Aladdin is similar to the Beauty and the Beast remake in that, instead of being reimaginings, they are straight retellings, even down to reusing the songs, with only a few minor changes as an attempt do to add depth.
I was dissatisfied with Beauty and the Beast for not changing enough of the story, as well as its poor depiction of the main protagonists. So how does Aladdin compare?
Aladdin and Jasmine
Aladdin is very well portrayed thanks to a great performance by Mena Massoud, who is both likeable and funny. He may not a be a strong singer, but he makes up for it in charm.
Instead of giving him a backstory, his character is expanded upon through his relationships with Jasmine and the Genie, his own conflict of deceiving Jasmine, making her think he’s a prince, and using Genie in his scheme.
Naomi Scott was perfect as Jasmine; not only she is a great actress but she’s an amazing singer. Being given her own song, ‘Speechless’, which is a welcome addition, shows her talent and is also used well to give Jasmine’s character more depth. Not just trying to live a life outside of the palace or marry who she wants, she is also fighting for her own share in the politics. She has thoughts and ideas how Agrabah should be ruled but is not taken seriously. It’s an overall arc that pays off for her later on the film.
But what works the most is the chemistry between Massoud and Scott; the way the two actors play off of each is beautiful. I love that they play on Jasmine pretending to be poor more than the original does. It helps add contrast with Aladdin later on pretending be a prince. Being given extra moments to expand on the relationship makes the ‘Whole New World’ recreation scene feel completely earned.
I still love the Aladdin and Jasmine in the animated film and they are still strong protagonists and they are faithfully recreated in this film.
No one can take away what the legendary Robin Williams brought to the Genie, but luckily Will Smith knew that and didn’t try to top it, just give it his own spin, calling upon his hip hop experience in place of Williams's own unique voice work and comedy.
As a result, Smith’s Genie is quieter than Williams's but is still funny, with more time spent on his friendship with Aladdin. He also has a subplot, being romantically interested in Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia.
I wasn’t at all impressed with CGI blue look, but luckily they balance it out with Smith looking like himself in costume and making it work in context.
What is great is that Will Smith’s Genie may be the scene-stealer, but he in no way takes anything away from Aladdin being the protagonist. His role was perfectly balanced around Aladdin, gaining a lot of screentime but still as the supporting character.
Jafar feels pretty downgraded to the original, in which he was intimidating and creepy. Now he’s younger and just hungry for power. Marwan Kenzari does the best he can with the role, and does have a few intimidating moments, particularly when he uses the snake staff, but he was overall miscast.
In the TV series Once Upon A Time, Jafar was played by Oded Fehr, who I felt captured the original character. He was intimidating and looks almost perfect in the part. Probably a missed opportunity not to cast him in this too.
Guy Ritchie does occasionally utilise his directional trademark, such as replaying an earlier scene in slow motion, and quick-cuts so a character remembers something they missed. His biggest success was the pacing of the all main characters, allowing their story arcs to flow naturally and recreate iconic scenes and musical numbers and making them work with the narrative without shoehorning them in.
The film though feels at times smaller; the action in particular in the cave and also the climax are nowhere near as intense or dark as the original. The cave destruction was a lot shorter and it feels more child-friendly than the animated film.
I was also a little distracted by the fact that the first 10-15 minutes of the original story were completely cut and only glanced at in the opening montage, like they expect the audience to just know them. You’re able to catch up quickly what’s going on if you haven’t seen the original however.
Despite sloppy pacing at the beginning, the rest of the pacing throughout the film flows well. The musical scenes are beautifully recreated, while lacking the energy which pretty much only animation can do but are still entertaining.
So Aladdin is the stronger remake than Beauty and the Beast. While still not the strongest of the all the remakes it successfully manages to upgrade some aspects of the original such as Jasmine’s character and the central romance, but also downgrading others like the action and especially Jafar’s character.
I feel the changes aren’t strong enough to warrant a remake, as the story is still more or less identical. Also, this film is not likely going to age as well as the original, which still stands up today with its beautiful animation, intense action and still genuinely funny moments.
It’s overall a solid remake that successfully translates its protagonists from animation to live-action, and worthy of a watch if you’re a fan of the original.
Written by Jack Parish