It’s a whole new world for Aladdin as the animated classic is the newest film to receive the live-action treatment on the big screen.
Much like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin stays true to the animated film in terms of plot. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) meets Agrabah Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and falls in love with her thanks to an assist from the Genie (Will Smith). There’s the evil Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) trying to steal the kingdom away from under the Sultan’s (Navid Negahban) nose. It’s really beautiful seeing what filmmakers can do when they’re not limited by the technology of the day. “A Whole New World” translates in live-action much in the same way that it does in animation. I have to admit that I was disappointed when I saw a clip of the show-stopping “Prince Ali” on Twitter a few days before the film. It plays so differently in IMAX!
In addition to two new songs, Princess Jasmine gets her own handmaiden, Dalia (Nasim Pedrad). The former Saturday Night Live actress provides some of the best comic relief in the film. It makes you wonder why she hasn’t broken out in a big way since leaving SNL in 2014.
Speaking of casting, Disney manages to right their biggest wrong from Aladdin. The casting process did drag out in 2017 but Mena Massoud made the process worth it in the end. I already liked what I saw from Naomi Scott in Power Rangers a few years ago. I came away from the film with a strong feeling about what the actress brings to the princess. This take on Princess Jasmine is a strong independent woman and could fit into today’s society, too. As for Will Smith, he’s okay in the film when–and I expect many critics will say likewise–he’s not acting like Robin Williams. After all, this role was originally written with Robin Williams in mind.
One of the reasons why Aladdin works as well as it does is because of Alan Menken. Our favorite songs are back with new songs written by Menken with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. One of the new songs is “Speechless.” Naomi Scott truly delivers with the power ballad. I was expecting a new song or two but this feminist ballad stays true to Princess Jasmine’s character. I fully expect that “Speechless” will resonate with many women. The song stuck with me after I left the theater–for good reason, of course.
Listen, I went into this film wanting to not like it. I grew up with Robin Williams as the Genie. Nobody–not even Will Smith–can replace the legendary comedian. He certainly does his best. When you take a beloved film from the 1990s and give it such treatment, there’s going to be a backlash. One can look at this as Disney turning to their previous films for new film ideas. I can certainly understand this line of thinking. In this modern era of movies, it’s hard to get audiences in seats by providing original content with no fan base. It’s in this line of thinking in which we see Disney adapting classic cartoons. Some of them work, some of them don’t.
There were certainly things in the film that do not work. One of which is Marwan Kenzari’s performance as Jafar. Part of it came off as campy to an extent. Nowhere in his performance does he come off as evil as Jonathan Freeman’s take in the classic film. Again, Will Smith is okay but there are times in which he’s trying to be Robin Williams. This is the part that I have to stress the most.
Aladdin in live-action is a whole new world that will leave you speechless while making one jump ahead. In all seriousness, the film isn’t as bad as it could have been based on promotional spots.
DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie
SCREENWRITERS: John August and Guy Ritchie
CAST: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen, Numan Acar