With Disney turning out disappointing live-action remakes of their most iconic animated properties including 2014’s “Maleficent” and 2017’s “Beauty and The Beast,” “Aladdin” comes to theaters as a surprise with something that the aforementioned films lack: passion. There is a sense of wonder, visual beauty and respect for the original film throughout this remake and it is sure to entertain families and filmgoers alike.
“Aladdin” stars Mena Massoud as the titular Arabic thief who, along with his monkey Abu, finds a flying carpet and a magic genie, played by Will Smith, which he uses to try and woo Princess Jasmine, played by Naomi Scott. Meanwhile, the villainous Jafar, played by Marwan Kenzari, seeks the lamp, which holds the genie, to bring him absolute power.
Most of the actors play their roles well especially Massoud and Scott. Massoud perfectly captures the original spirit of Aladdin and adds his own charm to the role. Princess Jasmine is given more character development than in the original which is saying something as the animated Jasmine is one of the strongest Disney princesses of all. This includes her own song, “Speechless,” which she sings to describe her unwillingness to remain silent.
Will Smith is pitch perfect as the Genie. Portraying this character was probably the hardest part of the film’s production. Very few characters are as synonymous with the actor who portrayed them as the original Genie was to the late Robin Williams who brought his legendary improvisational comedy to the role. The passion and charisma Williams brought to the role was phenomenal.
However, Smith manages to hop over this gigantic hurdle with his own charm. Smith brings his rapping experience to his musical performances while paying a great deal of respect to William’s performance. Smith also alternates between a blue computer-generated body to being on set wearing Arabic clothing and sporting a top-knot. Comparing Williams and Smith is like comparing Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger’s portrayal as the Joker. Both are good but are different to a point of establishing separate identities.
The music in the film is utterly fantastic with Alan Menken returning to score the film after working on the original. The score of the film takes traditional Arabic themes and makes them grand anthems. Most, if not all, of Menken’s songs from the original film are used with standouts including “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World.” The musical sequences are bright and colorful and contain a fantastic amount of choreography.
The aforementioned “Speechless” was written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the lyricists behind the songs of “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.” Collaborating with Menken, the trio created a marvelous anthem which is sure to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
One of the most fantastic elements of the film is the production design. Seeing these animated wonders such as the Cave of Wonders and Agrabah brought to life is pure Hollywood magic. The computer generated effects of Abu, the flying carpet, Rajah the tiger and the Genie are all fantastic and they all look like they really shared the set with the actors.
The only negative the film offers is the treatment of Jafar. It’s not that Kenzari does a horrible job, but he just doesn’t have the threatening demeanor of the original. While “Maleficent” was bad, it at least offered Angelina Jolie’s villainous portrayal of the Mistress of Evil.
“Aladdin” proves that Disney doesn’t need to rely on Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel to make good films. By staying faithful to the original, the film connects to the original audience while also changing parts of the story to make it more modern. “Aladdin” is worthy of the story of a diamond in the rough.