting than the original.
However, there wasn’t much else to his character that made me want to empathize or understand him in any way. He wasn’t as well-written as Killmonger from Black Panther or Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming. I was hoping that the writing would at least flesh out his character more, making him more relatable with his goals, but also making it clear the audience would disagree with his methods. In the end, his passing just felt like everyone was experiencing another Tuesday at the palace.
The Guy Ritchie Package
Honestly, I couldn’t tell if this was a Guy Ritchie film. It looked like Disney had put all their mouse-prints on the material, with Ritchie only inputting his direction during the action sequences. And I liked it. It felt like Agrabah was a living, breathing entity all its own, and the people living in it were just playing it like their own obstacle course. It was the world, contained, but vast in its scope.
Other movies by Ritchie tend to lean heavily on the characters, and their humorous but violent interactions with each other. Go see Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or RocknRolla if you want to know what I’m talking about. But if Ritchie had a heavier hand in his direction of the film, then it’s quite a feat for the guy who’s all about guns and violence switching up his style.
The score for the movie didn’t change much from the original. The style of the songs changes a bit to cater to Will Smith’s method. And princess Jasmine gets a couple of solo performances that I don’t remember in the animated film.
So I don’t know if I can really call it a Guy Ritchie movie. I’d like to think of it as a Disney movie more than anything he could put his stamp on.
Singing, dancing, acting, and directing. Aladdin has it all with a strong cast that can do it all to varying degrees. There are some CGI issues with the Genie and some performance mismatches with Will Smith that I think take away from the film experience. But, I had fun watching. And I believe if Disney can tug on the nostalgic heartstrings of a man in his mid-30’s, then they can certainly capture the hearts of younger audiences.
- Story and Visuals are Nostalgic for older audiences and can cater to younger crowds
- Strong performances from the three main heroes - Aladdin, Genie, and Jasmine
- Plenty of Song and Dance to make for a fun movie experience
- Uncanny Valley CGI for Will Smith's Genie in some scenes
- Forgettable villain in Jafar that could've been fleshed out more
- Genie performances were not fit with Smith's character and more like Robin William's version.