No, he’s not like Robin Williams… and that’s okay.
Ever since Disney released the first trailer for Aladdin, their latest—and second of four this year(!)—live-action remake of their own animated property, the #1 issue on the Twitter-verse has been the questions surrounding Will Smith’s portrayal of the Genie. Originally made famous by the wildly frantic Robin Williams, few (if any) Disney characters remain so closely tied to their respective voice actors in terms of tradition. As a result, Twitter has not been kind to the prospect of a new suitor for the role, even someone with enduring star-power like Will Smith. What’s more, unfinished special effects or underwhelming song clips did little to excite audiences about Prince Ali’s mighty return. Thankfully, while not perfect, the film (and Smith’s performance) remains an endearing and entertaining family night out.
As in the original animated classic, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a lovable street urchin who meets Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), the beautiful daughter of the sultan of Agrabah. Enlisted by the villainous sorcerer Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) to find a mysterious lamp, Aladdin stumbles upon a magic oil lamp that unleashes a powerful, wisecracking, larger-than-life genie (Smith). As Aladdin pursues his dream of winning Jasmine’s hand, he also soon discovers a plot by Jafar to overthrow the Kingdom
Directed by Guy Ritchie, this depiction of Aladdin still manages to charm. Massoud and Scott have solid chemistry onscreen as the star-crossed lovers and Smith brings his trademark charm, humour and swagger to the role. (In fact, the very fact he took on the role is somewhat courageous and a no-win situation. Even if they had cast someone similar to Williams, Disney would be accused of the person of ‘trying too hard’ or being ‘too Williams-esque.’) As such, the casting works and the musical numbers are presented with the proper balance of nostalgia and fresh takes. Even the new Oscar-targeting ballad, “Speechless”, while feeling modern than the older songs, pops and shows actress Scott’s range and talent. (Although, it’s clear that Guy Ritchie seemed most uncomfortable shooting these scenes.)
Another traditional knock against Disney’s live-action remakes has been their ability to pad the narrative unnecessarily. Similar to previous examples, this version of Aladdinis a full forty minutes longer than the original, yet never really feels as though it’s dragging or taking away from the primary story. Whereas other live-action films such as Dumbo or Beauty and the Beast have added distracting side plots (A rival circus? The mystery of Belle’s mother’s death?), Aladdin keeps the film flowing for the most part by simply adding more humor or increased exposition. In short, the film still feelslike Aladdin… and that’s probably why you went in the first place.
One of the most significant changes to the film is Jasmine’s character who, in this incarnation, is much more assertive and proactive. Subtle changes to dialogue and a significant (but important) change to the film’s ending give Jasmine a voice in a culture of oppression. Unlike the original version, Jasmine is far more aware of the need for change within her kingdom, whether it stems from the value of the poor to the role of women. Thanks to the wisdom imparted by her deceased mother (who was ‘loved by the people’), Jasmine recognizes that true leadership involves knowing and respecting those under her care. Rather than content to stay in the palace, Scott’s Jasmine is one who sees vibrancy within the lives of others (and her own) and seeks to empower them. (Interestingly, a slightly more-fleshed out story for Jafar also suggests that his attempt to usurp the throne also stems from the abuse of a caste political system.) Unlike the original animated film which simply accepts its cultural oppression, this Aladdin(2019) recognizes that more work needs to be done to give voice to those who are ‘speechless’.
While not necessarily perfect, Aladdin is certainly one of Disney’s best live-action properties thus far. Vibrant with color and filled with (mostly) well-crafted musical numbers, Aladdinsurprises with its ability to re-capture the heart of its audience. While it’s not entirely a ‘whole new world’, it is still worthwhile to ‘make way for Prince Ali’.
Aladdinis currently making his way in theatres.