- Warning: There are mild spoilers below for the live-action “Aladdin.”
- Disney’s “Aladdin” remake gives us some of the charm of the animated classic with sweeping sets and its unforgettable music. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are perfect as Aladdin and Jasmine.
- And Will Smith? He’s fine and enjoyable as the Genie. He genuinely appears to be having a blast.
- Unfortunately, it’s everyone else who bogs down the film. The actor who plays Jafar doesn’t have the menacing gravitas of the animated or Broadway versions of the iconic Disney villain. He comes off as second-rate.
- The live-action version cuts out and changes some big moments from the animated film. Some are welcome and necessary updates, while others feel unforgivable. Stick to the animated version.
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If you were worried about Will Smith’s performance in Disney’s live-action “Aladdin,” the Genie is the least of your worries. Despite stellar casting for its two lead roles, the remake of the 1992 Oscar-winning animated movie suffers from the lack of a superb villain who can equally carry the film.
Following the “street rat” Aladdin (Mena Massoud) who falls in love with Princess Jasmine of Agrabah (Naomi Scott), the penniless teen comes upon a magic lamp, a Genie, and three wishes that change his fortune. While the film looks like “Aladdin” and sounds like the ’92 film with the original composer back, it’s missing some of the magic and wicked charm of the film’s original villain that made the first film so memorable.
The “Aladdin” remake is a fine film for kids, but few will prefer this one over the animated classic.
What to know: The remake is directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Will Smith as the Genie.
Guy Ritchie, the man behind the “Sherlock Holmes” movies, is directing this live-action remake. You may recognise Naomi Scott, who plays Jasmine, from the live-action “Power Rangers” film. The Egyptian Canadian actor Mena Massoud plays Aladdin, and Will Smith takes over the role of the Genie from Robin Williams. You can see the full live-action cast here.
The most exciting bit is the return of the composer Alan Menken to provide the score with new recordings of the original songs written by Menken, Tim Rice, and Howard Ashman. New music is written by Menken and the songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen”).
What’s hot: The 2 lead stars, costumes, set design, and music
Disney did a great job finding the perfect Aladdin and Jasmine out of 2,000 people seen. Massoud especially looks and sounds just like the Aladdin who ’90s kids know. And can they sing? Yes, indeed.
The best things about Aladdin are its two lead stars, the elaborate costumes, and the musical numbers. (OK. Maybe not the opening number in which Will Smith sings.) But any time Massoud sings, it feels as if you’re watching the animated movie brought to life.
Fans were vocal about their initial dislike for the Genie in “Aladdin” when the first trailers dropped, but honestly, Smith’s genie is the least of your worries in this film. He’s no Robin Williams, but Smith does his own thing, and his performance here is fine. He’s the third-best in the film after Scott and Massoud.
A welcome surprise in this live-action remake is the addition of the “Saturday Night Live” alum Nasim Pedrad, who plays Jasmine’s handmaiden. She received some of the film’s few genuine laughs during our screening. A dance number midway through the film is another highlight of the live-action film along with Jasmine’s tiger, Rajah.
The film gives a much-needed update to the way the animated movie begins. This time, the story of Aladdin feels less random as it’s told by Smith’s Genie instead of a street peddler as in the animated movie. A simple backstory is also given to Jafar’s villain to make him more than just a Disney villain. It’s too bad that’s the only likable thing about “Hot Jafar.”
You’ll also want to listen closely to the lyrics of “Friend Like Me” at the film’s end. The song uses new lyrics inspired by the legendary Disney lyricist Howard Ashman. That alone may make some big Disney fans want to see the remake. Ashman wrote the music for “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Little Mermaid” before his death in 1991 at the age of 40.
These reasons make it so, so frustrating that the film gets other moments and characters so wrong.
What’s not: Jafar isn’t the scary, iconic Disney villain we know, some of the dialogue is less than inspired, and there are some questionable large omissions from the animated tale
In the animated movie, Jasmine tells Aladdin “it’s all so magical” after their romantic magic-carpet ride. And while the costumes and Agrabah are all spot on, there’s a lot left to be desired from the actual magic of the movie.
The big romance number, “A Whole New World,” which takes place on a magic carpet, feels a bit deflated when lyrics like “soaring, tumbling, freewheeling” no longer match their animated counterpart. Aladdin and Jasmine do no free falling in the song. Rather, it looks as if they spend almost the entirety of the song on a 3D animatronic ride moving side to side and up and down with a green screen behind them. (According to press notes, that’s exactly how it was filmed. The major difference is that the screen was blue.)
The Genie doesn’t transform into any number of other creatures or people in the live-action film, and some may be disappointed by one big omission from the film’s final fight against Jafar. What should be a majestic Cave of Wonders falls flat as a lacklustre, dark, and dreary cavern with gold littered everywhere.
It’s unclear whether so much of the film’s budget went into creating a realistic city of Agrabah (Disney’s press notes say the massive set created was the size of two football fields), costumes, and props that they had no more room to add in some of the animated film’s most memorable moments. Or perhaps that’s where the limitations of CGI come in with a film as magical as “Aladdin.” There are things that simply don’t translate onto film as easily as they can be animated.
So it’s all a bit frustrating when we see Iago turned into a giant version of himself. It’s a moment teased in the trailers, and that appears to take the place of an iconic moment from the original film.
Speaking of Iago, Jafar’s beloved parrot has a lot of clever and punchy one-liners in the animated film. He does here too, but sometimes they’re said so quietly or quickly that’s it’s easy to miss them. That’s a shame because most probably won’t realise it’s the masterful Alan Tudyk (“Rogue One,” “Wreck-It Ralph”) behind the voice.
Most upsetting is that the live-action remake cuts out and changes one of the best moments of the animated movie, making for a watered-down, lame reveal. Jafar never gets to sing his “Prince Ali” reprise in which he embarrasses Aladdin in front of Jasmine and her father leading to a huge turning point in the film. The live-action moment is less monumental and pretty forgettable.
In fact, Jafar never sings in the remake, and that’s a huge letdown. Disney clearly put so much time into finding the perfect Aladdin and Jasmine that it feels as if they just played it safe with Jafar. He’s not creepy or sinister and doesn’t seem all that conniving. He’s just a man who complains and is upset that he’s always second-best to the Sultan. The design of Aladdin’s monkey, Abu, is scarier than any bone in Jafar’s body.
While Scott’s voice is lovely and Jasmine gets her own new song here, a huge change in the story feels like a forced moment of female empowerment more than one that is truly earned.
Other than that, some of the dialogue in the film isn’t just bad – it’s nonexistent. There’s an entire scene in which Massoud’s Prince Ali is stumbling over his words with the Sultan when they first meet. It’s such an awkward, uncomfortable scene. Though it’s clearly supposed to be that way, it comes across as if Massoud just forgot his lines on set. In the same scene, Aladdin tells Jasmine he wants to buy her, and it becomes a small gag. Moments like this (yes, there’s more than one) make Aladdin seem like a bit of a moron.
You may be left wondering why Jasmine wants to be with this dude (other than the fact that he’s pretty to look at and is a good singer). She just seems too smart for this street rat.
Overall: Come for Mena Massoud’s Aladdin. Otherwise, stick with the animated classic.
At the end of our “Aladdin” screening, a smattering of claps began. When viewers realised everyone else wasn’t clapping along, the clapping awkwardly ceased. Disney managed to get its two lead stars right and yet still managed to bungle one of its most beloved movies. After “Beauty and the Beast,” “Dumbo,” and now “Aladdin,” you have to wonder whether Disney really needs to continue remaking all of its animated classics.
While a younger generation will appreciate Jasmine’s stronger story, Disney would have served the story better by re-creating the film people know and love for the reasons that made it a classic. As Jafar sings in the direct-to-video sequel, “Return of Jafar,”this movie is second-rate.
“Aladdin” is in theatres Friday. You can watch a trailer for the movie below.
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