From the talented director that brought you fast paced crime films like Snatch, two Sherlock Holmes movies, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E comes … Aladdin? Now, that is not where one expected the sentence to go when it began.
Aladdin, the latest offering from Disney’s live-action factory, directed by Guy Ritchie, stars Mena Massoud as the titular Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, and Will Smith as the Genie. The film opens on a ship—probably a subtle call back to Pirates of the Caribbean—where a decidedly non-blue Genie begins to tell the tale of Aladdin and the magic lamp. We are then transported to the brightly coloured streets of Agrabah and green screen, where a street urchin (Aladdin) bursts into song after a meet-cute with Princess Jasmine. Those who have seen the 1992 version will know exactly what happens next.
Why? Because there are next to no changes that they have made to the original movie whatsoever. Yes, there are rather feeble attempts to flesh out Jafar’s (Marwan Kenzari) character, especially during a scene with Aladdin outside the cave, but the effort splutters and dies a quick death about halfway into the movie. The same can be said of giving more agency to Jasmine, which, despite Naomi Scott’s fierce performance, about limits itself to allowing her one extra song to sing. The song in itself was not quite bad though, so be prepared to hear 'Speechless' at countless talent shows in the coming year. Another addition is Nasim Pedrad as Jasmine’s handmaid Dahlia, and although it is clear from the beginning that she will remain a side character, the always welcome Pedrad acts the heck out of the character.
The costumes are rich, elegant, and true to ethnicity, but the problem is that the movie seems reluctant to properly identify itself with its clearly Middle Eastern setting. Ritchie’s Agrabah is a mash of several vaguely Arabian countries stuck in Middle Eastern limbo. Consequently, the choreography (what little there is) suffers from the same issue.
Of course, when it is a Disney movie, one cannot go without mentioning the music. The now household names of Pasek and Paul have joined forces with the indomitable Alan Menken to come out with a soundtrack that, much like the movie itself, closely sticks to the original, with 'Speechless' being the only original song. However, Pasek and Paul have altered certain problematic lyrics to better fit the times, especially the opening track ‘Arabian Nights’. Massoud and especially Scott deliver star performances vocally, while their ridiculous good looks and crackling chemistry transcend the clunky script to a whole new world.
But then again, such is the fate of all remakes that they be compared with the original. And in this case, Will Smith is the one most severely affected by this nostalgic outlook. Objectively, one cannot fault his performance. Indeed, for the most part he tried to steer clear of even attempting to imitate Robin Williams’ iconic take on the Genie. He’s funny, he’s sassy, and he has abs. What more could one want? And yet, one cannot shake the gleeful, laboriously animated version that we all know and love.
But who knows, for a whole new generation, this could be the only Aladdin they know. Not the most exciting prospect, but at least the cast is not completely white Caucasian people. Yay for progress!
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Marwan Kenzari, Nasim Pedrad