Disney is at it again with their live action remake of the 1992 animated classic, Aladdin. While it is obvious that these remakes will never come close to capturing the Disney magic of the old cell animation and plots of yesterday, where everything wasn’t overthought, the entertainment giant keeps trying.
This time around Disney tasked Guy Ritchie with directing, and Ritchie and John August with creating the screenplay to the ‘diamond in the rough’ tale of Aladdin and his magical lamp. Guy Ritchie seems like an unlikely choice since his previous movies such as Snatch (2000), and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) aren’t exactly family friendly. However, with recent films like Sherlock Holmes (2009) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), he has certainly proven he can deliver on wholesome fare as well.
The transition of Disney movies over the years has seen significant changes made, and the outdated trope of the damsel in distress being saved by a knight in shining armour has all but disappeared. With the plot of Disney’s original Aladdin centred around a princess who needs to marry a prince in order to have a new Sultan for Agrabah, the story needed a hearty update in order to not risk coming across as misogynistic. This film realises early on that it is not only a story about a poor boy trying to figure out who he is, but also a princess searching for her place in the world who doesn’t just want to be a wife but something much more.
Disney of old used to cast two actors for each character’s role, one famous name for the voice acting and another for the singing. Now Disney has realised that viewers would much rather see a lesser known name in the lead role but one with some chops to belt out the tunes that are just as important as the story for these animated classics. Choosing Naomi Scott for Jasmine, and Mena Massoud for Aladdin, they hit the jackpot in talent.
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Naomi Scott can BELT it, with her shining moment singing the brand-new song ‘Speechless’ which is definitely the showstopper of the whole movie. This song has the potential to be as huge as Frozen’s ‘Let It Go’, becoming a powerful anthem for small girls all over the world. Mena Massoud also has some pipes and doesn’t disappoint with ‘One Jump Ahead’, and his duet with Naomi on ‘A Whole New World’.
However, those viewers who have seen the stage musical of Aladdin know that the real star of this tale is the Genie. Originated by the insanely talented James Monroe Iglehart on Broadway, and funnyman Robin Williams on film, the choosing of Will Smith seemed to deliver on both fronts. Will Smith definitely satisfies the humour aspect of the genie, but for those expecting Smith’s previous recording career to translate to the big songs for the all-powerful genie like ‘Arabian Nights’, ‘Friend Like Me’, and ‘Prince Ali’, Broadwayphiles will be sorely let down. He just doesn’t hit the big notes that previous Genies on stage or screen have provided.
With all the updates, and removal of offensive humour at the expense of middle-eastern culture, this movie delivers on Disney’s previous whitewashing of stories where Anglos have no business being. The portrayal of Jasmine is refreshing and new, with her not wanting to settle for just being a bride, but wanting to replace her father as Sultan. This is definitely a role model worthy of young girls and fulfils Disney’s new definition of empowered Disney Princess.
Marwan Kenzari is brilliant as Jafar, and a much younger, easier on the eye villain is a welcome change to the story. However, his hilarious sidekick, Iago, voiced by Alan Tudyk lacks the personality and energy from Gilbert Gottfried in the original movie. It is really the biggest let down of the movie, aside from the few notes Will Smith doesn’t hit.
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Another welcome change is the addition of Jasmine’s handmaid, Dalia (Nasim Pedrad) who also serves as a love interest for the Genie. She has certainly proved her comedic talents on Saturday Night Live and is a welcome complement to support the already talented cast. Her facial expressions are as hilarious as her scripted words, and in one scene had the whole cinema erupting in laughter when she realises that her sweetheart turns out to not exactly be who she thought he was (girls, who hasn’t been there before?).
This movie delivers on many levels for those that have enjoyed the classic over and over, and only fails in a few areas. With other remakes to compare it to, like the newly released Dumbo and previously overly-autotuned Beauty and the Beast, it is nice to see that Disney took their time with this one and managed to mix a lot of the old nostalgic moments in with new ones and songs that will surely make this film a classic for the little ones (and older ones) that see it now.