The Guy Ritchie directed take on Disney’s animated feature “Aladdin” opens in theaters this weekend and you can feel the collective shudder from fans as they ponder yet another ‘live-action’ remake. Like a gem in the cave of wonders, this update to Disney’s Aladdin has flaws, but it shines too.
There was a significant amount of fretting over the casting of the main roles for Disney’s Aladdin. The good news is that everyone acquitted themselves admirably. Naomi Scott was the crown jewel of the film taking the role of Princess Jasmine to new places. Mena Massoud is a perfectly serviceable Aladdin (although the filmmakers do him wrong with a few awkward CGI-heavy scenes). Will Smith does manage to make The Genie his own in a few important scenes, although it’s hard to tell if some scenes are tributes to the late, great Robin Williams or just pale imitations.
My favorite performance by far was Nasim Pedrad who plays the handmaiden Dalia who added a large dose of humor in her newly created role. Marwan Kenzari’s star is rising in Hollywood and you can see why he was cast as Jafar. He is suitably power hungry and evil for the role. He does not, however, attempt to recreate the Jonathan Freeman version of the character, which might disappoint some fans.
Four of the main characters in the movie are nearly entirely computer animated creations (with a few puppet stand ins). Besides one or two awkward moments, you can hardly tell they weren’t there on set. One of the things that makes this work is the characters tend to disappear to cut down on the amount of time they’re on screen, but when you see Abu, Carpet, Rajah, and Iago you’ll have to remind yourself they are in fact not there.
However you feel about Aladdin, this is a good sign for Disney’s updated take on “The Lion King,” which is coming to theaters later this summer. Extra kudos for Alan Tudyk who provides the voice of Iago. He’s not the same parrot you see in the animated film, but he does continue to play a key role as Jafar’s sidekick.
I’m a fan of the two Sherlock movies from director Guy Ritchie where he plays with slow motion replays to put you in the mind of the detective. However, his use of the technique to slow down or speed up the pace in certain parts of Aladdin just doesn’t work. The worst use comes in the Agrabrah market as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine (in disguise as this point) run from the Palace Guards during the song “One Jump Ahead.” I saw this during the special preview at Disney’s Hollywood Studio and cringed then. It’s not any better in the extended version of the scene. Thankfully that technique doesn’t appear too much elsewhere in the film.
There was also some horrible use of CGI to recreate a few moments moments of Aladdin doing some special parkour like movies that are painfully obvious or Princess Jasmine breaking into a music video in the middle of the movie. Both could have been cut from the movie with no harm to the film, so I don’t know why they were left in there. In short, Aladdin would have been a lot better if there was less Guy Ritchie in it.
Agrabah is set in a make believe kingdom and the prologue goes out of its way to declare it a multi-cultural melting pot. The movie takes great strides toward diversity and empowerment in how it modifies the original story. Regardless, I couldn’t help but feel like a few scenes were walking the dangerous lines of cringe-worthy stereotypes. There’s still a version of Aladdin waiting to be told that has more appropriate cultural representation behind the camera and in front of it.
The main theme of Disney’s original Aladdin focused on not judging a book by its cover and it is what is on the inside that counts. That remains in this movie, but it adds another lesson… that we are not confined by the situation we’re born into. Aladdin is more than a street rat and Princess Jasmine is more than a thing to be married off in a political alliance. Jasmine’s story is updated the most, questioning not just why she has to marry for the kingdom, but also why she can’t become its next leader.
Like a gem with flaws, Disney’s Aladdin still has value. I would urge fans not to pre-judge this version of Aladdin. It’s not perfect, but there is a lot to love about the movie. I see it in IMAX during my media screening and I would definitely recommend seeing in theaters to appreciate the scope of the film. Maybe just catch the matinee screening.