In the golden age of Disney’s live-action remakes, there certainly have been a few flops. Aladdin, however, is not one of those films, as it manages to provide a diversified and fresh perspective on the animated classic.
Most of the Disney live-action reimaginings hardly show imagination at all, sticking solely to the original scenes and ideas. Aladdin is a fresh change of pace from the typical Disney remakes, providing new underlying tones, plot points and an updated soundtrack that exudes excitement in every aspect.
The best part about the film is the casting. Each role is perfectly cast, down to the busybody woman who sings “still I think he’s rather tasty” in “One Jump Ahead.” The characters are so well-known and demand so much, and each actor brings their best to the roles.
First, Naomi Scott, most notable for her role in the Disney Channel Original movie Lemonade Mouth, brings all the beauty, grace and exciting fire required to play the role of Jasmine. Next, Mena Massoud’s portrayal of the titular character, Aladdin, is a tough character to pull off, with his cunning wit, sneaky behaviors, kind heart and, most importantly, his charming nature. Massoud perfectly exemplifies who Aladdin is: a charming boy without guidance who exudes confidence but is longing to find himself and his true place in the world. Massoud is simply magical with charm for days, a million dollar smile and holds the same kind-hearted, sweet side the animated character possesses.
It’s also important to note Marwan Kenzari’s performance as the devilishly sly and captivating Jafar. Kenzari is a great example of the liberties the live-action film takes, as he is much younger and more attractive than the animated Jafar is intended to be. It almost makes the character’s villainous behavior more believable, which is an applauded choice director Guy Ritchie made.
By far the most talked about and controversial casting choice is Will Smith as Genie. After the character had been voiced by Robin Williams in the original, audiences knew the actor portraying Genie had big shoes to fill. Though there was major speculation after Smith was cast, the actor ends up being the most exciting and driving force in the film. By bringing every bit of love, excitement, swagger and soul into the character, Smith proves, which seems to be a common theme throughout the film, he isn’t trying to remake the magical character Williams created but rather working to make it his own.
The live-action remake stays true to the movie in the most important way: it remains a musical. The classic songs are still there, but with new voices and new track additions to Alan Menken’s already perfect soundtrack, the songs are beautifully done, featuring the actual voices of the actors, unlike the original where there were different singers for the characters. The singing is nowhere near perfect, but that’s what makes it so wonderful to hear. The casting director didn’t try to enlist Broadway vocals, but they stick to a more real, pop and natural sound, which makes the soundtrack resonate more with audiences.
In keeping with the theme of originality, the actors take great liberties with their songs, especially Smith. Smith’s performances of staple songs like “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” are superb, and you can hear his original sound shine through in every note. Complete with beat boxing, hilarious ad-libs and imperfect vocals, the actors do a wonderful job with their respective songs.
Though Menken is the main contributor to the soundtrack, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul also contribute through Jasmine’s song, “Speechless.” Pasek and Paul are most known for their work in The Greatest Showman, La La Land and the broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, but their contribution to Aladdin unfortunately falls flat and doesn’t fit the tone of the film whatsoever.
Some other strong points of the film are the costumes, the camerawork and the computer-generated images. The costumes are fabulous and the detailing and look of each character is nothing short of a work of art. The camerawork and editing is exciting and well-executed, and the CGI, which can be hard to nail, is realistic enough to not distract from the film or look cheesy.
Another feature foreign to the original is political undertones revolving around female rights and the correct way to govern. Jasmine struggles with being forced into marriage and believes it’s her right to take over for her father as the next sultan instead of whatever prince she marries. The film explores the idea of female oppression and how people should govern their respective countries, especially with Jafar and his corrupt ideas about how he would govern.
Overall, the film is a magic carpet ride through what a live-action reimagining should be. The political undertones, costuming, soundtrack and casting make Aladdin a must-see. Aladdin provides a whole new world of the classic story for audiences to explore.