Movie Review by Daniel DeRey
Aladdin is directed by Guy Ritchie and is co-written by him and John August. This is the live-action remake of the 1992 animated classic directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. The story is about Aladdin, an Arabian street-rat who stumbles upon a magic lamp containing an all powerful Genie (Will Smith). Aladdin is granted three wishes that he uses to try to impress the free-spirited Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Behind closed doors, Agrabah’s Royal Vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is plotting to steal the lamp for himself so that he may become Sultan and take total control, and it’s up to Aladdin, Jasmine, The Genie, and all of their friends to stop him.
There are certainly changes from the original story that were added in order to flesh out some characters and give them a more solid purpose. Jasmine is much more active in wanting to help her people by becoming the next Sultan, and The Genie actually has a love interest in the form of Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad). The first act of the film goes by at a very fast pace, which works in some ways but also brushes over some things that should have been a bigger deal, like when Aladdin first meets The Magic Carpet. However, the story changes do not detract from the narrative of the film and flow perfectly with the story beats from the original. Guy Ritchie knows how to make a story cohesive.
One of the things that definitely carried over from the original film is the humor and charm. John August and Guy Ritchie clearly knew how to make the characters relevant and entertaining in their screenplay. Everyone, especially Will Smith’s Genie, are given hilarious and endearing moments that flesh out their personalities and ambitions, while also showing their connections with other characters. Whether it’s Jasmine and Aladdin’s amazing romantic chemistry, The Genie’s funny wingman-esque banter with Aladdin, or Jasmine connecting with her father, the film knows how to use its characters to create emotionally satisfying scenes that range from side-splittingly funny to hilariously sweet.
Where Ritchie doesn’t succeed, however, is with some of the staging of the musical numbers. “One Jump Ahead” is staged very awkwardly, and “Prince Ali”, although fun, feels like it isn’t allowed to be as bombastic as the song wants to be due to the limitations of space and budget. With that being said, a majority of the numbers work tremendously well. “A Whole New World” is beautifully romantic and breathtaking with tremendous visuals. “Prince Ali”, although not as big as one may hope, is still a ton of fun. Jasmine has a new song called “Speechless” written by Pasek and Paul (La La Land and The Greatest Showman), which was staged very dramatically, sounded incredible, and left me wanting more. “Friend Like Me” is just as fun and creative as one would hope it might be and Will Smith brings enough of a Fresh Prince vibe to make it unique without turning away from what the song originally was. Also, the song sequences involving Aladdin singing alone felt very choppy and really made some of the actor’s auto-tuning more obvious.
The effects in the film are a mixed bag. Most of the effects in Aladdin comes across as cartoon-like, which works with the fast moving nature of The Genie, but, not so well when Jafar is conjuring up evil magic to threaten everyone. There is also some very noticeable green screen during a few big location changes that take away from some really impressive sets. There were many that were turned off by The Genie’s effects in the trailer, and while they weren’t improved for the movie, they were less of a problem then I feared because the character and performance outweighed the problematic CGI.
Moving on to the acting, Mena Messoud does a very good job as Aladdin. He’s got the wide eyed, lovably awkward, and quick on his feet attitude of the original, and he does a good job at getting you to root for him on his journey, even if his singing falls flat at times. Naomi Scott is absolutely brilliant as Princess Jasmine. Scott brings the character to life while making her three-dimensional in more ways than one. It’s very hard for someone to capture elegance, power, authority, and warmth in one performance but she did it with aces. Will Smith, stepping into the shoes of the iconic Robin Williams, gave a fantastic performance as The Genie. He makes the character his own in every way and most people won’t be thinking about Robin Williams when he is on screen because Will Smith is so enjoyable, funny, and endearing in his own unique way. Nasim Pedrad as Dalia provides some good comic relief, and Navid Negahban as Jasmine’s father, The Sultan, gives a very grounded and emotional performance that improves on the character from the original. The one performance that falls short is that of Marwan Kenzari as Jafar. For the most part, Kenzari isn’t bad, in fact he captures the weasel-like nature of a man hungry for power, but he never feels like a legitimate threat. When he does try to act big, evil, and maniacal, it sometimes comes across as goofy. Unfortunately, Kenzari was the least memorable part of the film, and felt very miscast in his role, despite the fact that he was clearly putting his all into it.
In conclusion, Aladdin works very well and tells its story in a well-paced and generally cohesive manner. It has a group of leads that are delightful, entertaining, and share great chemistry with each other. Many of the song sequences are entertaining, although some of the staging is a little awkward, and the effects aren’t always top notch. The characters and their interactions off of each other are what makes the movie work and feel truly magical. This is not a perfect live-action musical, but if people go in with an open mind, I think people will be surprised at how much fun, joy, and magic they can find in this film. All that considered, I’m going to give Aladdin a B.
See ya at the next show,