If you’re not a fan of unpopular opinions, you might want to turn away now.
The 2019 live-action remake of “Aladdin” is better than the 1992 cartoon, or animated feature, as my boyfriend would prefer it be called.
Now, this isn’t a knock on Disney films, or on anyone’s performance in the animated film. In fact, for many, Robin Williams’ performance as the genie is incomparable and remaking the film is a travesty beyond words.
I actually heard one person say “Too soon,” in regards to the film. And maybe that’s part of the problem. A lot of folks have been picking “Aladdin” apart since the first trailer dropped, and much of their chagrin is aimed at Will Smith’s incarnation of the genie. It was a blue CGI monstrosity that turned a lot of folks, including me, off. (To be honest, the blue CGI monstrosity didn’t get much better during an actual viewing of the movie, but I discovered that I was quite wrong about the film I’d trashed simply due to bad trailer choices.)
It’s a story everyone knows. A genie is trapped in a lamp and must grant three wishes to the person who discovers the lamp. In this case, it’s a young street urchin named Aladdin (Mena Massoud). He’s a thief, but he’s got a big heart and a cute monkey named Abu.
On the other side of the tracks is a princess named Jasmine (Naomi Scott). She’s the daughter of a sultan (Navid Negahban), and her only real job in life is to be married off to a visiting prince. Jasmine wants more, though. She doesn’t want to be a sultan’s wife; she wants to be the sultan.
And, of course, there’s Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the villain of our story. He also wants to be sultan — and the most powerful man in the world or universe. He’s got lofty goals, but don’t most bad guys?
The last bit of details you might need to know: Aladdin meets Jasmine, and he’s smitten. He ends up with the lamp and becomes besties with the genie, especially after he wishes to be a prince, so he can woo the princess.
If you saw the 1992 animated film, none of these details are new to you. (Heck, if you didn’t see the film, you probably know the story.) “Aladdin” is a tale as old as time. Wait, that’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which was another remake folks had issues with.
That’s the thing. Disney has been making a killing creating live-action adaptations of beloved childhood classics. “Cinderella,” which was excellent, and “The Jungle Book,” which was poo both paved a way for this film. This summer, “The Lion King” will follow in its paw prints. (Not sure I can watch a live-action version of that one, as the animated lion tragedy already makes me ugly cry.) These films are going to keep happening, and it’s up to fans to either get on board or sit at home.
Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin” comes at the classic story from a different direction, and one of the biggest changes is not the genie. It’s Princess Jasmine herself. Live-action Jasmine isn’t a prize for Aladdin to claim. She’s not a damsel in distress, and she’s certainly not a female character lacking agency.
Jasmine doesn’t want to be a princess or someone’s trophy wife. She just wants to help her people. She sneaks out and walks among them as a commoner — which is how she meets Aladdin in the first place. She sees them hurting. She sees them hungry and poor. She believes she can help them if her father will only allow give her the power, rather than trying to sell her off to the highest bidder, er, I mean prince.
This go-around, Jasmine also is given a song of her own, “Speechless.” Don’t worry, the old favorites are all still there, so you can still enjoy your “A Whole New World” and the rest. But, she’s also given a power anthem in the remake that is reminiscent of Elsa’s “Let It Go” from “Frozen,” without being an earworm you’ll hear for the next three weeks. (I apologize if it’s already stuck in your head.) There’s been a conscious effort made with Jasmine’s wardrobe this go-around, too. Her midriff is never seen, and there’s no weird scene with Jafar where she pretends to seduce him while scantily clad. The 2019 Jasmine is no man’s prize or possession, and it’s a great twist on a story we all thought we knew.
Not everything worked so well, though. While I loved Smith as the genie — he’s basically the “Fresh Prince” in a turban — the blue CGI leaves something to be desired. And Jafar is less than impressive. The big bad should be imposing and threatening. Kenzari feels very sincere, but he never manages to seem menacing or even a tad bit threatening. (To be blunt, the CGI-rendered Rajah, Jasmine’s tiger, is more of both.) Honestly, he’s more annoying than villainous.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s the fact I never saw “Aladdin” as a kid. I only saw the movie once, and it was three or four years ago. I have no emotional attachment to the Disney “classic,” which might be why the live-action film is MY “Aladdin.” Maybe it’s the fact I’m a huge Will Smith fan. I adored “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” as a kid, and “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” is still one of my jams. Maybe it’s the fact that I love a spectacle. Ritchie & Co. try to bring Bollywood to the main stage, and while they don’t really succeed, it’s still glorious to watch. I’ve been singing Smith’s version of “Prince Ali” for the last week.
Whatever the reason, “Aladdin” is a more than worthy live-action remake of a film that many adore.