Review: Aladdin (Live-Action 2019)

I think it goes without saying that Disney's 1992 Aladdin was a childhood staple for anyone who grew up in the '90s, and I am no exception. Therefore, my initial reaction when I found that they were doing a live-action remake was rather cynical. I have not been a fan of the remakes Disney had done in the past, and the last original live-action princess movie I saw from them left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Therefore, I went into the Aladdin remake with high hopes and low expectations. Is it possible to recapture the magic of the original film without coming off as lifeless clone like the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast? Spoiler alert: The answer is an enthusiastic yes.

After seeing one Disney disappointment after another and spending a great deal of time studying the art of screenwriting this year, I was beginning to think that perhaps I was becoming jaded. Maybe the sense of wonder I felt after seeing a new movie for the first time simply ceased to exist as I became older. Then I sat down in a dark theater to watch Guy Ritchie's interpretation of Aladdin, and those feelings poured over me again like a waterfall for the first time in years. The opening image of a ship sailing out to sea reminded me more of the beginning of The Little Mermaid than Aladdin, which caused it to pique my curiosity as to how this would lead into the story I was already familiar with. Even though the outcomes were the same, the way that the characters reached them was refreshing and new. Alan Menken's new score felt just as exhilarating as it did nostalgic, and the cinematography was pure magic.

I think the first thing that drew me into the story was the reimagined world of Agrabah. It looked and felt organic in a way that the Broadway production failed to capture. From the subtle details like the hidden retractable staircase leading to Aladdin's home to the Morrocan inspired fountains, mosaics, and architecture in the palace courtyard, this version of Agrabah felt like one that I could actually see and touch. A lot of it reminded me of the Morroco pavilion in Epcot at Walt Disney World, which holds a special significance to me because I used to visit that place so often that I was on a first-name name basis with Aladdin. This film rekindled the exact same sense of wonder I had when I sat by the fountain and waited for Aladdin and Jasmine to come out and greet their visiting guests.

I am so grateful that this film cast their lead roles based on talent instead of fame because they could not have found a better match for their leading couple than they did in Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott. Mena captures the adorkably lovable insecurities of Aladdin perfectly behind an endearing mischievous grin. His awkward attempts to act like a prince when he had no idea what he was doing were both hilarious and charming. Naomi is a powerhouse that embodies Jasmine's rebellious spirit and desire to be free. Her new solo "Speechless" adds a whole new layer to her character that builds upon her desire to change the laws of Agrabah in the original film. Together, the two of them have fantastic chemistry, although it is reflected more during their spoken dialogue exchanges than the famous magic carpet ride that everyone remembers from the original film.

The secondary plot revolved around Will Smith's incarnation of the Genie and Nasim Pedrad as Jasmine's handmaiden, Dalia. These characters had an adorkable chemistry of their own that never overshadowed that of the leading couple. Though Will Smith never came close to the legacy Robin Williams created as the blue guy, he intentionally downplayed his role in the story to allow Mena Massoud to shine as Aladdin. I did not particularly enjoy listening to Will's hip hop versions of "Friend Like Me" or"Prince Ali" outside of the context of the film, but it worked fine alongside Alan Menken's new modern score. Nasim Pedrad shined as Dalia through hilarious her facial reactionary facial expressions. Like Rachel Bloom from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Nasim is a prime example that women can be just as funny as men.

For a live-action movie, it isn't necessary to portray the same over-the-top mustache-twirling cackling villain that we got in the cartoon, but Marwan Kenzari downplayed the role of Jafar a little too much. I appreciated his original take on the character as a quiet and methodically scheming underdog who secretly felt that he rightfully deserved all of the Sultan's power, but when it came time for him to enact his evil plot and show his true colors, the whole movie fell flat. He just didn't have the moxy to single-handedly carry the third act of the film in the same way that Aladdin and Jasmine carried the first two. I think it could have been possible to resolve this if this version of the film had included a certain giant snake that was in its animated counterpart or something equally intimidating, but it seemed like all of movie's magic had run out by that point. If I could have picked my own actor to play Jafar, it would have been Amir Arison, the menacingly wicked Sultan from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, one of my favorite underrated TV shows that placed its own original spin on the world of Agrabah.

In spite of that one shortcoming, I strongly urge anyone who loves princess culture to head to theaters and see this breathtaking new take on a familiar tale. Do not wait for it to come out on Netflix (or more likely Disney+). Guy Ritchie's sweeping camera shots and visceral environments of Agrabah can only truly be appreciated on a grand theatrical scale. Jasmine's gorgeous middle eastern gowns are like nothing I've seen before on the big screen, and her new song "Speechless" is as empowering as it is catchy. However, if none of these reasons are enough, see it for Mena and Naomi's wonderful performances and the nuanced chemistry they bring to Aladdin and Jasmine's relationship.


Popular posts from this blog

Fans "Wish" Disney Had Used These Abandoned Concepts

Review: Disney Princess - The Concert

Princess Fashion

Review: The Spanish Princess/White Queen Trilogy

Review: Damsel (Netflix)

One Hundred Princesses for My 100th Post

Review: Time Princess - The Underground City

Review: Unicorn Academy (Netflix)

Review: Princess Peach Showtime!

Happy International Mermaid Day!