**The following review contains mild spoilers from the Aladdin**
As I walked into the theater a few hours ago, I really wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to Disney’s new, live-action remake: Aladdin. Ever since the film was announced, skeptics have made their opinions known in regard to casting and directing. Well, as the 1992 film is one of my wife’s favorite Disney movies and my daughters love it, too, I knew I would be seeing the Will Smith-led film whether it received the best reviews or the lowest of Rotten Tomatoes scores. Sure, I had my own hesitations about casting and directing choices, but what I experienced while taking in the vibrant costumes and nostalgic scenes from my reclined theater seat was fantastic. In fact, I will go so far as to say Aladdin has been one of my favorite live-action remakes to date. Here are my three biggest praises for the film:
First, casting of the big three was absolutely spot on. I may be in the minority here, but all of the early Will Smith hate was unwarranted and completely overshadowed when he first appears on screen. Yes, the CGI blue color may be a little weird at first, but he truly makes the character his own. I will give Smith credit based on his promotional interviews for the film as he has time and time again stated he was not trying to imitate the late Robin Williams while portraying the iconic Genie. Instead, he wanted to make this version of the Genie his own, and I feel as though he accomplished such feat tastefully. Not only did he bring some classic Williams lines to life, but he put a Fresh Prince spin on the beloved blue man. Next, Naomi Scott was equally amazing, and her vocals were definitely a highlight throughout the film. Scott’s performance is definitely one that will put her over for future film consideration, and she exemplified the independence and heroism that Jasmine implied in the 1992 classic. I really enjoyed how the writers made the character more progressive while keeping Jasmine’s classic charm intact. Lastly, Mena Massoud was the real diamond in the rough here. I was not uber familiar with his acting pedigree, but he has gained a fan from here on out. He portrayed Aladdin perfectly from his mannerisms right down to his signature dimples. There were times when Massoud was a bit rigid, but such criticism does not hold merit in the grand scheme of the film and his overall performance.
Next, the cinematography and score was truly mesmerizing. When Guy Ritchie was announced as a director and a writer, I was a bit shocked. His style is not what comes to mind when I think of a Disney movie, and after the awful King Arthur: Legend of the Sword flop, I could only imagine the dark tones he would try to bring to Aladdin. However, he seems to have redeemed himself, albeit slightly. There were aspects of the film that were a bit unnecessary (i.e. weirdly closed camera angles with the Prince Ali song and the random slow motions sequences at times), but the story was constructed nicely. As with any live-action remake, there is going to be some filler to make the film its own, and I felt like the added scenes fit in nicely with the story line we all know and love. Now, the real bright spot of this point is the music. Yes, the iconic scenes are nicely depicted here, and the added songs and extended original versions are not too much. Here, I want to sing some more praise for Naomi Scott because she definitely brought the house down with those vocals.
My last highlight centers around the CGI and our familiar animal sidekicks. The ’92 version had arguably the most memorable animal/non-human sidekicks compiled in a single animated Disney flick in Rajah, Magic Carpet, Abu, and, of course, Iago. All of these secondary characters look rather realistic this go around, and their iconic mannerisms and behaviors are really accurate. Rajah maintains his ability to understand human language while still acting like a tamed tiger. Magic Carpet will make you laugh with this mime-like comedy. Abu is a bit more mischievous here, but he is still a cute, little, flea-infested pick pocket. The real winner, however, is Iago. Iago was the one I was most unsure of heading into the theater. First, I really did not want to hear that Gilbert Gottfried shrill, but I wanted the character to still have those human characteristics that made him so tastefully evil in the original film. Here, Iago’s sarcastic nature meshes in a believable way with his animal behavior. He still has banter with Jafar, but it is less contradictory and more complimentary like one would expect with a pet macaw. Iago is still very much a villain here as he rats out our heroes after he spies on their conversations, and the scene where he is possessed (for lack of better word) by Jafar truly brings out those evil characteristics. I would have loved to see him begrudgingly eat a cracker from the Sultan though…
Now, let me talk about the one aspect of the film that I felt could have been greatly improved. Again, the film as a whole was surprisingly great, but had the writers and creative hit on this criticism, I think it would have been that much better. That one criticism largely involves Marwan Kenzari’s portrayal of the iconic villain Jafar. Yes, everyone’s favorite, misguided Grand Vizier came up a bit flat. I don’t think all of the blame falls on Kenzari, though. Jafar just wasn’t on screen as much as I would have liked. There were scenes where Kenzari really had some devilish charm, but unlike Jasmine’s reformed heroism, Jafar’s new motive was a bit of a stretch. In the original film, Jafar was consumed by greed and power, but where this new version changes is the reason for such greed and power. The original Jafar was dangerous because he wanted to help himself, but this new Jafar wants to help both himself and Agrabah. Agrabah has seen better days in this reboot, and Jafar wants to bring the city back to its former glory. He wants war, but the Sultan doesn’t seem to mind his country’s new perception. Sure, Sultan wants his daughter to marry someone of power for political purposes like the original, but such arrangement doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal to him as it is to Jafar. Jafar also implies that he was once like Aladdin, a poor man stealing his future. See, when I think of Jafar, I think of a sorcerer who is obsessed with power, not a climbed up the ranks through hard work- type of guy. It is implied that Jafar used unethical means to get to his position of power, but that backstory was unnecessary in my opinion.
Also, let’s talk about that climax. One of the most iconic scenes in the original was the scene where Jafar keeps wishing for more power while trying to defeat Aladdin by all means necessary. Jafar goes after everyone and everything Aladdin values, but here, this climatic scene comes and goes rather quickly. It’s almost like the creative took all this time building up to this scene only to cut it short after some editing. I have reason to believe that the enslaved Jasmine/hour glass scene was supposed to be something more, but it was edited down due to some inconsistencies in the setting. If you remember or look closely, there are certain elements of the balcony that are out of place. For example, the fountain is made of/filled with snakes, yet we don’t see how this came to be. Regardless, I am curious to see if such answers are given in the deleted scenes come the Blu Ray/DVD release.
Overall, I would highly recommend this film, but you shouldn’t go in expecting it to play out like the beloved ’90s original. Almost all of the negative reviews I have read relate to such expectation; thus, I think most of those reviews are rather unfair. The sub 60% Rotten Tomatoes view is unwarranted, so this film should be further proof that one should always value the audience score more. There will never be another Robin Williams, and I am completely fine with such assessment. Why would I want Will Smith to be like someone else? He’s Will Smith, and he has his own style we all know and overwhelmingly enjoy. Whether movie-goers like it or not, Disney has found a nice cash flow with remaking these classics, so let’s sit back and take them in for what they are. They are exposing a new generation to the films that made Disney what it is today, and I am truly enjoying a second exposure to such cinematic marvels. Now, can we get the new Lion King already?