Aladdin (2019)

I’ve been very sceptical of all these Disney live action remakes. I didn’t hate 2017s “Beauty and the Beast”, it was more that it was unnecessary; why should I have to sit through a shot for shot remake of something that didn’t even try to bring a new or interesting take to the story?

That was my attitude going in to see “Aladdin”, and I was so wrong. This was sensational; and Guy Ritchie has managed to balance the nostalgia of the original film and incorporating a new modern twist in the best possible way.

For me, the real reason that the original Disney film has become so revered is because of Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie. Compared to the others of the 90s, the story was never really as strong and as lead characters, Aladdin was bland and Jasmine always bordered on bratty and spoiled. The music wasn’t as memorable as the other Disney films, and the legacy of Aladdin has by and large been carried on by Williams.

This is where the 2019 remake excels; the screenwriters have invested time into fleshing out the characters of Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and making sure they have proper and real chemistry. Massoud as Aladdin is funny and likeable and Scott was so striking that for me she was actually the best performance in the film. The script is genuinely funny and I was actually laughing quite a bit before the Genie even made his first appearance (Ritchie makes good use of the magic carpet and Abu the monkey for comic relief). The decision to give Jasmine more autonomy served the story beautifully and the inclusion of her own song (a rousing number written by Alan Menkin from the original and the composers from La La Land), actually turned out to be one of the best numbers in the film.

Visually, this is a beautiful film; the use of colour was incredible, and the costume design, set pieces and the dance sequences were mesmerising and actually far more impressive than the original. The “Whole New World” sequence was every bit as spectacular as I remember the former being and the other numbers I actually think were improvements.

Now, Will Smith as the Genie. I’m just not a huge fan of the guy; I think he’s been a pain ever since the late 1990s. Nobody could do what Robin Williams did as the Genie and it was always going to be a losing battle trying to recreate the performance. That being said, I think he actually did a great job. He never tries to emulate Williams, which was a wise move and instead makes the Genie his own. I laughed a lot at the Genie’s jokes and I think that incorporating Smith’s hip hop background into songs like “Friend Like Me” was good fun.

The only places I think the film faltered a little were in the characters that just don’t translate well from animation to live action, which isn’t necessarily the fault of the filmmakers. Marwan Kenzari as Jafar was an interesting take, but I missed the twisted and evil face of the cartoon, likewise Navid Negahban as the Sultan is nowhere near as endearing as the cute little bundle of fun in the 1992 film.

This is how a remake should be done. The characters and elements of the original that were lacking have been improved upon and the aspects that were better left alone were treated with respect. I was so wonderfully surprised by this movie, and am happy that I was a little less sceptical leaving the cinema than I was when I walked in.

By Jock Lehman

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