Film Review – Aladdin (2019)
Aladdin is one of the better Disney live-action reboots. However, that isn’t saying much. Still, the film works fairly well. While it isn’t the masterpiece that it’s rebooted from, it is a very entertaining family film with a lot of heart. Disney fans will love it, casual moviegoers will enjoy it, and everyone else will at least not loathe it.
While the film doesn’t vary much from the plot of Aladdin (1992), but it still brings several new ideas to the table. These additions warrant the remake’s existence and help set it apart from the lackluster Disney reboots within the past few years. While not a perfect film, it’s hard to dislike Guy Ritchie’s take on Aladdin.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Is this even necessary? I mean, come on, you know the plot of Aladdin already. If for some reason, however, you’ve spent 10,000 years in a tomb and need a refresher, I guess I can write one up.
Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Written By: John August and Guy Ritchie
Aladdin (Massoud) is an orphaned street rat who steals to survive. Though compassionate and caring, he’s seen only the harshness of a life of poverty in Agrabah. After an encounter with the Princess, Jasmine (Scott), Aladdin dreams of finding a way to win her affections despite the difference in their circumstances. At the same time, Aladdin is approached by the Grand Vizier, Jafar (Kenzari), about retrieving something for him in exchange for great wealth and status.
Aladdin sets out on Jafar’s quest only to find himself becoming master of the Genie (Smith) of the lamp. The Genie promises Aladdin three wishes and the pair sets off to help Street Rat Aladdin become Prince Ali. Along the way Aladdin and Jasmine find themselves tangled in a web of deceit and despair of Jafar’s own making.
Aladdin’s name may be on the title, but this is the Genie’s movie. More so, this is Will Smith’s movie. He’s top billed, he’s blue, and he’s having the time of his life. Will Smith could not be having more fun with the role, and his presence is as infectious to this movie as the late Robin Williams’ was in the original. Smith brings his signature brand of hype-man, comic energy to every scene. Even when the film isn’t working, Will Smith’s presence carries the story until it gets back on course.
In addition, the role of the Genie is expanded upon slightly for the remake. While he still exists as an over-the-top wish fulfiller, he also gets to have a more human side to him in the film. The Genie’s wants and desires are given more focus, adding dimension to the character. Yes, he still wants to be freed from the lamp, but he also wants more. The additional runtime of the reboot gives the film the needed time to flesh out his character to a satisfying conclusion.
Another character who gets much more attention due to the added runtime is Princess Jasmine. In fact, Jasmine gets the biggest upgrade for the reboot. While the character was strong and independent in the original, she becomes much more so for the reboot. Jasmine’s relationship with the Sultan and her mother are explored in much greater detail. Because of this, Jasmine makes more sense as a character, and so does her father.
Jasmine’s extra focus in the reboot also means that she has her own musical number this time. And boy, can Naomi Scott sing. Next to Will Smith, Scott is the clear MVP of this film. The prowess and strength that she brings to Jasmine are just what the character needed to be set apart from the other Disney Reboot Princesses. She not only plays well off of Aladdin and the Sultan, but off of Jafar and the Courting Princes that seek her hand in marriage.
Aladdin is the Black Panther of Disney Reboots. I say this not because the film is as nuanced and socially biting as Black Panther, but because it is a step in Arabic representation in the vain that Black Panther was for African representation. It’s no secret that most franchise leading men and women are white. Look at any big franchise in the past 100+ years and you’ll see many Caucasian faces covering cinematic posters. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many high profile films lead by people of Middle Eastern heritage. Hell, even the original cast of Aladdin (1992) was just a group of white people.
For many children, Aladdin is the first time that they can look up at the silver screen and see someone like them. More than that, they can see someone like them being the hero, not being the quirky sidekick or the guy in the chair. This is why Black Panther was (and is) so culturally relevant, and why Aladdin is relevant regardless of whether it is a “good” or “bad” movie.
I also have to admire Ritchie’s and Disney’s commitment to keeping this movie authentically cast. They spent weeks on additional casting calls so they could find the right actor from the right background to be their Aladdin. They could have easily thrown Jake Gyllenhaal into a tanning bed again (a la Prince of Persia), but instead chose to do the work and do right by representation.
That Guy Ritchie Flair
Guy Ritchie is a very unique director, visually speaking. He makes a lot of odd choices that typically end up working out in the film’s best interest. He has a unique vision when it comes to fighting and action, and it plays out very well in Aladdin’s world. Whether Aladdin is parkour-ing off of rooftops, flying through the Cave of Wonders, or dancing in the Palace, it’s all very high-energy and visually astounding.
Guy Ritchie’s signature brand of wit is also in full force throughout the dialogue. The film is charming, fast, and funny. If you’re a fan of Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes or The Man from U.N.C.L.E., then Aladdin surely will not disappoint.
Gilbert Gottfried’s Iago is easily one of the most memorable characters from the original film. While the character is still present, and speaking, in the reboot, he doesn’t steal the show in quite the same way. The rebooted version of Iago is akin more to an actual parrot than the original interpretation. The movie loses out on a lot of funny and character building moments with Jafar because it chooses to nix most of his companion’s dialogue and role within the story.
Seen in a New Light
Reboots should exist in order to show a familiar story in a new light. In other words, there should be new life breathed into a rebooted work or else it’s just a pointless copy of an original. While Aladdin does breathe new life into Jasmine and the Genie in particular, it is too bogged down by the legacy of the original. The story is unable to completely move in new directions because it is too preoccupied with rehashing the highlights of Aladdin (1992). The same problems that plague Beauty and the Beast (2017) also plague this film.
While it’s nice to see some iconic moments again, it only makes me want to watch the original instead. The film could have greatly benefited itself by moving in a new direction, as did The Jungle Book (2016), but instead chose to retread the same story as its primary focus.
Aladdin is fun. It is also flashy, funny, and entertaining. The new and expanded elements of the story are well done and benefit Aladdin’s journey overall. However, the film is far too caught up in recapturing the magic of Aladdin (1992) to really find time to stand on its own legs. Odds are you’ll enjoy this movie and think it’s “good”, but it won’t ever be great.
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