Since Disney decided to translate many of their 2D Animation classics into modernized live-action films, they’ve had a pretty up and down track record. Jungle Book (2016) was well-received by critics and fans alike, while Beauty and the Beast (2017) left many feeling underwhelmed by the film’s uneven retelling, and Dumbo (2019) left many furious that Disney even attempted to reboot the original. So here comes Disney’s fourth outing and it’s quite possibly one of their most cherished tales, “Aladdin”, the heart-warming story of the “Diamond-in-the-rough” street-wise thief with a heart of gold, who charms his way into the arms of the Princess of Agrabah.
Needless to say, there were some concerns. Robin Williams, who gave a legendary performance as the Genie in the original film, had passed away. Lea Solanga, who sang as Jasmine on the original, had aged past the role, and for some strange reason, Gilbert Gottfried was never asked to return to deliver his signature voice to the parrot Iago. Skepticism remained as each actor was announced for the roles. Naomi Scott, famous for her role in the poorly received “Saban’s Power Rangers”, was cast to play Jasmine. Then Will Smith was announced to fill the role of Genie. Immediately, questions were brought up whether either of these actors would be able to carry the mantle lead by their predecessors, and if you followed the internet circuit, especially after the release of the first trailer, there wasn’t a lot of faith out there. And then, the movie came out.
“Aladdin” stunned audiences with how strong of a film they were able to produce. They managed to maintain the majesty and wonder of the original while making the subtle changes necessary as the film moves from animation to real life.
Talk About A Bad Take
Critics weren’t too kind to the adaptation leaving it with a 57% score on Rotten Tomatoes (a far cry from the audience score of 94%), but the criticism levied against the film aren’t all that valid. They claimed the latter half of the film suffered since Smith’s Genie (which they actually loved) wasn’t a dominant presence. This simply isn’t true. The film is held up mostly by Scott’s Jasmine and Marwan Kenzari’s captivating Jafar and delivers an epic closing worthy of comparison to its original counterpart. There was great emphasis on how Smith would be able to step into Robin Williams’s role, and he nailed it, but that doesn’t mean he gets to take over the entire film. To be fair, not even the title character is the centerpiece. Mena Massoud’s Aladdin is actually given the least amount of revision or consideration from the original. Something I’m sure Director Guy Ritchie will fix if they pursue a King of Thieves live action as well. (Pretty please!)
But this film focuses mostly on Princess Jasmine, which we gotta say, we kind of love. Scott’s version of Jasmine is even more confident, outspoken and courageous than the original. She’s given a lot more to do as well including one of the best new Disney movie songs since Frozen’s “Let It Go” impressively penned by the Academy Award-nominated team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. She has a rousing speech that shows off her strength and clairvoyance in ways that truthfully, the animation didn’t care to delve into.
Better Than The Original?
It’s almost as if writer John August and Guy Ritchie set out to make a film more based on 1992 original rather than just a real-life retelling. Something Disney seems to have been doing all this time. Even much of the new Lion King looks like a frame by frame reshoot.
The new Aladdin seems to think very highly of itself. It understands monarchy, takes consideration of the Sultan’s grief of his wife’s passing and protectiveness of his daughter, shows Jasmine’s goals and aspirations, understands and respects the original Genie enough to put a fresh (prince?) spin on him and makes sure our antagonist is every bit as villainous as he can be. It’s a film that’s far more satisfying of a remake than anyone was expecting.
And going forward, this is the standard these live-action remakes should be held to. It’s not enough to be repackaged goods, but- dare I say- improved upon offerings. So while seeing a real-life take on a classic can be cool, Ritchie’s Aladdin makes it worthwhile.
Disney’s 1992 original will always hold a special place in all of our hearts, but it’s safe to say, there’s room in there for two. Aladdin has raised the bar going forward, will the films coming up next live up to the new standard, fall below it or rise above it?