The array of live-action adaptations of movies like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cinderella,” films that were the axis of many people’s childhoods, shows Disney’s recent efforts to expand its bounds cinematically. So, the announcement of a live-action version of “Aladdin” came as no surprise.
The December/January cover of Entertainment Weekly, with the faces of co-stars Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and Hollywood heavyweight Will Smith as the film’s blue-skinned Genie, incited a sense of elation from fans of the classic animated film.
The anticipation, however, was marked with borages of skepticism that outweighed fans’ excitement. With the release of the movie’s first-look trailer, fans trashed the cringy glimpse of Smith as the CGI Genie and questioned the story’s execution. And in the face of skeptics, Disney stood its ground in hopes that the film and its vision would hold on its own.
Director Guy Ritchie guides the new take on the 1992 original film, which was renowned by fans and critics, earning nearly half-a-billion dollars in global revenue. Though the “Sherlock Holmes” director made use of the story’s source material, he added new elements to the film. With new songs, an updated Alan Menken score and emphasis on Princess Jasmine, played by Naomi Scott, and her pursuit of empowerment, the film evenly brushes the lines of nostalgia while offering inklings of nuance on the decades-old story of its title character.
Aladdin, played by Egyptian-born actor Mena Massoud, encapsulates everything that made the character one of the most popular in Disney’s film gallery. Between him swinging between buildings and ravaging through the beautifully stunning streets of Agrabah, Massoud seizes Aladdin’s childlike charm. In fact, all of the actors performances make up much of the movie’s success, including the unexpected insertion of Nasim Pedrad as Princess Jasmine’s handmaid, Dalia.
The relationship between Princess Jasmine and Aladdin and Jafar’s (Marwan Kenzari) power-induced ambitions to obtain the magic lamp are as convincing as the 27-year-old original. And when given moments of creative freedom, Will Smith displays the light-hearted charisma that mirrored the great Robin Williams’ iconic take on the captivating wish-giver.
Why? It’s simple: Will Smith is charismatic and shows he’s capable of commanding a character of the Genie’s magnitude. It’s when he’s spoon-fed lines or direction that he begins walking a tightrope only Williams was able to balance. In moments, he’s a shadowed replica of Williams and his unmatched performance. But for most of the film, Smith perfectly lands the character’s unique comedic corks and larger-than-life persona, making him the highlight of the mystical tale.
At times, some of the story’s musical elements come up short. Songs like “Arabian Nights” and “Prince Ali” are flattened from weak vocal performances or bland choreography. Sometimes coming off like half-ass Broadway versions of the story’s classic strains. Though, musical numbers like “A Whole New World” and Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul-penned “Speechless” pull back the film’s fleeting spark.
In spite of its flaws, “Aladdin” successfully projects the emotion and feel of the original, while maintaining its own tasteful doses of originality. Did we need another live-action from Disney? Probably not. But the film captured what made the animated version so gratifying.