Disney’s Aladdin has always been a favourite of mine. At age three, it was the first film I’d ever seen in the cinemas and was on constant replay once it was released on VHS. Suffice to say, I knew the story of Aladdin very well and had all the songs memorised.
When Guy Ritchie’s live-action adaptation was announced, I was certain Disney would do the original justice given how well The Jungle Book turned out. However, my hesitance began when the cast was announced, as I wasn’t sure if anyone could portray Genie better than the great Robin Williams.
Last week, thanks to Disney New Zealand, I attended the premiere of Aladdin and found myself pleasantly surprised by the live-action adaptation, which not only brought back fond memories of the original, but also modernised the narrative to suit today’s society.
The film follows the well known tale of street-rat, Aladdin (Mena Massoud), who, upon discovering a magic lamp, meets an all powerful genie (Will Smith) who grants him three wishes. The narrative is certainly familiar and is in keeping with the original animated classic, which includes the highly ambitious and evil vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), and his plan to overthrow the Sultan (Navid Negahban) and become the most powerful being in Agrabah.
Whilst at first I wasn’t certain about the casting choice of many of the characters, the actors in the live-action adaptation played their characters incredibly well and added their own take in a way that was fitting for fans of the original. More so than Aladdin, or even Genie, it was Naomi Scott’s Princess Jasmine that shined in the film. Her presence as a Disney Princess was unlike one we’ve seen Disney portray in a live-action film before. She wasn’t just a damsel in distress nor merely a typical princess, waiting for her Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet. Instead, the Jasmine audiences were treated to was confident, proud and loved the people of Agrabah, in a way that a true monarch should.
Another important characterisation that I, personally, enjoyed was that of Jafar. Kenzari’s portrayal of the evil sorcerer may not have been as terrifying as the animated version of the character, but he was still incredibly horrid in a way only a man obsessed with power would. His very human reaction to falling short of being a man with supreme power is something that allows audiences to feel some kind of kinship with him, though feeling guilty at the same time for showing empathy for such a dastardly character.
In terms of Genie’s portrayal, I must admit that Will Smith did a fine job. Though it’s not comparable to Robin William’s portrayal, the Genie in the film was different in a way that made him more relatable, humourous and modern. Of course there were some scenes that felt ridiculously forced, but the addition of such scenes to humanise Genie may actually be a positive change in some audience member’s minds.
Usually, I would compare the film to its original and break down the differences in an in depth analysis, however in this case, there isn’t too much to breakdown due to the way Guy Ritchie managed to tell Aladdin’s story in a way we remember, albeit with one final twist that will leave several members of the audience in feeling a whole heap of emotions (that I won’t spoil for you).
Now what would a Disney film be if it didn’t have some audio and visual magic to surprise and delight viewers? Naturally, Aladdin features some incredible visuals, which not only included fantastic use of colourful costumes, but also effective CGI that ensured the fictional world of Agrabah was brought to life in a way that was believable. The magnificent outfits and props were a true testament to the Arabic culture, which was a marvelous delight to view on the big screen. In addition, having a very ‘lively’ magic carpet was a great feat to see on screen as well.
As for the incredible soundtrack most of us should be familiar with? Aladdin managed to include each and every song from the original classic as well as a brand new addition, sung by Naomi Scott herself. The live-action film breathed new life to the classic songs from the Aladdin animated film, which acted as a trip down memory lane. The music included small edits to modernise the songs, which were minute enough to keep it fresh while bringing out a sense of nostalgia in viewers. I couldn’t help but tap my feet to the familiar tunes and certainly had ‘Never Had A Friend Like Me’ stuck in my head all day after the screening (in fact, as I write this review I have ‘Prince Ali’ stuck in my head).
The new addition, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air, one that was not only catchy and inspiring but showcased the change of how the world perceived men and women today. It was a powerful rendition that truly captured my attention and interest and made me feel a stronger connection with Princess Jasmine in a way that the animated classic never could.
After watching Disney’s live-action adaptation of Aladdin, I feel slightly foolish for ever doubting the film. As I watched the film at the premiere, all I could think about was how much I enjoyed the animated film as a child and how lovely it was to enjoy the live-action as an adult. The film was brilliantly crafted to suit a modern audience, included slight updates to surprise and delight, as well as took us all on a wonderful ride to a whole new world of entertainment. Had I been a parent, I would have loved for my children to enjoy this live-action and have reruns play in the background constantly upon digital release, like I did with the original. I suppose having live-action adaptations allows the Disney magic to remain constantly alive and be enjoyed throughout multiple generations.