This is certainly a big year for Disney live-action with four live action remakes and one sequel. The fear of these Disney live-action remakes is always whether or not they’ll live up to the original animated movies they are based on, adapting and expanding. Especially when it comes to some of their more beloved animated films from the late 80’s through the mid 90’s such as ‘The Little Mermaid’( currently in development), ‘Beauty in the Beast’ (released in 2017) and now ‘Aladdin’; that fear is greater as these films were tightly written and executed.
I’d imagine most, if not all, reading have seen the 1992 animated Disney classic ‘Aladdin’ so the plot should come as no surprise. Young Aladdin embarks on a magical adventure after finding a lamp that releases a wisecracking genie. A thrilling and vibrant live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic, ‘Aladdin’ is the exciting tale of the charming street rat Aladdin, the courageous and self-determined Princess Jasmine and the Genie who may be the key to their future.
This film keeps the basic story, characters and music in place while doing its best to stand on its own merit and not just be an unnecessary shot-for-shot remake. I’m of two minds when it comes to this because while I understand the need to differentiate itself from the animated film that birthed this movie, I don’t think it entirely succeeds in doing anything so amazing and new or unmistakably better to justify the extra 40 minutes of live-action runtime or reworking and tinkering with scenes and events from the original. The pacing of animated ’92 ‘Aladdin’ was very well done and never felt like it overstayed its welcome, making excellent use of its 86 minute runtime. While I never felt bored during this movie, it also feels like pacing is off, flying past (no magic carpet pun intended) through or skipping some scenes early on that were good character building moments and setting up the story. The basic set-up to the quest for the lamp is largely the same, although handled in not as effective a manner. On the other hand, some aspects of this and other parts of the story have been borrowed from the stage musical version which was a nice tip of the hat to other versions of the Disney classic, but I wonder if that is necessary a service to the film. I was eagerly awaiting the final conflict of the movie is it was a memorable scene from the original, but sadly that was reworked and largely changed too. This resulted in an exciting and frantic set-piece scene, also following the general beats of the animated original, but left me longing; which could just be my affinity for the original.
One of the highlight of the film is the detail and effort put into both the costume and set design by the production department. The sets of Agrabah city and the palace are stunning and bring Agrabah to life. From all the details and touches in the market place, to the streets and building tops as well as the ornate detail of the palace, Gemma Jackson (who previous won an Emmy for her work on ‘Game of Thrones’) deserves a lot of credit for creating a vibrant Arabain city with influences from nearby regions. Similarly the costumes are bright, colourful (as are the sets as well) and pop off the screen. These really stood out and add a pleasing visual aesthetic. To counter that point, at times, costumes do come across as too clean, bright and have a freshly laundered look to them, even when characters are in the middle of the vast desert under the blazing hot Middle Eastern sun, although that is easily overlooked. While Jasmine’s costumes aren’t exactly the same as her animated counterpart, they look no less impressive and the costume department did a good job overall translating the looks of the main characters into live-action.
Overall, I’d say Guy Ritchie and the crew did a good job with regard to casting. Mena Massoud looks the part and conveys all the characteristics one would expect from Aladdin. He isn’t a household name yet but this role and his performance will be a good boost to his acting career…and yes, he can sing too. Similarly, Naomi Scott confidently portrays Princess Jasmine and young girls in particular I think would gravitate to her in this story. And there is some good chemistry between here and Mena Massoud. Without a doubt, the undeniable star of this movie, and best performance, has to be Will Smith as the Genie. This would always be a tough act to follow the late Robin Williams in the role he defined (and was written first and foremost for him) but Will Smith rises to the occasion and keeps the spirit of the original Genie but makes it his own. The film picked up when he appeared on screen and much of the humour comes courtesy of him and the way he plays off of co-stars like Mena Massoud. This looks like the most fun Will has had on-screen in years. The CGI of the Genie was however hit and miss as several shots early on looked very unconvincing as Will’s head floats above an animated body while others looked very good. Daiv Nagahban as the Sultan was okay. Sadly I feel the only casting flaw was Marwan Kenzari as Jafar. Jafar was such a looming, sinister presence in the animated film and had a commanding voice with character. They clearly went for a different approach to the Royal Vizier in this live-action remake which serves the story well enough, but comes across very lackluster when compared to what came before. An interesting contrast is created between the characters of Jafar and Aladdin though.
The music is another major aspect of ‘Aladdin’ and is perhaps even more famous than the movie itself. The extra runtime allows Alan Menken, Tim Rice and Howard Ashman to expand on every song, plus include a brand new Jasmine song. The musical component (also slightly tinkered) is still top notch, although sadly it seemed like some ‘Aladdin’ classics such as “Arabian Nights” and “Friend Like Me” fall short of the energy we heard in the animated version. No offense to the “Fresh Prince” but Will Smith, while having a good voice and musical ear, sounded more subdued and relaxed than some of the songs called for. It also felt at times like some of the camera was equally subdued and not as dynamic as one would expect, although the amount of extras and grandeur for “Prince Ali” is something to see regardless. Luckily Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott both knock their songs out of the park.
Disney’s live-action ‘Aladdin’ is certainly an entertaining film, albeit as mixed bag in places. I would still recommend it to fans of the animated ‘Aladdin’ or even to families wanting to share it with their children (for the first time?) but would also recommend experiencing the animated film with them when if they haven’t seen it before. I’d also recommend this for any married or dating couples wanting to check out a movie.