BEIRUT: From the blue Will Smith, to what seemed to be a hodge-podge of cultures within the production design exposed in the teaser trailers, and a cover of A WHOLE NEW WORLD that brought out the cringe, Walt Disney’s live-action remake of their Oscar-nominated ALADDIN had all the cards stacked against it.
Yet, upon watching it, many will find that this remake is actually quite charming in its own way and doesn’t ever tarnish the power of the original film’s magic, but rather honors its heart.
Directed by Guy Ritchie, whose last film came under heavy criticism, ALADDIN holds its own, despite having a few missteps along the way, and offers a rather colorful and diverse re-telling of the classic tale.
Written by both Ritchie and John August, BAFTA nominated screenwriter for Big Fish, the screenplay stays true to the animated iteration of the narrative, while expanding where need be to create a more accessible world and stronger well-rounded characters.
On the world-building front, the writers flex their muscles and detail the political situation in Agrabah: the reasons behind why Princess Jasmine is bound to the palace, her views and stance on ruling her kingdom, and to top it off, an expansion on Jafar with a sprinkle of backstory.
The great thing about all this is that it doesn’t veer away from the story nor the film experience, on the contrary, it fully works and adds to the film’s overall tone and enjoyability.
Everything that Ritchie is known for, over-use of extra-slow motion, and ramping up speed to name a few, are sparsely used whereas his flair for street scenes, long takes, and gritty action got the spotlight and that made the film all the better.
It was nice to see Ritchie playing in a limited space, a sandpit if you will, where his target audience is more family-based.
On a production design level, the film is downright beautiful.
ALADDIN is set in Arabia and the fictitious port city of Agrabah, a trading city on the Silk Road, which is the trade crossroads between the East and the West, and this is so present within the films overall vision.
Game of Thrones Emmy award-winning production designer Gemma Jackson brings this fantastical city to life in a very colorful and magical way while keeping it extremely authentic and organic to what cultures would have passed through this port city.
The lavish and cross-continental costumes also stand out due to attention to the characters’ ethnicity and the geographical area they come from.
The cast is beyond charming and charismatic.
Unfortunately, Marwan Kenzari, who plays Jafar, sticks out like a sore thumb due to his caricatured performance as one of Walt Disney’s most iconic villains.
Something about the tone of his voice and his physical performance doesn’t quite land as well as one would have hoped, even though the screenplay offered this character a brilliant opportunity to be the dark-side to Aladdin’s light-side.
On the bright side, Mena Massoud hits a home run with his embodiment of the beloved character of Aladdin. His wide-eyed wonder, and smart-alecky characterization breathe new life into the diamond in the rough and audiences will instantly be on board the magic carpet.
Naomi Scott portrays a stronger Jasmine that fights for her voice, her country, and her people without coming off too heavy-handed but rather elegant and royal - she is a princess after all.
The chemistry between the two leads is exactly what any fan of the original would have wished for, so this is a massive win for the film.
The character that many worried about was, logically the genie.
Robin Williams’s performance as the genie will forever remain one of the most legendary iterations of the character, and no one on planet Earth envied Will Smith’s position.
But, as soon as Smith’s genie appeared on the screen, what audiences were met with was an emotion that many didn’t expect to have: they liked Smith.
Knowing fully well he could not take away from Williams’s genie, Smith made the genie his own and simply infused the character with what made audiences love Smith in the first place.
This was, in the best ways, the Fresh Genie from Bel Agrabah!
The supporting cast from Nasim Pedrad, who plays Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia, to Navid Negahban who plays the Sultan, all brought forth their A game and filled the film with all the Disney love one could ask for.
The incredible and unforgettable music of ALADDIN was updated, and injected with more of an Arabian feel, while the songs - and this is possibly the other misstep - got a slightly more pop-esque update.
Will Smith’s renditions of the genie songs work within the context of this re-telling, and so do the other songs after your ear adjusts to the update.
Naomi Scott, who plays Jasmine, gets her own song, which in true Disney fashion expresses a character’s wants, and what Jasmine wants here is to be heard and not caged.
The score, however, is more epic and as orchestral as ever with all the musical nuances you’d expect in a Disney film.
From the amazing palace, the huge Cave of Wonders with stunning jewels and gems, to a Genie who shape-shifts at the snap of his fingers, and Aladdin and Jasmine flying on a magic carpet, those iconic moments have found a new life within this re-telling to affect an entire generation of children.
This may not have been the ALADDIN that many of us grew up with but the ideas, the themes and the heart are very much still there.
At the end of the day what is most important is exiting the movie theater feeling hopeful, believing that wishes can come true, that true friendship exists, and that you should always stay true to yourself and your voice, because that is what a Disney movie experience should be all about.
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