Dan's Review: Disney's "Aladdin" remake is surprisingly fresh, fun
May 24, 2019 12:40AM
● By Dan Metcalf
Mena Massoud and Will Smith in Aladdin - © 2019 Disney.
Rated PG for some action/peril.
Starring Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen, Numan Acar, Robby Haynes, Jordan A. Nash, Taliyah Blair, Aubrey Lin, Amir Boutrous, (voices of) Alan Tudyk, and Frank Welker.
Written by John August and Guy Ritchie, based on Disney's "Aladdin" by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, based on the folktale "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp" from "One Thousand and One Nights."
Directed by Guy Ritchie.
If you’ve been following my reviews over at all over the past few years – or know me personally, you’d know that I’m no fan of Disney’s recent affair with remakes of their classic animated films. It seems to be more about making a few more bucks than adding a fresh new take on their beloved films. Most of them are disappointing carbon copies (Beauty and the Beast) or downright terrible (Dumbo), with the one exception (so far) being 2016’s Jungle Book, which offered a new perspective, incredible visual effects, and a pleasing twist. I’ll admit that before seeing Aladdin, Disney’s latest live-action remake, I was skeptical that it would try too hard to be exactly like its 1992 animated predecessor - or would simply suck.
It’s the story of Aladdin, an orphaned “street rat” living off what he can steal from the markets of the mythical city of Agrabah. He meets a beautiful young woman who disguises herself as common folk but is really Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), daughter of the Sultan (Navid Nagahban), trying to escape the isolation of palace life. Jasmine also does not want to be relegated to a princess-in-waiting and longs to lead her people. Aladdin and Jasmine hit it off but are soon separated by their contradictory lifestyles. Meanwhile, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the Sultan’s grand vizier (second in command) is plotting to find a “diamond in the rough” to retrieve a magic lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Jafar captures Aladdin and makes a deal to reward him – if he can get the lamp. With the assistance of his pet monkey Abu (voiced by Frank Welker, reprising his role from the original film), Aladdin keeps his end of the bargain but is double-crossed by Jafar, who seals the lad inside the cave for life. If you already know the story, you also know that Aladdin (with help from Abu) ends up with the lamp and summons Genie (Will Smith) who grants him three wishes. Aladdin seizes on the opportunity to become a prince, so that he may be a culturally-acceptable suitor for Princess Jasmine. With Genie’s help, Aladdin makes a triumphant entrance back into Agrabah as “Prince Ali from Ababwa” and eventually impresses Jasmine, not to mention her father. Jafar discovers that “Ali” is really Aladdin and gets the lamp back before our hero can come clean about his true identity to Jasmine. As Genie’s new master, Jafar uses the lamp to strip away the sultan’s power for himself, banishing Aladdin to the ends of the Earth. With the help of the magic carpet and drawing upon his street smarts, Aladdin confronts Jafar in the hope of regaining control of his destiny.
As a Disney remake skeptic, I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the new Aladdin. It’s an honest attempt to offer a new point of view – without stripping away the heart of the original film. The colors, musical performances, and leading roles are well-written and beautifully presented with just the right amount of humor. The script is not a carbon copy, either, offering up a little more nuance and a few back stories that complement the narrative, rather than detract from it.
The biggest potential for distraction comes with the casting of Will Smith in the role made famous by the late Robin Williams. I have to admit that I admire Smith’s courage in taking on such an iconic character and making it his own. It’s not a better version of Genie, but a unique one. Sure, if you’re going to compare Smith to Williams, there’s no contest, but that doesn’t mean Smith is terrible, either. Smith also sings rather well and has a fresh take on the character that comes across with a little more complexity than the original version.
Mena Massoud does a fine job in capturing a little more depth for the leading role but the brightest star in Aladdin is Naomi Scott, whose singing voice (with a new original song) and performance steal the show.
Overall, I have to admit that the new Aladdin is a lot of fun and does nothing to tarnish the original film. If Disney can tap into what director Guy Ritchie was able to pull off in this remake, maybe there’s hope for the next ones.