Guy Ritchie‘s much anticipated and much debated Aladdin live-action remake has arrived and surpassed expectations delivering a fun, exciting, and magical adventure to a whole new world. The Disney classic is beloved by most with the characters and music a part of the childhoods of many. This remake does its best to do something different to the animated classic and succeeds in updating the story and characters to give it a more modern and slightly more “grounded” appearance.
The story follows street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud) who comes across a lamp, and a genie (Will Smith) who can make some of his wishes come true. Aladdin has his eyes set on princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), but Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the Grand Vizier, has his eyes set on the lamp and conflict ensues.
The film starts off a little on the slow end and eases you into this new world and these new characters, because aside from their core values, the characters in here are somewhat unique to their animated counterparts. It’s a bit choppy, bringing you up and down as you think it’s throwing the story into high gear before backtracking slightly for some more setup. The first act isn’t handled quite well from a pacing perspective. As far as the story is concerned, all the beats are there, and it’s thrilling and engaging stuff that ties into later moments very well. It’s just not presented in a way that keeps things moving consistently. It’s once Aladdin’s character-specific journey begins that it all kicks off and is smooth sailing right through to the end.
Many would know how the story goes and what all the major moments are that the story will hit. But for me I was hooked and invested in seeing where things would go, because where I knew what would happen in the long-run, there are enough minor changes to the story, songs, and dialogue that it really is like a new experience. That shows that Ritchie and the entire creative team were successful here in creating a product that captures the feel and tone of the original, whilst at the same time making it feel like a new experience. Once it gets you on that high you ride that high the whole way through with entertaining characters, fun quippy dialogue, and fast-paced action sequences. It’s a familiar story, but one with surprises, and it makes for a fulfilling ride.
The fact that it’s a more modern retelling does leave room for the writers to take liberties with the story and change things up. That’s exactly what they do here through altering/adding character backstories, songs and song lyrics, and plot points in the film. Thankfully, the writers used this opportunity to give Naomi Scott’s Jasmine more to do within the story and really strengthen her character. This would have been a major missed opportunity had they not so it’s good it was executed.
Being a Guy Ritchie film you can expect a good amount of Ritchie-style humour and action to grace the screen and that’s exactly what you get here. It’s a great blend of both where neither one overpowers the other. It’s never too action-heavy and not always going for the joke which is somewhat refreshing compared to other projects that focus heavily on both. Ritchie has always had a strong grasp on this balance so it’s no surprise. The humour in here is consistently effective the entire way through. The jokes remain pretty subtle with very few massive laugh-out-loud moments but it all adds to make the entire thing fun and amusing. A lot of the humour is delivered through rapidly-delivered dialogue or visual comedy and a lot of the time it’s a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ situation. I personally like this style as you can laugh and enjoy the humour without the joke overpowering the tone of the scene.
The main courier of the comedy in here is undeniably Will Smith as Genie. Not only is he the main bringer of the comedy, but just as Robin Williams was the life of the 1992 original, Smith is the life of this film. Which is ironic considering everyone thought he was going to be the death of it. The film gets better once Smith’s Genie is introduced. Every time he is on-screen interacting with Aladdin and the environment it’s instantly better than almost every other moment. He brings so much class, personality, and charisma to every scene that as soon as he’s not in frame, something seems missing. The way the animation moves him across the screen and how Smith portrays him is magical. Not only is he the source of the humour but he brings the emotional beats too. He really is the heart and soul of the movie and that’s glorious. Plus he made the character his own. It’s not Robin Williams’ Genie, he’s got his own personality and mannerisms that set the two apart.
Mena Massoud may not have a tonne of experience under his belt, but he is about as good of an Aladdin as we could have gotten. He embraces being the titular character and puts everything he has in bringing the character to life. He’s charming, witty, and can keep up with Will Smith’s Genie which is a testament to his acting ability. His scenes alongside Naomi Scott were just great, the two of them have such a strong chemistry that I cannot imagine the two weren’t cast without a chemistry test first. It’s integral to the story that these two work and they really do across every scene. Marwan Kenzari plays a slightly different Jafar, how he is different I will not say, but he’s a formidable villain and his presence and impact on the story is most certainly felt.
The music from Alan Menken is one of the most memorable part of the Disney classic and it’s altered and represented here brilliantly. Most of the music returns along with Alan Menken who graces the film with a fantastic score and soundtrack bringing back most of the original songs with a little bit of an updated twist. Whenever the musical set-pieces arrive an electric atmosphere fills the room that takes you right back to the first time you heard the music. If you have never heard the music before then you’re in for a treat.
As a finishing touch, the costuming and production design within Agrabah is just incredible. It builds the world up to be so authentic and real you wouldn’t believe it’s merely a fictional place. Don’t be surprised if it makes an appearance for wither of these at next year’s Academy Awards, although it would be tough as it’s so far away.
In the end, Aladdin manages to overcome all doubt that it would be a disaster and deliver a fun, upbeat, and thoroughly entertaining film that doesn’t compete with the original but stands alongside it as its own thing. The music is on point, performances are great across the board, and Will Smith is the shining light bringing the whole thing together. I say definitely check this one out if you’re a fan of the animated film or just love musicals in general.