There was a bit of magic in the air over at Walt Disney Studios back in the nineties. A revived sense of creativity infused a golden age of animated films for the company, and being a young teen, it felt like every princess was crafted just for me…and the music, oh, the music. Needless to say, Disney princess films of this era are very personal and very nostalgic for me, and when a live-action film is announced, I have to brace myself and wonder how this will compare to my beloved original animated movies. “Aladdin” is the latest to be made into a live-action adaptation, and though I went in with a lot of doubts, I came out of the theater smiling, and though there were some flaws in some stylistic choices, and some clunky CGI, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.
Directed by Guy Ritchie, this version of “Aladdin” doesn’t sway too much from the animated film, but it does offer a slightly more feminist view of the tale, with a diverse and modern cast, including Will Smith taking on the role of the Genie which has caused a lot of chatter simply by the trailers. Rounding out the cast is Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Jasmine, Marwan Kanzari as Jafar, and Nasim Pedrad as a new character named Dahlia. The cast is lovely, though the stand out is Scott who crafts a more modern Jasmine while retaining every quality about the animated Jasmine that has caused little girls to dress up as her for the past twenty-seven years. Scott has a fantastic voice as well, which is on full display in a new song penned by “The Greatest Showman” songwriting duo Pasek & Paul.
The glitch here, is in two things- one: The blue genie CGI. The genie works best when Smith is allowed to be just- Will Smith the genie. The character itself was made iconic by the late Robin Williams, and Smith does well to never try to imitate that. He makes the genie his own, which is probably why the CGI doesn’t work. Smith is warm, inviting, funny and charming- things CGI still can’t capture, no matter how high tech it gets.
The script itself doesn’t delve too much from the animated story, but it does give each character added layers that provide context for doing what they do, and this pays off as each cast member really adds depth to their former 2-D characters. No longer is Jafar just an evil caricature, instead, he’s a former “street rat” who rose above to claim more power. Aladdin is an orphan, who is awkward but charming. Even the Genie has a layer of a person who has seen the evils of humans, but still has to do his job.
The production design by Gemma Jackson also pays homage to the animated but takes on a very layered, and stylish life of it’s own. It’s influenced by the theory that the fictional Agrabah is a port, thus, several cultures blend into the textiles, designs, and look of the city. There’s no appropriation, in fact, it feels more of a celebration of the cultures that existed long before the story of Aladdin and his three wishes did.
I think that for adults, or at least those of us who hold nostalgic memories to the 1992 film, might be hesitant to admit that the new live-action is actually delightful. I couldn’t help but be embraced by the colors, music and dance numbers, and found myself having a great time watching the film unfold. Though I still question the “need” to remake all the animated films, I don’t think I would mind too much if they were all as fun as Aladdin is. Oh, and kids are going to L-O-V-E this. Parents, welcome to your new repeat viewing….at least until The Lion King opens!
Aladdin is now in theaters.