Of all the live-action Disney remakes announced, Aladdin was probably one of the more talked-about for a number of reasons. Would it offend the memory of Robin Williams? Would it portray Middle Eastern/Persian/Indian culture in a less offensive way in some scenes? Would it actually decide if the culture portrayed should be Middle Easter, Persian, or Indian? Is Guy Ritchie really the best choice to direct this film? Would Iago and Rajah be cut?
It seems that most of these worries were quickly relieved as the film grossed over a billion dollars at the box office. But what do I think of this remake? Read on to find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film opens aboard a merchant ship wherein a be-turbaned mariner, played by Will Smith, is telling his two children the story of “Aladdin, the princess, and the lamp”. He introduces the story by singing Arabian Nights as the camera pans all over the kingdom of Agrabah sometime in the past.
When the song ends, we are introduced to the hero of our story, the street urchin/petty thief, Aladdin, played by Mena Massoud, and his CGI monkey sidekick, Abu, whose vocal effects are provided by Frank Welker, just like in the original film.
Aladdin has lived his entire life in the streets and marketplaces of Agrabah, stealing what he can to survive. This particular day, he notices a merchant trying to get a bracelet from a woman who has just given two hungry kids food from his stall without paying for it. Aladdin saves the woman and as the two run away from the royal guards who are after them for stealing, we get the One Jump Ahead song.
And…I can’t believe I’m saying this. I feel so unclean and possibly even sinful to say this, but…I actually think this song is done better in this film than in the original film.
The song flows perfectly in pace with the action provided by the chase that keeps your heart pumping as you watch the duo evade the guards’ grasp! It’s the type of song that you think could only be done with animation, but it shows that it is possible to have an action movie musical! There were some lyric changes that I didn’t really get, but overall, I was really impressed with the picturization of this song!
Eventually, the two escape to Aladdin’s hideaway in the city. So who is this woman? This is actually the daughter of the Sultan, Princess Jasmine, played by Naomi Scott, who puts on an incredibly convincing American accent which even had me fooled!
She has been kept hidden away in the palace for a long time now since her mother was killed. But she’s now gained the courage to break out of the palace walls and see the city and her subjects once again incognito.
That’s one interesting thing about the Jasmine in this film. She isn’t super confident right away; she builds it up as she gets more comfortable doing certain things.
Aladdin recognizes that she’s royalty and suspects that she may be the handmaiden to the princess, Dalia. Jasmine keeps her identity a secret as well and goes along with the identification of Dalia. The two hit it off pretty well, but she soon has to return to the palace as “Princess Jasmine” has to go meet a new suitor who has come to ask her hand in marriage. She leaves angrily though as Aladdin can’t seem to find the bracelet that she had and she assumes he stole it like the thief he is. He soon realizes that Abu has stolen the bracelet and decides to return it to her later that night.
Before that, however, he sings the One Jump Ahead reprise after being abused in the streets, but this reprise doesn’t work in the remake. Firstly, it’s done during the daytime rather than the more contemplative, emotional night. Secondly, Mena Massoud’s singing of it could be a lot better. Finally, in the original film, this was sung before he meets Jasmine. In this film, he has already met Jasmine and has a connection with her. You just don’t feel as sorry for him as he does have one good thing in his life rather than in the original film where it seemed he had nothing really to live for.
Later that night, Aladdin breaks into the palace undetected, well almost undetected. The Royal Vizier, Jafar, played by Marwan Kenzari, notices him from afar and an idea pops into his head. Jafar has been the second-most important and second-most powerful person in the kingdom after the Sultan, for too long now. He has been trying desperately to change this status by seeking out a magic lamp hidden in the Cave of Wonders. The Cave, however, only allows the “diamond in the rough” to enter, a person Jafar has been searching for forever! And after seeing Aladdin break into the palace, Jafar comes to the conclusion that he must be the “diamond in the rough”.
Aladdin manages to get into Jasmine’s quarters, which both surprises and impresses Jasmine. She still hasn’t told him who she really is and has her handmaiden, Dalia, played by Nasim Pedrad, pretend to be the Princess in a quite funny scene. The chemistry between Aladdin and Jasmine grows and he promises to meet her again the next night.
As he leaves, Jafar’s guards kidnap him and take him into the desert the next day (unbeknowsnt to Jasmine). Jafar tells Aladdin how he used to be a common thief like him when he was younger, but aspired for governmental-level stealing. He also explains how the woman he thought was Dalia was actually Princess Jasmine. He ends by telling Aladdin that he can make him rich enough to impress the princess if only he’d go into the Cave of Wonders and retrieve, what he describes as an “oil lamp”, for him. Aladdin hesitantly agrees to this.
The Cave of Wonders accepts Aladdin and Abu and they’re told not to touch anything else but the lamp. And of course, Abu ends up touching something causing the entire cave to collapse upon itself. Aladdin and Abu try escaping, but Jafar tells Aladdin to give him the lamp first. When Aladdin gives him the lamp, Jafar shows his treacherous ways and knocks both Aladdin and Abu back into the cave to die.
Unbeknownst to Jafar though, Abu has stolen the lamp back, and after Aladdin rubs it, a Genie pops out, played by Will Smith. Will Smith (I know his character is the Genie, but I’m just going to call him Will Smith from now on) tries to explain to Aladdin that he can grant him three wishes. This is done through the showstopping number, Friend Like Me, a number which isn’t better than the original film, but is pretty impressive nonetheless, both due to the visuals and Will Smith’s singing.
Everyone’s biggest fear was that Will Smith playing the Genie would be offending the memory of Robin Williams. But honestly, from the get-go, Will Smith makes the role his own. Not once do you even stop to compare him to Robin Williams as it’s evident that they’re two different and separate performances. Will Smith performs respectfully and we feel that Robin Williams’ memory has remained intact.
Anyway, Aladdin tricks Will Smith into getting them out of the cave on his own, thereby saving all three of his three wishes. He uses his first wish to become a prince so that he’s eligible to marry Princess Jasmine. Will Smith transforms Aladdin into Prince Ali from Ababwa and they soon enter through the gates of the city with an entourage performing the Prince Ali number.
While this song is picturized and sung well enough, it does have a big issue of lack of grandiosity. In the original film, this number could get super creative and epic with the animation, but in this film, the entourage feels more like a couple of parade floats. The song begins from the gates of the city and ends at the doors of the palace which is an incredibly short distance so it seems that the entourage has only traveled about the distance of two or three parade floats. There are also some lyrics changes, some understandable (like the removal of the word, “slaves”), but others which I don’t quite get.
The Sultan, played by Navid Negahban, invites Prince Ali and his entourage in and Aladdin, being new to the whole prince thing, pretty much makes a fool of himself even saying how he’s come to buy Princess Jasmine.
As you can imagine, Jasmine marches off offended. Nevertheless, the Sultan invites them to stay for the celebration of the harvest later that night. At the party, Aladdin tries to have a second chance of winning Jasmine’s affections and he does so by talking and dancing (with a little help from Will Smith).
Will Smith continually tries to tell Aladdin to just be himself and tell Jasmine who he is, but he keeps rejecting that advice. Also if you’re wondering why neither Jasmine nor Jafar has recognized Aladdin, Will Smith says it’s because people see what they’re meant to see, so in this case, they see a Prince, not a street rat.
Later that same night, Aladdin breaks into Jasmine’s room who is having trouble finding Ababwa on any of her maps.
But with a little drawing help from Will Smith, Ababwa becomes a new country to include in Yakko’s World.
Aladdin then uses a magic carpet he found in the Cave of Wonders to take Jasmine out on a scenic ride in the iconic number, A Whole New World. This number is probably the most disappointing as it doesn’t seem nearly as majestic as it should be and Mena Massoud’s and Naomi Scott’s singing sounds flat.
Jasmine has fallen in love and even suspects that Prince Ali is indeed Aladdin. But Aladdin denies this saying that he was really Prince Ali pretending to be a street urchin when he met Jasmine, a lie which Jasmine reluctantly accepts.
By now, Jafar has discovered that Prince Ali is also Aladdin and has used the Will Smith in the lamp to become Prince Ali. So Jafar orders his guards to throw Aladdin to his watery grave. Thankfully, Abu throws the lamp into the water after Aladdin hits it and it gets rubbed by Aladdin prompting Will Smith to emerge. Aladdin has pretty much gone unconscious by now, but Will Smith pulls some strings to make saving Aladdin’s life count as his second wish.
Aladdin returns to the palace and exposes Jafar to both Jasmine and the Sultan. The Sultan then has Jafar arrested and thrown into jail. Both the Sultan and Jasmine are pleased with Aladdin and want him to be their son-in-law and fiancé, respectively. Aladdin is happy about this too, but still doesn’t tell them the truth of who he really is.
Aladdin’s getting paranoid about keeping up the appearance of Prince Ali and although he had previously promised to set Will Smith free with his third wish, he is now reneging on that promise. Will Smith is, of course, disappointed at Aladdin’s decision. While angry, Aladdin heads back to his old hideaway in the city and sings another version of the One Jump Ahead reprise. This one has quite repetitive and unnecessary lyrics to it and doesn’t seem to justify its own existence.
Unbeknownst to Aladdin, though, Jafar has stolen the magic lamp from him and now has Will Smith under his control. He uses his first wish to become the Sultan. He then orders the royal guards to take away the old Sultan and Jasmine. While being taken away, Jasmine gets to sing the brand-new song written by Pasek and Paul, Speechless. I know many people seem to love it, but I find it incredibly forgettable as well as oddly picturized as it’s mostly imagined by Jasmine and doesn’t go further than a few steps from the door she’s being taken from.
Jafar exposes Aladdin and banishes him and Abu to the ends of the earth. Fortunately, the magic carpet saves them both and brings them back to Agrabah. Jafar then uses his second wish to become a powerful sorcerer. Aladdin, now seeing the errors of his ways, warns Jafar that his power will never satisfy him. Jafar pays no heed to this and Aladdin convinces Jafar into using his third wish to become a genie. Actually, Jafar phrases it as “the most powerful being in the universe”, which translates into a genie somehow. Now that Jafar’s a genie, he’s shackled to the magic lamp and remains inside until the lamp is rubbed again.
Anyway, Will Smith sends Jafar’s lamp back to the Cave of Wonders and Aladdin uses his third wish to free Will Smith. The Sultan makes Jasmine the next Sultan who changes the law allowing the princess to marry a commoner. With the new law in place, Aladdin marries Jasmine and Will Smith marries Dalia (who had a romantic connection for each other throughout the film). Will Smith and Dalia ended up traveling the world by boat and having two kids, the two that we saw in the beginning of the film.
And that was Aladdin! Honestly, I was surprised! This turned out to be a better remake than I thought it was going to be. Keep in mind though that my expectations were incredibly low, but Guy Ritchie, you’ve surprised me!
The film doesn’t insult the memory of Robin Williams nor portrays the Middle Eastern/Persian/Indian culture in a negative light. The film still can’t decide whether or not the culture should be Middle Eastern, Persian, or Indian, but I guess I wasn’t really expecting that issue to be resolved.
The film does include Iago and Rajah, but they’re honestly treated as oversights so not worth mentioning. Both are CGI with Iago voiced by Alan Tudyk and Rajah, once again, vocalized by Frank Welker. The Iago in this film speaks and acts like a real parrot rather than a Gilbert Gottfried-screeching character.
The acting and singing performances by Will Smith and Naomi Scott were well-done although Scott’s singing felt a tad untraditional. Mena Massoud’s acting was kinda generic and his singing could get pretty bland at times. I wasn’t a fan of Marwan Kanzari’s Jafar who made him more insecure and whiny than he should have been.
The film has some impressive visuals, but also has an issue of being both a small-scale and grand-scale movie at the same time, which is quite confusing. The song numbers were mostly good although many of the changed lyrics seemed unnecessary. Also Billy Magnussen played a dimwitted stereotypical Scandinavian Prince Anders and I really don’t get why he was in the film nor why a series is being made about his character.
In the end, while my opinion on live-action Disney remakes of animated films hasn’t changed, I still am pleasantly surprised by this film! That doesn’t mean that I’m down for sequels to live-action remakes though!
The next review will be posted on March 24, 2020.