I’m not sure what happened to Disney in terms of their animation. There was a point when you frequently saw animated features hitting theaters, usually at least one a year but now Pixar seems to be the go to for the company while Walt Disney Animation Studios releases a movie ever couple of years and none of them seem to quite meet the success of Pixar let alone what the Disney animation division once enjoyed. It has been a decade since they even last visited traditional animation and now seems more interested in doing live action remakes of everything in their back catalog instead of bringing new, interesting animated features to theaters in the spirit of what Walt Disney had envisioned.
Aladdin is the latest to make the transition. The live action adaption follows the story seen in the 1992 animated feature fairly faithfully. After twenty-five years, most should know the story very well. For those who don’t, Aladdin was an adaptation of one of the stories featured in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights which is believed to have been authored by Hanna Diyab. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a poor thief living in the city of Agrabah who crosses paths with Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) who has decided to explore the city in disguise. The two seem to connect but Jasmine, being of royalty, must marry a price and Aladdin knows that it’s impossible to pursue her. Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the vizier for the Sultan, has been seeking someone to venture into the Cave of Wonders and retrieve a magic lamp and Aladdin seems to be just the person. After being betrayed by Jafar but managing to keep the lamp thanks to his monkey Abu, Aladdin learns its true secret. A genie (Will Smith) is trapped inside but once Aladdin frees him, he is granted three wishes which proves to be just the thing he needs to get closer to Jasmine. Jafar soon realizes the identity of “Prince Ali” and manages to get the lamp for himself to pursue his own evil ambitions.
While I understand that remaking some of the Disney animated features as live action versions isn’t necessary a horrible thing, but there’s also a point where I think the audience and fans grow tired of it. I honestly think that this point may have already been reached. While researching this review I found a list of what Disney has in the works and it includes everything from Cruella de Vil getting her own film much like Maleficent has to The Sword in the Stone, Pinocchio and even Lilo and Stich getting the live action treatment. There are currently over a dozen live action remakes or adaptations planned while there is but a single animated film coming from Walt Disney Animation Studios so Aladdin certainly doesn’t bring the cycle of a close.
Aladdin attempts to stay true to the original animated version meaning that while it’s live action, it’s also still a musical. Alan Menken, who composed the songs in the original along with Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, stepped in to assist with the remake. There are now modernized versions of all the songs that graced the animated version with twists on lyrics and styles here and there. Having Will Smith as part of the cast has allowed the composers to throw in some hip-hop styles at times although nothing that is lingering and it works but not nearly as well as what the original versions did. There’s also a new song, “Speechless,” which is sang by Princess Jasmine but it feels very misplaced in the film and a little unnecessary.
While Aladdin does bring the city of Agrabah to life in greater ways that what the animated film ever could have, there are often times when it feels like this is more of an Americanized Bollywood film. The musical numbers in particular bring in a lot of color to such a degree that it might have almost been a better idea to bring an actual Bollywood director to Hollywood to take on the directing chores. It might have given a very, very different feel and approach to Aladdin. However, Agrabah does end up feeling like it very well could be a real place and is filled with a sense of magic and mystery. Those who might have bene concerned that this would be another Prince of Persia can rest easy.
The big issue that I have with Aladdin is the casting. Will Smith wasn’t necessarily a bad choice to take over for the late Robin Williams. He’s a little more restrained than what Williams was and while his portrayal of Genie will always be remembered, there definitely were times when he was over the top although considering his comedy style, it’s a little expected. Smith is a bit more restrained but Aladdin still works in some of those modern references that don’t necessarily feel like they fit in the time period that we assume Aladdin is set in. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott meanwhile just don’t feel like they have any real on-screen chemistry. I never felt the blossoming relationship between the two felt real and instead came across as far too mechanical while in comparison, their animated counterparts seem much more believable. Then there’s Jafar who really never felt terribly evil in my opinion, not in the way a good Disney villain should and Kenzari’s never felt threatening of cunning like in the original version.
The bonus features are all found on the included blu-ray and consist of:
Aladdin’s Video Journal: A New Fantastic Point of View
Guy Ritchie: A Cinematic Genie
A Friend like Genie
Prior to watching this version of Aladdin, I did sit with my daughter and watched the original animated version. She initially was excited to see the live action adaptation but lost interest around 20 minutes or so stating that she didn’t like this version at all. I completely understand and had the same feeling. I haven’t disliked all of Disney’s live action remakes that have been released but I also the number I’ve enjoyed is drastically low. Aladdin feels like just another effort to cash in on an animated classic that has been loved for nearly three decades. If this version of Aladdin can’t captivate the imagination of a seven-year-old it doesn’t stand much of a chance winning over longtime fans of the original. The attempt to release the same magic as the animated version held ends up as little more than a cheap card trick.
Mike is the resident reviewer for Couponing to Disney and his own site Underland Online. He has a young daughter and is obsessed with Haunted Mansion and all things Disney. You can read Mike’s complete bio here.