A generation of 90s kids heads to the theater this weekend, their offspring in tow, to hate watch the live-action remake of their favorite childhood film. A heavy dose of skepticism is warranted: the early looks at Aladdin weren’t great. No trailer or featurette captured the heart of the animated 90s classic. Consider those clips a diamond in the rough. There’s a little more to this new Aladdin than it first appeared.
Director Guy Ritchie (a bit of a head-scratching choice for a family-friendly Disney film) primarily stuck to the Disney live-action remake script: give the audience the story they expect, and then throw in a few twists and turns to help justify the new film’s existence. (And he also threw in a little Guy Ritchie-style editing, just to put his personal stamp on things.) In the case of Aladdin, the primary deviation from the original is Jasmine’s (Naomi Scott) wish to become Sultan of Agrabah rather than just to choose her own husband. In case you were wondering, the film isn’t suddenly passing the Bechdel Test. She still has to meet a few princes, and her dad is begging her to get married so she’s “safe”. Jasmine also gets a new song (and reprise) that-no offense to Scott’s impressive vocal talents-could have been left on the cutting room floor.
The desire for Will Smith’s Genie to pay tribute to Robin Williams, while in no way trying to imitate him, is almost tangible throughout the film. While facing this fairly daunting task, Smith manages to bring his own brand of humor and warmth to the character, something better showcased in the song “Friend Like Me” than in the lackluster “Prince Ali”.
Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar was the familiar Disney Villain you’d expect, but without all of the beard-twisting glee of the original. Iago (voiced by Alan Tudyk) was no longer a campy sidekick, but an echoing parrot who still managed to deliver some of the funnier lines.
A few of the more endearing characters in the film were those that were voiceless and totally computer generated. Abu is a scene (and jewelry) stealer, and the magic carpet was surprisingly charming.
One area where the film does not disappoint is with lavish costumes and sets. It’s visually stunning. From the bejeweled Cave of Wonders to over the top Bollywood-style dance numbers, Aladdin wasn’t afraid to go big.
Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Jasmine had the chemistry you’d hope for, and A Whole New World was one of the film’s highlights. Actually, most of the musical numbers were crowd pleasers, featuring the original songs by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Alan Menken, plus a sprinkling of new lyrics (to remove a few problematic verses) by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
Aladdin Runtime and Rating
This new Aladdin has a run time of 128 minutes (compared to the animated feature’s 91 minutes), yet it covers surprisingly little new ground with that extra time. Coupled with a PG rating for mild action sequences, and the film might be a bit daunting for younger viewers. The biggest challenge the film faces, however, is getting past those 90s kids who are determined this movie is going to ruin their childhoods. There’s good news: your childhood is safe. Will you be rushing to the theater to see it again and again? Probably not. But will it dredge up that nostalgia and have your dust off your VHS copy of the original? Absolutely.