The purpose of a remake is in spinning an old story with some intriguing new twists. This hasn’t always been followed by the recent Disney “live-action” remakes of their animated classics, but it has been sighted in the likes of The Jungle Book (2016) and Maleficent (2014). Now a rehash of the animated classic Aladdin (1992) has been put to the screen with Guy Ritchie in the director’s chair.
Aladdin (2019) follows the same identical beats as its animated predecessor. The eponymous main character is a street-thief (Mena Masoud) in the fictional Arabic city of Agrabah who falls in love with the princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). When tasked by the manipulative vizier Jaffar (Marwan Kenzari) to take a lamp from the Cave of Wonders, he comes into contact with the lamp’s Genie (Will Smith) who grants him three wishes.
Like the animated film this iteration is a musical, and a very beloved one at that. Disney had already remade the musically ubiquitous Beauty and the Beast (1991) in 2017, and while that remake had been a huge hit commercially (over $1 billion) it had faltered when depicting the visually stunning music numbers. Given the Genie’s great participation in Aladdin’s highlights and musical numbers, I was concerned that Ritchie might fall below expectations as well; however, the British director was surprisingly adept at filling the screen with color and dazzle that equate the original film’s allure. One aspect that Ritchie was able to enhance is the choreography, which is always more enjoyable with in-the-flesh performers, and which in this 2019 version was complex and immersive. No doubt it was one of the highlights of the film, and one update that worked for Disney’s favor in justifying this remake.
With many of the new remakes Disney has set forth, there has been an attempt to self-correct certain outdated aspects of the films and character decisions. This is certainly welcome, although in my mind, doesn’t justify the need to remake a property. Regardless, it was great to see how the character of Jasmine is given much more of a spotlight. In Ritchie’s iteration she’s not only seen as a princess who’s only thoughts are of marriage (her rebelliousness comes from not wanting to marry inside her high class circle in the 1992 film), but one with ambitions to become a Sultan. Scott maintains the strong and fiery presence that the animated version hinted at, and she expands it with a grounding and powerful performance. Another curious and welcome change is in the costumes, both Aladdin and Jasmine’s scanty clothing in the animated version are reversed here for more visually stunning, yet less objectifying vestments; allowing for more focus on the characters than their physiques from easily-distracted viewers.
The film was made up of a largely unknown cast, with only Will Smith as the blunt star-power. This didn’t seem to hinder the film at all; in fact it might have enhanced it, with viewers attaching themselves more to characters than to the actors themselves. Mena Masoud brings about a confident and charming performance as Aladdin, and as mentioned before Scott delivers a magnetic Jasmine. However, the real core of Aladdin has always been the Genie; incarnated by the late Robin Williams in the original film, it would have been huge shoes to fill for any actor. Fortunately Will Smith is still as bold and captivating as in his best roles; the American actor is able to electrify the role of Genie and take it in a new direction to William’s, allowing for his performance to thus stand independent and provide another fresh breeze into the film.
The music is still as magical and catchy as you remember it, and overall Aladdin will manage to please many of the original’s fans. However, the film itself seem to be shadowing the risks and successes of the original too closely, making the efforts and accomplishes here, seem less earned. It just pains me as a viewer to see how well the cogs of this film worked; if only the investment and talent could have been lent to an original idea, then this team could have created a new classic instead of riding on the coat-tails of another.