We’ve met a friend like Aladdin before; back in 1992 Disney released the two-time Oscar winning animation, and now in keeping with their recent trend of (money) spinning their back catalogue into live-action movies, we return to Agrabah to see the urchin fall in love again. Does this version reach majestic magic carpet heights or should it be bottled away for 10’000 years?
Adviser to the Sultan is Jafar (Marwen Kenzari) who seeks absolute power and the 3 wishes granted by a magic lamp in a faraway cave. Cue Aladdin (Mena Massoud); a market thief who might be the ideal candidate to enter and retrieve the item. However, it is Aladdin who winds up with the power of the Genie (Will Smith) within and his hopes of wooing Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) seem more powerful then their previous meeting.
No longer dealing with Cockney ruffians or Arthurian legend is Guy Ritchie, who directs this redo with some power in his corner, even if it’s apparent he doesn’t know how to capture musicals. The ammunition in his camp may mostly stem from the nostalgia of knowing and/or loving the original but he hasn’t majorly misstepped and, in fact the movie has plenty of punch, pizzazz and yahoo.
You can tell he’s behind the camera, with the update on the House of Mouse flick getting a few trick shots in, or at least moments that attempt a cool stylish flow; whether that be through slow motion or a mix of new and old. This doesn’t harm the film but never really adds a necessary spice either, though the blend of hip-hop and more traditional Asian influence is a flavourful dance delight after the main story wraps up.
The music of ‘Aladdin’ are favourites of mine so I was interested to see what new life and vocalists could bring to the table. Having composer Alan Menken and lyricists Tim Rice & Howard Ashman back on duty helps keep the Disney sparkle mostly in tact. ‘One Jump Ahead’ gets the toe tapping because the original music is a bop but the way the direction is handled is bizarre in the bazaar. The action on screen, for some reason is sped up in places which gives the entire scene an awkward, shoddy look.
‘A Whole New World’ is a serene thing of moonlit wonder; it doesn’t enhance the original but it doesn’t need to as the track is a classic. ‘Arabian Nights’ and ‘Friend Like Me’ both feature the former Fresh Prince combining singing and rapping to varying degrees of success. In terms of the latter and ‘Prince Ali’, the film has this hairography way of luring you into the joyful energy, colour and sound but it’s all a distraction to hide the fact the spins on the songs are less than special.
The costumes sometimes look cheap and the animal sidekicks are sadly left to the sidelines, none more than 1992 animated wise-cracker Iago. Aladdin himself is a dull lead, he has splashes of charisma and Massoud certainly gets the street rat hustle in his bones but he has more chemistry with monkey Abu than with the Sultan’s daughter. The biggest strength is in the politics, really the only change the script has seen in 27 years. The way Ritchie and John August ensure that Jasmine possesses a hungry desire to be more than a figure of beauty is awesome and no doubt empowering to many.
Will Smith has some golden moments and the CGI of his ‘Avatar’-esque appearance isn’t always ropy but he doesn’t burst out of Robin Williams shadow. Kenzari plays the sinister level well, it only notches to pantomime villainy near the end but he’s a good figure of evil. Naomi Scott is the one who steals the crown and is a royal gem to watch. There is passion, not only in her updated tale but within the very life of her eyes you can see and feel the drive and care she has for Agrabah, her father and the people. A new musical number is stunning with a pop ballad sound that you’d turn up if it came on the radio.
So, even if ‘Aladdin’ is less a diamond and more a rough copy of what’s been before, Jasmine and the heart of the main story are a wonder that do much better than the trailers would have you believe.