The early 1990s witnessed what many people say is the Golden age of Disney Animation. From Beauty and the Beast and Pocahontas, to Aladdin, all garnered massive acclaim. Now with the turn of the century, where technology can mingle effortlessly with live action, Disney is shelling out remakes of their animated classics. This weekend saw the release of the live action version of beloved “Aladdin.” The question is, does it hold water to the original?
We all know the story of Aladdin, as told to us by Disney. It follows the story of an orphan “street rat” who survives by stealing trinkets and food in order to survive on the streets of the fictional kingdom of Agrabah. There is this underlying narrative of class and social hierarchy, as there was with most historically understood narratives. But this tale is about a boy who was able to rise above the social order to be more than just some punk kid. He did this with a little help from a magic carpet, a faithful monkey, and of course, a genie.
Aladdin Meets Jasmine
We follow Aladdin as he meanders around till he meets up with Jasmine in disguise. It is clear she doesn’t quite understand the social norms of the market. She takes a loaf of bread and gives it to starving kids. The stall owner brands her a thief, and sends the guards after her. Our hero, Aladdin, arrives to save her.
You will never be able to fight nostalgia.
They share a romantic connection at first. Then she finds out he’s a thief and leaves him, because princess and thief don’t mix in the same circles. He eventually gets caught, and the wicked royal vizier known as Jafar takes Aladdin to the Cave of Wonders. At the cave, Aladdin finds the lamp, releases the Genie, and we all know how the story goes from there.
How the Story Goes From There
The street rat turned prince acts princely to win the heart of princess. His true heart emerges in a magic carpet ride. When he lies about his identity, trouble occurs. The lamp is taken. The evil vizier gains power over Genie. But Aladdin engages in battle with Jafar, and happily, Aladdin is the victor.
Finally Aladdin sets the Genie free and gets the girl. The live action version has all the songs we know and love. Hits like “Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali,” and “A Whole New World” are joined by some brand new ones. What’s so interesting about this version are all the artistic liberties Disney took.
Sticking to the Original
The cast was an attempt at trying to stick with the animated versions. Mena Massoud played a very convincing wide eyed Aladdin. Naomi Scott hit pretty close to Princess Jasmine. Marwan Kenzari did a fair job with Jafar. The fact that Guy Ritchie directed this film was a pretty interesting twist.
Guy Ritchie is known for some fairly gritty looking flicks like the Robert Downey Jr. series “Sherlock Holmes”, “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels”, and “Snatch.” That is just to name a few. To have the beloved musical “Aladdin” under his belt as director is quite an interesting and unexpected twist. Here is where the liberties took a turn for what seems to be the worse.
The Bad Thing About Aladdin
First let’s look at Genie. Will Smith should be given an “A” for effort. He will never top Robin Williams as the lovable big blue Genie. They tried really hard to make this character be as animated and quirky, as fun and dynamic; however, Will Smith is not. Will Smith, by nature, is not as cartoonish as Robin Williams, nor as animated in terms of delivery. All this film did was give Will Smith a blue digitized look and frenetically animate him. However, in my opinion, it didn’t suit Will Smith at all.
Next we review the songs. They added lines, changed the rhythms, and added new elements to the tracks. This ended up giving them a more pop/radio feel while still sticking to the original. It almost ruined some of the songs, though. Giving “Friend Like Me” a hip-hop style because Will Smith is a rapper takes away from the song in general. Will Smith probably could have used more vocal lessons, as that might have been able to help with the tonality of his singing.
Singing Not a Strong Suit
That being said, lets look at the singing itself. Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, and Will Smith are not singers by any standard. Singing is not their strong suits, and so much of what we hear are notes that are off pitch and needed some SERIOUS auto-tuning. Naomi Scott definitely has pipes, but she doesn’t compare to the power of the original Lea Salonga.
Mena Massoud, due to his theater background, might have some vocal prowess. He did a decent job delivering “One Jump Ahead.” There again, Brad Kane of the original will never be topped. Disney added a new song called “Speechless,” which was a thematic element to the Princess Jasmine arc in terms of her character.
There was a feminist tone to this song. In the movie, Jasmine pushes back against this patriarchal system and opts to be the next ruler after her father. This is a spin away from the original, and to add this feminist twist to a classic was a disappointment. Disney has already taken so many liberties, but this was straying from the original material.
The Ugly Side of Aladdin
The animation and effects are sub par. We see that with the Genie. The animation of the carpet is less than spectacular, and the animal animations are less than stellar. For a company as big as Disney, they could have dropped a few hundred thousand dollars more to clean up the effects. Also the story line was rushed and left out key components.
Some of the plot elements that made the first one compelling were also removed, such as the Jafar posing as a beggar moment. The chemistry between Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud just was not there, and the romance between the two was just not convincing. All one can do is revert back to the original, feel the romance between Jasmine and Aladdin, and attempt to translate that into the movie. There is also the missing heartfelt elements between Genie and Aladdin. The movie desperately tried to knit the characters together, but it was a clumsy delivery.
During the months leading up to this release, social justice leftists took to Twitter saying how much this film has been “white washed.” According to them, the cast of the film were “too white”. Mena Massoud is Egyptian and fits perfectly. Much of the cast was also of Middle Eastern descent. There was no “white washing” of the movie, and claiming otherwise was ridiculous.
One might be able to get that from the casting of Naomi Scott as an Arabian princess, but she played the part well. That is the important thing in any piece of media. All that to say, ignore the moronic whines of the social justice warriors. They know absolutely nothing about anything, really.
What is the Final Verdict?
It is a decently watchable movie. Out of a rating of 10, suffice to say it’s a decent 6 or 7. Staunch Disney fans will note some very key moments having pretty cringe worthy takeaways, though. In addition, the feminist bent also will ruin the moment. However, one can’t say it’s not without a lack of talent. All of the actors and actresses made the film somewhat enjoyable.
Naomi Scott delivers a very well crafted Jasmine, which would be more convincing if the writers did not give her that feminist bent. Mena Massoud paints a very decent Aladdin on screen and is enjoyable. Will Smith should never be the Genie, as he just doesn’t quite deliver the way Robin Williams did. While some might say that the two should not be compared, you will never be able to fight nostalgia.
The songs just will not mesh with what one already knows about the animated Aladdin’s Genie. All in all, watch it in standard, not IMAX or 3D. This movie is just not the kind of movie worth spending that much for. But overall, enjoyable and fun for this new generation of Disney viewers!
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