By Alex Skrapits (Wantagh)
When it comes to the 1992 Aladdin, it is considered to be one of my favorite animated Disney movies of all time, next to Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. It was straight-forward full of action, comedy, well-crafted colors and animation, memorable songs, and much more. But, when a live-action remake was announced, audiences were worried. For me, I always reserve judgement till the final product.
So…is it as bad as everyone thought it was going be…? …No. Does it pay respect and love as the original provided…? …Yes…mostly.
To kick things off, the story is what everyone would expect when coming on: peasant Aladdin (Mena Massoud) falls for the beautiful princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Soon, he finds a magic lamp with a Genie (Will Smith) and makes three wishes to win Jasmine’s heart while the royal vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) plots to steal the lamp for total power. Conceptually, the same story but executed differently. To the movie’s credit, it is not a complete shot-by-shot remake and it maintains the spirit of the original. That is what I expect from these Disney live-action remakes nowadays. With having an extended running time, it fleshes out more of the primary characters and their motives, which works to an extent. Since the movie is directed by Guy Ritchie (whom I have little knowledge of) and producer Dan Lin, the movie provides a little more emphasis on action and chase sequences during key scenes. There will be moments where you will feel an adrenaline rush when you see Aladdin running and jumping through the streets of Agrabah. Though for others, it would make them feel a little weird out after a while.
The visuals are usually a challenge since there are elements in the original that stick out like a sore thumb. But, to be fair, the movie does provide its own visual identity. Lavish is the best way to compliment the looks. Thanks to the nicely built sets of Agrabah and the vibrant, detailed costumes of the characters, I felt comfortable and became basked into the Arabian culture throughout the film. As for the CGI, it is average. There are times where it works well on emoting the animal characters and the matte landscapes. Then again, there will be times where the CGI would become noticeable and uncanny. The original still had more of an artistic advantage due to being animated. The colors easily visualize and establish the mood of the characters. The character animations and visuals also gave the animators more freedom to express their creativity and imagination.
The performances are a huge mix. I’ll start with the blue elephant in the room: Will Smith as the Genie. I admire Robin Williams and how much he made an impact he provided to his character with fast-paced energy and improvisations. Yet, it is worth noting that everyone has to understand and accept: no one could copy Robin Williams and his comedic influence. Disney knows it; Will Smith knows it. Even other animated Aladdin projects had their own comedic genies and no one complained about it. With that said, Will Smith did a pretty good job. Whether in his standard CGI genie or human form, he is pretty likable thanks to his own style of humor and relationship with Aladdin. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott maintained their charm and chemistry with their character from the original. My personal highlight is Scott’s breakthrough, original solo song called “Speechless”, which was written by Pasek and Paul, from La La Land. Nasim Pedrad is a nice new addition to the cast and gets an occasional laugh.
However, Marwan Kenzari never convinced me once that he was Jafar. I’m sure he’s a decent guy and acted fine in other movies. Even when the movie gives him a backstory and I’m not say he has to be a carbon copy of Johnathan Freeman, he is missing something very important: acting evil. Sure, in hindsight, the original Jafar would be characterized as a one-dimensional villain. But, at least, he was cunning, sneaky, master of tricks and disguises, and a psychotic threat. This guy, however, is a complete joke. And when does gain power, his performance becomes laughably bad.
Iago is nothing worth mentioning, either. He’s basically acts and talks a like a real parrot, that’s it. Granted, Alan Tyduk’s voice was serviceable, but nothing beats Gilbert Gottfried. The other performances are okay.
Lastly, the songs and music provided again by Alan Menken are ear-pleasing to listen and recapture the Arabic feeling despite the tempo is being slower than the original (i.e. “A Whole New World” and “Prince Ali”). The main stand-out songs are “Arabian Nights” which sets the story-telling mood well and “Speechless” thanks to Naomi’s surprisingly powerful voice.
Overall, despite a weak villain, average CGI and nothing special added, Aladdin is a pleasant re-telling that retains the original’s sense of wonder with great performances, lush visuals, and nice music.
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