Aladdin Review: Musters up enough nostalgic magic, but not much else
Here we are again with another outing of Disney’s plan to create live-action remakes of their animated classics, Aladdin. However, unlike most of Disney’s remakes, Aladdin has faced a litany of problems since it’s first details were released. From the questionable casting choice of Will Smith as Genie to take over the role after Robin Williams, to the concerns of whether Guy Ritchie was the right person to pen and direct the remake, and even the trailers causing uproar from fans because of concerns of the look and feel of the film, this remake has truly gotten off on the wrong foot. Personally, I never really have high expectations for these, as I pretty much see them as easy nostalgic cash-grabs, so going into Aladdin I didn’t have too high of hopes that it could capture the magic of the original.
Now that I’ve seen it, I think Aladdin definitely has some things about it that make it an interesting remake, but overall, it’s fine. Now, the film pretty much follows the same plot as the original so I’m sure you already know what it’s about. A charming thief, named Aladdin (Mena Massoud), develops a relationship with the princess of Agrabah, Jasmine (Naomi Scott), but is forced to retrieve a magical item for the nefarious vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari). Upon entering the cave of wonders, Aladdin finds a magic lamp that contains the powerful Genie (Will Smith) that gives him three wishes. From here, magical hi-jinks and musical moments ensue as Aladdin attempts to win Jasmine’s heart and put an end to Jafar’s plans.
It’s not necessarily surprising that the overall story is pretty much the same, but the new story points they add in are disappointing with how pointless they are. All of the complexity of the older Jafar of the original has been stripped away for a younger, more power-hungry Jafar that’s just bland and captures nothing that made the character iconic. It’s easy to see that Kenzari is trying his best, however the wise mindset, nefarious voice, and creepiness are gone. The film even tries to throw in this new idea that Jafar was the same as Aladdin at one point, but it only services to make a later scene make sense and doesn’t add anything to the overall plot. The same can be said about the “relationship” the film forces Genie to have so that the film’s opening has purpose and it just felt like an unnecessary attempt to be “different.”
I will say that the one difference that does work is Smith’s Genie as he really makes the role his own and provides a pure sense of fun throughout the entire film. While everyone was worrying about his look, my real concern was that Smith would be trying or told to be more like Williams’ original performance and that he would end up just being something he’s not. For the most part, he doesn’t do that and instead has a performance that captures the charm, charisma, and care that Genie is known for. He’s easily one of the best parts of the film, if not the best part, and his style works well with the more hip-hop styled music.
If there’s one thing that Aladdin has always had going for it, it must be the music. With the remake, the music is a little hit or miss. Songs like “Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali,” and the “Arabian Nights” opening are given some nice touches with Smith voice bringing some energy to the songs, some nice choreography, and CGI that adds some magic to these musical numbers. Even the new song for Jasmine, “Speechless,” is a nice addition, even if the reprise of it later in the film feels completely out of place. Unfortunately, other songs like “One Step Ahead” and “A Whole New World” fall flat because of their lack of energy. “A Whole New World” is forcibly put into the film and I couldn’t help but be distracted by the backing music and it lacks any sort of genuine mysticism or magic. “One Step Ahead” also fall short of the energy of the original as Massoud’s voice just couldn’t make the song as special as it should be.
Now, I don’t want to pick on Massoud specifically, but he just wasn’t coming off as the titular character to me. Throughout the film, he comes off as very one-note and tonally did not bring a wide range. It’s tough to say whether it’s him or Ritchie’s direction, but he delivers every line with the same tone regardless what emotion Aladdin is feeling and it makes him come off as one-dimensional. Scott is mostly solid as Jasmine, but the film doesn’t really give her much to do and doesn’t try to add anything to her character.
Not to mention, there’s a significant plot hole that really bugs me and makes Jasmine and Jafar come off as kind of dumb. Just like in the original, when Aladdin returns to Agrabah as Prince Ali, Jasmine and Jafar don’t recognize him even though doesn’t look different at all. The film tries to explain this off as them not recognizing him because “they only saw him as a street rat before.”
While maybe this could explain Jafar not realizing its him, even though he tried to kill him before, this explanation is quite a stretch for Jasmine not recognizing him as she already had strong feelings for Aladdin. So, them not realizing its him, without trying to make him actually look different, kind of makes Jafar and Jasmine look dumb and having them recognize him, but not want to say anything could’ve made for an interesting change to the story and built up some interesting drama. It also could’ve given Jasmine and Jafar a stronger part in the story because, let’s face it, they just don’t have enough to do.
Look, Aladdin does a fine job giving fans the classic nostalgia they would be looking with this remake and, honestly, it’s probably one of the better remakes thus far. However, it suffers from the same blandness as all the others and constantly makes easy choices that don’t try to reinvent the formula, when maybe it should. Truthfully, fans deserve better than just the streamlined nostalgia that Aladdin offers and, I feel like a broken record saying this, Disney needs to try harder to bring fresh magic to it’s classics rather than the dusty glitter that’s seen here.