Disney is back with yet another live action remake. This time they have tackled the 1992 animated classic Aladdin. For those who have been living under a rock, Aladdin is set in Agrabah, a city teaming with merchants, snake charmers and fire breathers. Our main character, Aladdin (Mena Massoud), is a “street rat” that has to steal food to get by and lives in the ruins of an old building along with his pet monkey Abu. Up high in the palace overlooking the city is Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). She longs for freedom and to see the rest of the world. Her father the Sultan is desperate to find a suitor for her to marry but she clearly has other ideas. One day she decides to sneak out into the thriving city streets, meeting Aladdin who saves her from narrowly having her hand cut off for stealing. The two have an instant connection as they escape the angry mob.
Meanwhile, the Sutlan’s royal Vizier Jafar is on a quest for a magic lamp, hidden in the cave of wonders. After several attempts to enter he is told that he needs a find “diamond in the rough” to enter as only they will be deemed worthy. Unluckily for Aladdin, Jafar sets his sights on him for the task when he sees him escaping the palace one night. After being captured by the guards, before he knows it Aladdin is looking into the fiery depths of the cave, tasked with the mission to retrieve the lamp. Not all goes to plan however, and he ends up being stuck down there with only a magic carpet for company, or so he thinks. His luck is in as he finds the magic lamp, revealing the Genie (Will Smith) who can grant him three wishes. Of course, Aladdin wants more than anything to have Jasmine, but as the Genie cannot make people fall in love – he does the next best thing – to make him into a prince! But can he pull off the prince façade, woo the princess and somehow stop Jafar?
It’s almost hard to believe that the director of Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie is directing a family film. Gone are the hardened criminals and swear words, and in replacement there is music, dancing and a whole lot of vibrant joy. However, the film still has his flair for action, and of course, slow motion pieces. Ritchie handles the spectacle of the film exceedingly well and for the most part the CGI is excellent, particularly Abu the monkey and the magic carpet. The film has an infectious and undeniable energy to it, with spades of gorgeous set design, draped in shiny gold. It is almost too glossy if anything, the streets of Agrabah are too clean, lacking the necessary grime to be believable, but his is fully Ritchie’s Arabian fantasy complete with carnivals and splendour.
Mena Massoud as Aladdin is likeable as the hero and his cheeky, nervous way makes for a surprisingly endearing turn. For an unknown actor he handles the lead role with confidence and grace in what could so easily have been a misfire. Naomi Scott as Jasmine is strong too, they really fleshed out her character in this adaptation, even giving her a new solo song. The song, Speechless, is a welcome addition and centres around inner strength and particularly for women in this story, to stand up to those who do not allow them to speak. Jasmine believes she could be the next Sultan and why not? Perhaps they should have called the film ‘Jasmine’ as this time around it feels equally her tale more than anyone else’s. Thankfully the two leads have a genuine chemistry, making their romance believable, if not slightly rushed due to the script.
Now onto Will Smith. There has been so much contention regarding his role as the Genie ever since the very first trailer dropped, with many saying that Will painted blue was horrendous. Yes, at times the CGI of Genie is very clunky, but overall he steals the show with his performance and brings plenty of laughs. It was never going to be easy following in Robin William’s footsteps but he brings his own stance to the character, almost inhibiting his “fresh prince” persona. Smith handles his big musical number with his typical tongue in cheek flair. His turn as the love guru brings part of his previous role as Hitch but also large dashing of a Queer Eye makeover, complete with the ‘be yourself’ mantra. Genie even gets his own romance in this version, a handmaid of Jasmine’s named Dalia played by Nasim Pedrad, and she even gets a few laughs herself.
Jafar played by Marwan Kenzari was unfortunately a weak point of the film. His crucial role as the big villain felt stifled, and nowhere near as camp and menacing as he should have been. His performance felt out of place and almost out of a panto. The actor seems too young to be playing the ever disgruntled and disenchanted assistant to the Sultan.
At just over two hours, it is a whopping thirty minutes more than the original but the pacing just about manages to keep it even and interesting. Aladdin is a colourful, good hearted family film and despite its flaws, kids and adults alike will be swept up in the great spectacle of it all, even though it can never quite reach the dizzy heights of its animated predecessor. Not quite a whole new world, but a welcome addition to bring to this tale to the next generation.