It was my 6th birthday. Its one of my earliest theater going experiences I can remember. Going to the movies was a big thing for my family. We had a lot of reverence held toward it. What I mean by that is, we loaded up as many kids as we could in my mom’s car because who knew when the next time she’d be in the mood to take us again. I’d love to say popcorn and soda was the go to, but honestly the movie tickets were pricey enough. My mom fried up some chicken, wrapped it in aluminum foil and we brought frozen juice boxes along with us.
Ahhhhh, those were the days.
I was so excited. I don’t remember much of watching teasers back then, but I remember how I felt during and after watching the animated original. I was blown away. Once again, I was six. I was a year late into school, so I was the biggest kindergartener in my class.
Screw you, Miami Dade Public School system and your stupid start date rules.
Anyway, I felt like the cool kid and I was. Mature enough to have a cool kid’s conversation about a dope brown guy who kind of looked like me. Well not much, but he was brown. He had a cool pet monkey like my favorite artist, Michael Jackson did. He had eyes for a gorgeous Princess. Shout out to Jasmine in that red harem outfit.
Man, oh man.
And, Aladdin had a Genie as a friend and magic carpet. Also, “Aladdin” was an escape. My family didn’t come from much and while I wasn’t poor, my mom did sneak me into a very affluent elementary school, so I didn’t have all the nice things a lot of my grade school friends did, and I was reminded of it often. “Aladdin” helped me on a very young level deal with not feeling like a street rat or riffraff. I didn’t want to buy that.
That’s the heart of “Aladdin”. The heart to that character. I’m not spoiling anything here folks because the movie is almost 30 years old. But, what is fascinating about the Disney formula is how it resonates on so many levels to so many people. Is it perfect? No! I don’t think Disney is trying to be perfect. Not with its productions, or business practices amongst a host of other things.
But that’s not what this review is about. We’re talking about the Disney Live action remake of my #2 ranked Disney movie ever. “Aladdin”!
Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is perceived as nothing more than a common street rat; a lying thief. Lower than low. He’s got to eat to live, got to steal to eat… Oh, did I mention this is a musical. And a great one, too. Aladdin has a chance encounter with a beautiful young woman in the markets of Agrabah , Jasmine (Naomoi Scott) posing as an equally beautiful hand maiden to the Princess (which is really her). Aladdin helps to get her out of a sticky situation and the 2 run off as a chase ensues between them and city guards. They get away, get to know each other and an organic infatuation takes place. Aladdin’s pet monkey Abu steals something he shouldn’t have and Aladdin sneaks into the palace later that night with the hopes of returning it to her. Jafar (Marwin Kenzari) gets word a thief’s in the palace. Lucky for him he’s in need of a good thief, well he’s really in need of a diamond in the rough; or that’s what a humongous talking Sand Tiger Cave tells him he needs, to secure a very important treasure. Jafar abducts Aladdin in the night and leads him to the Cave of Wonders. There, he tells Aladdin of a lamp he desires, lays deep within the cave and to touch no other treasures on his way to retrieve it. He also lies on Jasmine a bit too. I think she was feeling my dude, street rat or not. Aladdin enters the cave, frees a magic carpet, grabs the lamp, but Abu being tempted snags a giant red ruby that unleashes the fury of that talking tiger and the cave begins to implode, consuming itself with lava. Aladdin, Carpet and Abu reach the cave entrance with Jafar snarling over. He grabs the lamp, stomps on Aladdin’s hand sending him falling to his doom and he flees the cave. Jafar, thinking he’s got his treasure, digs into his satchel and realizes its gone and screams in frustration. Abu awakes Aladdin, gives him the lamp, he gives it a rub and an all-powerful Genie (Will Smith) appears to grant him 3 wishes.
I really didn’t have to go that far, and you know the rest. The story doesn’t deviate much. Guy Ritchie plays the greatest hits.
“Friend like me”
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t skeptical about Ritchie’s hiring. Not that he can’t churn out a decent studio film. Just, didn’t think how the Ritchie-ism’s would play with the mouse. They’re really not bad. The slow down speed up camera work and the action set pieces are nice. Are they genre defying? Oh no! But, far from a disaster too. The rest of the 2nd and 3rd act play well to accentuate the animated original that came before it as well as put a slight spin on one of the biggest characters. Actually, a couple of them
Jasmine was exceptionally written. I’m a fan of John August and can see where his talents enhanced a character who after the 1992 release needed an update. August has demonstrated the ability to write strong women in his filmography and Jasmine could’ve stayed victim to the misogynistic Disney tropes of a love struct girl blindly infatuated with love and the idea of a sweet prince, but not wanting to be forced to go through with an arranged marriage. However, he chose to take her in a better direction. My daughter told me after our 2nd watch of the movie; “Daddy, Jasmine is my favorite because she’s a king.”
That’s such an incredible thing for a daughter to say to her father. It shows the progress we’ve made and where we can go. The hope this movie can inspire to little girls and boys. Like the hope I had when I watched the movie myself when I was a boy. Naomi Scott is stunning. Not only is she beautiful but embraces Jasmine and makes her, her own. She’s fierce. She has an incredible voice and makes you forget that awful “Power Ranger’s movie that completely under served her talent. She showcased so much range in this film and passion in every way. You believe in Jasmine’s faith she has for her people and why she doesn’t think she should be sultan, but why she deserves it. It’s equally incredible how this take bettered the original and made her more than a damsel, it made her a daring leader and a device for change.
It’s wrong to say Jasmine would be nothing without Aladdin. You kind of got that sense from the animated classic. Even, if he’s the titular character. When you think about it, Jasmine inspires Aladdin. It’s their encounter that ignites is curiosity. The things he had dreamt of, when voiced by her seem not so grand.
“I thought a Princess could go wherever she wants?” “Not this princess!”
Their relationship is the grandness. Aladdin’s love for Jasmine and hers in return is honest and well-paced. You believe their chemistry and root for it the entire time. Their comedy is well timed, and their duets are incredible. Seeing and hearing a “Whole New World” is something special with millions of dollars of CG behind it. Mena Massoud’s voice is great and is very reminiscent of Steve from Full House. Yeah, he’s done other stuff and of course voiced Aladdin, but that’s Steve and will always be Steve. Mena is the Aladdin for this generation. He’s charming, he can dance his pants off and is such a wide-eyed exuberance on screen. In addition to his connection with Jasmine, when he and Genie meet its and instant good time.
Will Smith’s portrayal puts him firmly back in the spotlight he deserves. It was risky. But, it paid off. He had big blue shoes to fill and while the Genie’s CG design was not great. Like, really not great at some obvious parts in the movie. Smith’s performance was. He made the Genie into his own. He has unimaginable power with all the moves and swag that comes along with it and still loads of heart. He was written with a little more to him as well which makes for an interesting character arc. His singing talents weren’t a limitation, but a fresh update on the classic stylings. You’ll be smiling ear to ear irresistibly at the musical numbers and Will Smith has an undeniable charisma that makes his Genie like Robin Williams’ memorable.
Unfortunately, for most of the great performances from our core character’s, Jafar drew the short straw. It’s not so much Marwin Kenzari’s acting that’s a problem, but his unfortunately written character and casting. He’s a bit too young, a bit too unassuming and unimposing. Interestingly enough, in this film they directed his character to be the least musical of them all which was a big departure from the original that makes his rendition fall very flat and become an overall detraction.
The rest of the ensemble does well in parts and in others not so much. Some featured characters stumble through, notably in the more theatrical sequences of the film, but we’re too over joyed with nostalgia and spectacle too really care. The action sequences in the 3 acts of the story work great. I kind of wish there were a little more though.
“Aladdin” is surprisingly well directed, written, acted and over all a well-adapted classic tale. I challenge anyone not to clap and sing along to these amazing songs we grew up with and a delightful new one as well. Agrabah is brought to life in a fantastic new way. Naomi Scott shines. Mena Massoud swoons. Will smith is back! What more could we ask for? Yeah, a better Jafar and a way better Iago; sure. But, the film is visually stunning despite some glaring CG misfortunes with Genie and the musical numbers and the action are cool and are sure to prove this story is as strong as it’s ever been.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 8/10
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: John August, Guy Ritchie
Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari
Run Time: 128 mins