By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Director Guy Ritchie has been getting criticized since everyone got a glimpse of the CGI Will Smith as a blue genie. Those concerns are definitely warranted, but I’m happy to say the rest of the movie “Aladdin” will have you smiling. If you are not familiar with “Aladdin,” then you have been living in a cave (of Wonders) for 27 years since the 1992 classic was released and became a Disney favorite!
In case that is you, the story goes like this: a poor boy named Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and his mischievous monkey, Abu (Frank Welker, who also did Abu’s voice in the 1992 version), steal to survive in Agrabah. One day, he bumps into Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who is envious of Aladdin’s freedom. Aladdin gets captured by Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) who sends him on a quest to find a lamp in the Cave of Wonders. The genie (Will Smith) pops out and you know the rest. If you don’t, I won’t spoil it for you. A wonderful new addition is Jasmine’s handmaiden, Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), who has some fun scenes.
Massoud’s performance as Aladdin felt flat and lacking the charisma of the original voice of Aladdin, voiced by Scott Weinger. However, he did have good chemistry with the genie. When Aladdin and genie first meet up with Jasmine, get ready for the funniest scene in the movie! On the other hand, Jasmine did a fantastic job and blew me away with her singing. This is no longer the Jasmine stuck in a palace awaiting a suitor. She has some big plans for this kingdom, and this is a welcome change to making a more contemporary version of Aladdin. The CGI blue genie felt a little off just like the trailer, but luckily that was only a small part of the movie. The original genie character was made specifically with Robin Williams in mind and it would be impossible to find a substitute for him. I was pleasantly surprised with Smith’s take on the genie. Some of the jokes are hit and miss, but overall, Smith did what he does best.
Alan Menken has returned to rewrite and arrange the same songs in the 1992 version where he won the Oscar for Best Original Music Score. A few songs have been changed to reflect contemporary views and complement Smith’s genie. We get to hear a slightly modified Prince Ali rendition with new lines like, “Heard your princess was HOT / Where is she?” Then out of nowhere comes the new song Speechless, and all I can say is, Naomi nailed it!
There are parts of Aladdin that did not translate well into live action. While the character Aladdin is running and singing through Agrabah, some parts felt sped up and some slowed down to fit lyrics of the song. That is probably more Guy Ritchie’s style, but seeing it on screen just felt weird. The parrot, Iago (Alan Tudyk), and Rajah, the tiger, have significantly decreased roles in this movie, and that is fine. Perhaps I’m just stuck on Aladdin being a cartoon, but the interactions with Abu and the magic carpet did not feel very immersive.
Unfortunately, even Jafar loses some of his stage presence as his trademark moments were all removed, which I will not go into since those are spoilers.
The cinematography was very well done and Agrabah has some very vivid colors. I felt the same kind of magic when “A Whole New World” played as Aladdin and Jasmine soared on the magic carpet. If you watch this movie with an open mind, and without expecting an exact rendition of the original Aladdin, then you will also have an enjoyable magic carpet ride. Be sure to catch the Will Smith and DJ Khaled rap during the credits!
Aladdin is currently playing at local theaters near you.
John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.