When it comes to the live-action adaptation of Disney’s classic Arabian Night story, Aladdin (1992), it might not be wrong to actually expect that it will show us a whole new world. We are expected to believe in this, especially as we learn that during the development, Disney has made several bold (yet right) moves: bringing representation to light in one of the studio’s biggest assets. That move is an undeniably big gesture, if not a big gamble. Yet, in the end, Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin shows us that the move works; the representation matters and the live-action is entertaining… even if it does not actually show us the whole new world.
Aladdin is not a verbatim copy like Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book; it’s more like Bill Condon’s Beauty & The Beast. The whole adaptation is a bit too faithful to be called a reimagining, but it indeed is an expansion from the 1992 animation. Most of the plot follows the original guidelines in terms of rhythm and staging. Consequently, we’ll know exactly where the iconic scene will take place; however, in a movie like this, we need no surprise element, don’t we? Most of us know how it goes: a petty thief, Aladdin (Mena Massoud), encounters a freedom-seeking princess, Jasmine (Naomie Scott, former Pink Ranger in Power Rangers, 2017), and they both fall into each other. At the same time, an ambitious vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) seeks for a greater power to overthrow the Sultan; he knows that he can acquire the power by unleashing the Genie (Will Smith) locked in a magical lamp.
You will notice that most of the set pieces are directly imported from the animated classic with some retouches here and there. The song set-list is also less of a surprise, even when ‘A Whole New World’ scene is surprisingly on point. The new rendition of ‘Prince Ali’ is also surprisingly super uplifting even when Will Smith’s leading performance is not quite a show-stopper. In an attempt to create original content for the live action, another new song is added to provide more layer to the character. If in Beauty & The Beast, the Beast is given a single ‘Evermore’, this time it’s Naomie Scott’s Jasmine gets the new song titled ‘Speechless’, in which the princess goes full emo in a tonally alienating scene.
What turns out to be the movie’s biggest surprise element is no other than the Genie. Derided from the beginning, Will Smith’s casting as the Genie even hit the low when the first image arrived. Visually, Smith’s Genie is not as entertaining as the animated counterpart; misplaced CGI and cartoonish imagery only made it works. And yet, Aladdin is made alive by Smith’s exhilarating performance, which makes at least half of the movie ridiculous. The 1992 Genie was too colossal to topple given the stardom of Robbie Williams, which is given complete freedom at that time. Smith decides not to become the Genie Mr. Williams has introduced; he, instead, chooses to become his own version of the character, although you might also get reminded of Shaquille O’Neal’s boombox-genie in Kazaam.
Massoud might not be a heart-throbbing star, but he’s quickly winning it as the petty thief. The Canadian actor somehow makes an interesting Aladdin—agile and clumsy at the same time. The chemistry with Naomie Scott’s Jasmine is not an instant one; and when the chemistry finally works, it wasn’t always inviting. Knowing the potential of its Disney princesses and how they’ve become a massive icon for emancipation, the Mouse House takes the momentum swiftly and adds layer to Jasmine even when the development is often clashed with the story’s retro-nature. The biggest disappointment is how Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar is relegated to some one-dimensional, background villain: less menacing, less intriguing and distant, even when the character tries to make juxtaposition with Aladdin directly.
Even after the director loses all his signature touches (it’s true that we cannot even figure out that it’s Guy Richie behind the helm), Ritchie’s Aladdin might not grant all the wishes for a charming and bedazzling live-action of the Disney classic, but it’s not bad either. It simply isn’t special even when Will Smith turns out to be a competent genie.
Adaptation, Adventure, Fantasy Directed by: Guy Ritchie Written by: Guy Ritchie & John August Starred by: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomie Scott Runtime: 128 mins