It’s no secret that these live-action remakes are nothing short of a cash grab for Disney. Aladdin (2019) does very little to distinguish itself from its 1992 animated counterpart. Of course, a facsimile is never as good as the original, and Guy Ritchie’s film is just that: a copy. With that being said, the original story and music that are primarily ported over to this live version still manage to muster a lot of joy out of even the most cynical audience members, as Ritchie and Disney tickle our nostalgia, charming their way into our hearts…and our wallets.
Aladdin casts a big enough spell to make us ignore Disney reaching into our wallets
Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a “street rat” who steals what he needs to survive while living in Agrabah. He comes to the rescue of Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who is about to be reprimanded for giving bread to some hungry children without paying for it, as she is unfamiliar with the concept of money. The merchant angrily demands (and obtains) her family heirloom bracelet as payment, Aladdin sweeps in for a daring rescue leading to a chase. He later returns Jasmine’s bracelet to the palace, where Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the Grand Vizier of Agrabah, gives Aladdin a choice to raise his station by retrieving a magic lamp for him.
Massoud and Scott are both solid in their roles and have enough chemistry to sell the romance. It does take a little while for Massoud to seem comfortable in his role as Aladdin, despite seeming a little wooden in the early moments of the film. During the first musical number, “One Jump Ahead”, he really starts to come into the character – but Ritchie’s editing and choice to speed up the end of the sequence manage to make it feel slightly off.
Scott was a brilliant example of casting as Princess Jasmine. She is powerful in her performance and is able to make the film’s less than stellar original song “Speechless” feel somewhat passable. However, the second iteration of the song does offer one of the worst scenes in the film. Without spoiling the context of the scene – although if you’ve seen the animated film there really isn’t much to spoil here, other than a few details that are altered – Jasmine imagines bad guys puffing into smoke as she sings the song. This is a bad idea for many reasons, but mainly because this is a movie with many characters using magic, so it is unclear whether or not they are actually poofing away. It’s supposed to be a moment of empowerment, but it feels more like a half-constructed idea in its execution.
The worst part of the film is the performance by Marwan Kenzari. Jafar was such a memorable villain in the animated movie, and Kenzari’s deadpan delivery of most of the dialogue never lives up to the expectations. Pretty much from the first moment that Jafar appeared on screen, my decision was made that his character was wrong. It never changes as the film progresses, and by the film’s end, my biggest criticism was the way this character was adapted…or, at least, poorly copied.
Before the film, the expectations of Will Smith as the Genie seemed to be the biggest concern. Smith hasn’t had a win in a while, but he totally brings the charm and wins the audience over here. I love Robin William’s Genie in the animated movie, and I was not thrilled that they would attempt to redo the character. While direct lines and jokes are pulled from the animated movie in this carbon copy, Smith manages to put enough of himself into the role and lines that it feels like him. His style and charm put just enough of a spin to nearly justify the film’s existence, at least more so than Dumbo (2019) or Beauty and the Beast (2017). Smith’s versions of “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” are very enjoyable – and while definitely very similar to their originals, they feel updated in a positive way.
Overall, I found Aladdin to be enjoyable. It still doesn’t need to exist, and I would totally recommend seeing Booksmart (2019) over Aladdin unless you’re just taking your kids to see it. Nonetheless, I’d gone in with the expectation of being annoyed and unhappy and only experienced those emotions when Jafar was speaking. Aladdin earns the Decent Watch rating.