Of the string of Disney live action remakes, this was the one I was sure was going to fail. Whilst I’m a fan of Guy Ritchie, I wasn’t sure that his style would suit a Disney musical. That, combined with some of the stories from the set and the initial footage of Will Smith as the Genie, made me nervous about the quality of the film. Whilst the actual film is not perfect, and nowhere near as good as the original, it was still a decent enough film, when it puts its own spin on Aladdin.
The film concerns Aladdin, an orphan living on the streets of Agrabah, having to steal to survive each day. One day, Aladdin has an encounter with Princess Jasmine, who feels trapped in the Sultan’s palace due to both restrictions placed on her movements following the death of her mum, and the fact that she has to marry a Prince when she wants to be Sultan herself. Whilst the initial meeting between Aladdin and Jasmine doesn’t go well, they end up having another good time together, however after that moment, Aladdin gets captured by Jafar, the Sultan’s high vizier who wants to become Sultan himself, who forces Aladdin to go into the Cave of Wonders (since he’s the only person who can go in) and retrieve a lamp for him, containing a genie. After a series of events, Aladdin becomes the master of the genie, wishing to become a prince so he can court Jasmine, whilst still having to stop Jafar from getting the lamp and using the genie to wage war on the neighbours of Agrabah. Now when the film sticks to the original plot of Aladdin it’s fine. There’s nothing really new that’s done in these sections of the film and when I was watching, I just got the feeling that it was very paint by numbers. The new additions to the film though I thought were interesting. Whilst I think it could have been explored more, giving Jafar more backstory was interesting (even if changing his dynamic with Iago removed a lot of the character Jafar had in the original), whilst the changes made to Jasmine I really liked, giving her more of a character than just “I want to choose who I marry” and giving the film some political depth (even if it was just an obvious retread of the Clinton/Trump dynamic).
The performances are a bit of a mixed bag. Mena Massoud as Aladdin is fairly bland, not having the right level of charisma that the role needs when speaking. He’s decent when he’s singing, but I just didn’t really feel anything from him and didn’t feel a connection between him and the other cast. By contrast, Naomi Scott is strong as Jasmine, doing a good job at showing her resentment towards the political system of Agrabah and her disdain towards the princes, along with a sense of love and concern for the people of Agrabah. Her singing voice meanwhile is excellent and when it comes time for this films version of A Whole New World, it’s almost embarrassing to see how outclassed Mena Massoud is by Naomi Scott. Will Smith as the genie meanwhile is a mixed bag. When he’s allowed to do his own interpretation of the genie, he’s a lot of fun and has this easy going charm that makes the scenes when the genie helps Aladdin court Jasmine work well. However, when he tries to impersonate Robin Williams, that’s when the performance doesn’t work, simply because Will Smith’s style of singing and comedy is completely different to that of Robin Williams and even though Smith is clearly trying, it just doesn’t work. Marwan Kenzari as Jafar is okay, having a decent dynamic with Jasmine and bringing in more nuance to Jafar, but I didn’t really feel the sense of intimidation that I feel like Jafar should have. Navid Negahban as the Sultan and Nasim Pedrad as Delia (Jasmine’s handmaiden) are also okay, but I didn’t really connect with their characters as written whilst Alan Tudyk as Iago on paper is a great choice but the decision for Iago to be played more like a parrot rather than giving Iago his own personality like Gilbert Gottfried did disappointed me.
The technical side of the film was also a mixed bag. For the musical numbers, some of them are well directed, with One Jump Ahead and new number Speechless being the highlight in this regard, but Guy Ritchie isn’t able to replicate the exuberance of the animated version in a few key scenes, mainly with Friend Like Me and Prince Ali which felt a bit lifeless to me. The production and costume design meanwhile give this Bollywood feel to the film, with there also being a dance number which feels directly inspired by Bollywood. The CG meanwhile is okay. For things like the carpet and Abu the CG is pretty decent whilst the CG used to turn Will Smith into the genie doesn’t quite work for me, I think it’s due to the way in which the lighting works for those scenes but it just didn’t look right.
Overall, Aladdin isn’t a great film but it’s better than I thought it would be. When the film adds to the original film, particularly with the new scenes for Jasmine, it works and it does have some of the charm of the original film. However, I didn’t have the same feeling of joy watching this that I do watching the original and, ultimately, I just didn’t really feel anything watching the film.
My Rating: 3/5