We are in the middle of a host of Disney Live Action remakes, earlier this year we had Dumbo and we are a couple of months away from The Lion King coming out. This week however we have a remake of the 1992 classic Aladdin from director Guy Ritchie.
There has been a real split into several camps with these films, with some films wildly changing from the original and other not straying at all. The live action film that Aladdin most reminiscent is Cinderella, where it follows the same story, but adds more to the characters and fleshes it out to feel far fuller. This is most obvious with the two central characters, Aladdin and Jasmine. Jasmine in particular becomes a far more fleshed out character. Rather than simply wanting the freedom to pick who she marries, this updated version of Jasmine is driven by her love for the people of Agrabah, and her belief that she is the successor who will best be able to care for them.
This new film also does a better job of establishing the bond between Aladdin and Jasmine early on, before he encounters the Genie, meaning that their relationship feels far more realistic. Aladdin too is given a stronger arc in the film, you feel that he is a truly good person throughout the film, not an impression I always got from the original, but that the lamp begins to corrupt his decision making. This makes him a far stronger and more relatable character, than the animated one ever was for me. The two are also brilliantly brought to screen by Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott. This is a really star making turn for both of them, particularly Mena Massoud who delivers one of the most charming and likeable performances of the year, and feels very much like a Guy Ritchie protagonist.
The other main protagonist in the film, the Genie, took a lot of heat after the early trailers for the films. Thankfully Will Smith’s interpretation of the Genie is great. At no point does it feel as though he is trying to just replicate Robin Williams’ original take on the character, and instead brings his own energy to the role. This needed to happen, because if anyone had tried to recreate Williams’ performance it would have just fallen flat as a subpar impression. Instead Will Smith brings all the charm and charisma that made him of the biggest stars of the 90s. The CGI design of the character was also criticised when it was first seen, but it wasn’t an issue in the film, and was certainly never distractingly bad.
On the other hand Jafar is a big step down. Marwan Kenzari just doesn’t bring the presence and menace that made the original Jafar such an incredible villain. In particular he lacks Jonathan Freeman’s evil drawl that was so iconic in the original. There is more done to flesh his character out as well, so you really understand what motivates him, but it doesn’t change the fact that it just doesn’t work. His sidekick Iago is toned down a lot so he’s far less cartoonish, and more like an smart parrot. Really this new interpretation of Jafar is the one big misstep in the film, although some will miss the Gilbert Gottfriedness of Iago.
One of the most interesting aspects of Aladdin, particularly with Ritchie at the helm, was going to be the musical numbers. The music in Aladdin was right up there with the best of 90s Disney with great songs like ‘A Whole New World’ and ‘Prince Ali’. And thankfully these songs are still great, and the additional number, ‘Speechless’, that Alan Menken returned to write is good as well. In particular the updated version of ‘Friend Like Me’ that Will Smith performs stands out as one of the big highlights of the film, with Ritchie bringing it to life wonderfully. And the new song felt needed as well, because the original music basically ends with ‘A Whole New World’, and ‘Speechless’ is a powerful number from Jasmine about not being kept silent by someone such as Jafar. The only real issue that Ritchie has with directing the musical sequences is the use of some weird sped up effect during ‘One Jump Ahead’ that was a little off putting, but quickly forgotten.
The world of Agrabah feels far more fleshed out and real as well works brilliantly. New minor characters such as Hakim the leader of the palace guards, the wildly entertaining Prince Anders (played by Billy Magnussen), and Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia all add to the film, although Dalia’s secondary romance with the Genie ends up being poorly executed. Meanwhile a lot of the more cartoonish elements that wouldn’t work in live action have been played down, such as the Sultan being such an eccentric buffoon, to keep the film feeling a little more grounded.
It is going to be hard not to enjoy this new version of Aladdin. Die hard fans of the original have plenty of the original film to see come to life and enjoyed, but the changes that have been made have enhanced the experience. I really like a lot of aspects of the original film, but it never comes together cohesively for me, and I think Ritchie has done a wonderful job of making it a far more complete film, and a worthy live action remake from Disney.