Was this live action remake necessary…blah blah blah…does it even make any interesting changes or updates to the original…blah blah blah…is it just the same thing over again because you’ll probably see it anyway, as decreed by our lizard people overlords at Disney…blah blah blah… Every critic and I have probably been saying the same thing on repeat whenever the House of Mouse cranks out a live action “reimagining” of their classic animated library ever since 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, and 2019’s Aladdin isn’t any different. It is pretty good, though.
Unlike Disney’s looser last adaptation only two months back in Dumbo, Aladdin falls more into the Beauty and the Beast camp of a straightforward remake. The world is grounded in reality, the more cartoonish cartoon characters are toned down in conjunction, and the story carries itself with the serious, determined tone of a cinematic epic. But with Guy Ritchie helming the film at a significantly more fun, lighthearted angle, Aladdin is probably the one remake that also nails the classic Disney feel.
That’s in large part to the perfect casting of Mena Massoud in the titular role. Charming, doe-eyed, and seamlessly capturing the loveable, noble rascality of the good-hearted street thief, Massoud seems like he could have walked straight off the original celluloid sitting in the Disney vault. Naomi Scott is also excellent as Princess Jasmine, who’s even given a little more dimension and character this go around as a woman determined to be the best ruler her people can have. This development is incorporated seamlessly with the existing material, and the additional empowerment given to the character is payed off spectacularly in a new song sequence, “Speechless.” The duo can sing, to say the least, and their lovely, absolutely gorgeous rendition of “A Whole New World” is easily the highlight of the film.
On the buffer, bluer side, Will Smith does a decent job walking in the unfillable shoes of Robin Williams as the Genie. The part is significantly toned down and feels a little disjointed, sometimes coming off as a little too restrained compared to Williams’ performance and sometimes a little forced and insincere in trying to recapture his legendary manic energies. But when Smith is playing Smith and not a riff on Williams, the rapping Fresh Prince Genie works very well, especially thanks to the great little addition of a romantic subplot with Jasmine’s handmaid, Dalia, nicely played by Nasim Pedrad.
Some emotional and narrative beats feel rushed towards the end, but Richie translates Aladdin remarkably well into live action except for his film’s weakest link, which is, unfortunately, its villain. Despite some slight enhancements to the character’s backstory and motivation, (the very handsome) Marwan Kenzari just isn’t very menacing as Jafar. This can be largely attributed to poor casting, but it’s also likely a problem stemming from the impossibility of manifesting a literal, snakishly cartoon villain into live action. Just googling a picture of Jafar shows you the character’s ridiculously evil look, and therein actually lays the film’s biggest problem.
The thing is, so much about this remake is inferior to the original. Particularly in the visual department, no amount of half-assed CGI will ever match the simple beauty of a hand-drawn piece of animation. The Cave of Wonders and magic carpet rides aren’t nearly as, well, wonderous in live action as they are in the colorful beauties of animation due to the creative and visual liberties the latter medium naturally lends itself towards. When the film goes all in on practical sets and costumes, such as in the lavishly huge production value of the “Prince Ali” number, it excels and justifies its existence, but when falling back on bland, very dark CGI, it’s less than underwhelming.
We didn’t need, nor probably want it, but Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin is a good adaptation of the 1992 animated classic. Mediocre when it’s just playing the beats, but great when leaning into new creative spots, it’s a mellow recommend for audiences unexposed to or absolutely in love with the original.