Greetings My Movie Geeks!
Beware Spoilers for Aladdin!
Aladdin 2019 is a live-action remake directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Jasmine and Will Smith as Genie. It follows the same story as the 1992 classic animated movie. Making changes and reinforcing theories from the original, such as the storyteller in the original is actually the Genie.
The film opens on the water, with two boats sailing past each other. The smaller boat is where the story begins with Smith’s character beginning to tell his children the story of Aladdin. It’s a nice touch, which gives us a way in and stays true to the original by having the story be a story.
I’ll admit, I went into this film feeling apprehensive. It’s yet another Disney live-action remake in a long line of Disney live-action remakes that haven’t always landed. Look at my recent review of Dumbo, if you want to see how I felt there.
But from the opening few lines of Will Smith’s Arabian Nights, I was transported back to being the young boy. Aladdin was my favourite Disney film as it gave us a whole new world of stories that we could get behind. Up until then we only had the princess focussed fairy tale movies that didn’t appeal to me. But Aladdin was different. I found that in the first few moments I was smiling wildly, and tapping my foot to the music. Fun will be had with this movie.
Then I saw and remembered the director was Guy Ritchie, Best known for his Cockney gangster or Sherlock Holmes movies. How can HE make this musical good? But, my worries were put aside quite quickly with the opening track, it quickly introduces us to the main players.
Then the story starts with Aladdin quickly meeting Jasmine in the market and saving her. She gave food to hungry children and can’t pay for it. Another song, ‘One Jump Ahead’ performed by Mena Massoud, has all the excitement and flare of the original. It is toned down for the semi-realistic world we’re living in. The song still works though. It is funny to see the guards sing back to Aladdin as he evades capture. They mix the song with Aladdin’s meeting with Jasmine instead of the song being separate. It changes things up nicely and pushes the story along faster than it would have done.
But then we get a few changes. Aladdin is caught in the palace returning a bracelet. Instead of being locked up and tricked by Jafar pretending to be an old man, he is taken straight to the desert. This I feel was just done to move the story forward and took away from the character of Jafar. If there are negatives to this film it is in the portrayal of Jafar. The actor Marwan Kenzari doesn’t really instil the audience with a sense of villainy or sneakiness.
The Live action Jafar doesn’t really have anything about him. He is an out and out villain, but lacks in any character and sadly, the 2D cartoon version has the voice character that works better. Saying that, the filmmakers hint at a link between Jafar and Aladdin, by suggesting they are two sides of the same coin. Jafar coming up from the streets as Aladdin aspires to do. Iago also suffers, being voiced by the superb Alan Tudyk, they seem to have cut down his character to just a mimicking parrot. Now in a movie with Genies and sentient flying carpets it’s not a stretch to have a loud mouth talking parrot!
There’s a nice moment showing how Jafar retrieves the lamp from Aladdin, hinting at a little more character than there is depicted. It’s always the same, something always suffers in these remakes, and usually, it’s the villain. Let’s hope Scar is portrayed well later in the year.
Aladdin is taken to the Cave of Wonders, which is a literal Aladdin’s Cave of… wait. It turns out he is the Diamond in the Rough and gains access. He is warned not to touch anything other than the lamp. Aladdin and Abu fall down to a step, which is a change that isn’t needed. The Cave of Wonders is again the head of a tiger, but in the age of CGI, they didn’t make it move much other than when it crushed the first thief in the opening.
Aladdin makes his way through the cave and discovers it’s full of wonders, including jewels, gold and rubies. He frees a magic carpet that is stuck under a rock. At the centre, there is a large pillar where the lamp sits. He gets it at the same moment Abu decides to pick up a ruby. The whole place erupts, filling with lava and crumbling down. Jafar plays his hand requesting the lamp before crushing Aladdin’s foot making him fall back into the cave. Luckily Abu steals the lamp back.
Then we get what we’ve all been worried about, Will Smith’s Genie. Robin Williams was amazing as the Genie, improvising a lot of the lines making the animators, animate around the material he performed. There was a whole falling out between Disney and Williams due to advertising for the original which is an interesting story. Because of all Williams input, the character of the Genie is one of the funniest and interesting characters in animated Disney history. It’s arguable that without Williams, the original film may not have been as popular as it was. But this is a remake. A live action remake and when the first images of Smith’s Genie came out, there was a backlash.
He wasn’t blue. He had legs and he clearly doesn’t have the chops to compare to Williams. But fortunately, Disney has focussed on Smith’s strength which is music. Laugh out loud funny and a feast for the eyes and ears, Smith performs ‘Friend like me’ as though it was his own, stirring up the memories from childhood and giving it a new flair for today’s audiences. It’s easy to compare this song to other songs in the Disney Pantheon such as the ‘Circle of Life’ opening to Lion King, or Beauty and the Beast’s ‘Be our Guest’ which was so abysmally done in the 2017 live action remake.
What makes this stand out is the makers haven’t held back on the colour. They have tried to make this realistic, but at the same time, they’ve thrown colour at the screen making it look magical. The changes are also highly welcome, making the song noticeable different to the original. It was lucky I was sat on the back row because I was moving to the beat and tapping my feet.
The story is basically the same as the original, but with some changes that arguably improve the original story. These changes are an improvement to Jasmine’s character. She is given more to do, not just being a damsel princess who wants to escape her life. In this version as with the original, she is to be married off to a prince because that is the law. But the difference here is that she wants to, and is shown to be a better ruler than all of the men in the film.
This is where the new song comes in. ‘Speechless’ performed by Naomi Scott, is a solo for Jasmine. Where she is put down, or told to be silent this is her defiance song, standing up to the men in her life who see her as just a woman. It’s less egregious and forgettable compared to ‘evermore’ or ‘Days in the Sun’ from Beauty and the Beast; actually adding to the story and adding crucial character development to Jasmine. I’m going to go all out and say I really enjoyed it.
The Live Action Disney Remakes are a quick cash grab preying on the nostalgia of movie-goers who have grown up with these animated greats. Some, like Beauty and the Beast and Dumbo, have for me been completely pointless not living up to the originals in both style and quality. They have been boring and unwanted, stretching out the original stories with pointless action (Dumbo) or basically copying the original (BatB) removing anything that made it special. But, Aladdin is a quality remake ‘Jam’ packed full of fun. It tries not to lean on the original, having one or two nods, but at the same time, it improves some of the characters that were back then, fairly paper thin.
It isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch, Jafar is wasted, and may have benefitted by being played by an older and more seasoned actor. But it goes out to give the audience a good time through story and music. Smith makes Genie his own, not stepping on the toes of what Williams did. He is funny giving some laugh out loud moments in both his blue form and when disguised as a human. But the standout is the music. The songs, ‘Friend Like Me’, ‘Prince Ali’ and ‘Arabian Nights’ are performed with an intensity that, dare I say it, outshine the original. Since I saw the movie on Saturday, I have listened to the soundtrack several times over. It’s also interesting to have the old Will Smith back, having him perform a track for the film he’s in and it turns out I’ve missed this Will Smith.
An Aladdin’s Cave
If you haven’t seen the film, I don’t know why you’re reading this, but still go and listen to the soundtrack. Out of all the Disney Live Action Remakes, and despite liking The Jungle Book, I think this is the best one they’ve done. This movie is well made, brilliantly choreographed and hilariously funny at points. Let us know what you guys think in the comments and you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. You can follow me on twitter @MovieUltimate.
Did you spot the title Easter eggs?