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A Whole New Take on Aladdin

3 min read

Walt Disney Pictures remakes their 1992 animated classic, Aladdin with a live-action adaptation from director Guy Ritchie. Save for a few changes, such as the introduction of a couple of new characters, the general premise of the 2019 version of Aladdin remains the same as the 1992 version. Both are derived from the Arabic folktale “One Thousand and One Nights”. Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is a conniving sorcerer who serves as the chief advisor to The Sultan of Agrabah (Navid Negahban).  Jafar seeks to overthrow the Sultan and devises a plan to acquire a lamp containing a genie (Will Smith), who Jafar believes will grant him immense power. Jafar decides to use kindhearted street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud) to achieve his goal.  Aladdin, meanwhile, is smitten with the Sultan’s daughter, Jasmine (Naomi Scott).

I remember seeing Aladdin on the big screen in 1992 and immensely enjoying the wonder of the film. Aladdin was such as success that it turned into its own franchise:  sequels, a TV series, video games, and a stage play. With the success of previous live-action adaptations, a remake of Aladdin was inevitable. I can admit that I was skeptical as the film came together, particularly because of the director who specialized in crime films and of the casting of Will Smith as the genie.

Thankfully, the studio chose  John August to write the screenplay. August’s previous work includes adapting television series and literary classics for the big screen, so this was a wise move on the studio’s part. August’s screenplay follows about eighty-five percent of the 1992 version while adding a few changes of his own.

While I am a fan of Guy Ritchie films, particularly his trademark style of depicting events from different character perspectives, I did not think he could pull off Aladdin. Thankfully, I was wrong.  Ritchie directed a fun summer movie. Early on in the film, there is a sequence which reminds me of some of the director’s earlier works. Ritchie also nails one of my favorite sequences from the 1992 version, Aladdin’s first ride on the magic carpet.

Stepping into the role of Aladdin is newcomer Mena Massoud. For the most part, Masoud does the role justice, however I must admit his singing is bland and comes off as amateurish. Naomi Scott, on the other hand, is wonderful as Princess Jasmine. With a radiant, spunky attitude and a beautiful singing voice, Scott is easily the breakout star of the film.

As for Will Smith, he succeeded in making the genie his own. He never tried to mimic Robin Williams. Instead, Smith, who has always had a natural charm mixed with the gift of gab, with his heart on his sleeve, used his musical talents to glide through his performance. Director Guy Ritchie made the wise decision to introduce Smith early in the film by highlighting his singing.

I, generally, enjoyed Aladdin. I cannot, however, forgive some of the off-keys singing by Mena Massoud. One of the original film’s signature moments is the duet “A Whole New World”. While Scott is more than capable of handling the song, Massoud fails. It took me out of the moment during the magic carpet ride. The music producers should have used a professional singer and had Massoud lip-sync.

This live-action remake of Aladdin succeeds in not only paying homage to the original, but, also as being its own charming film.

Final Grade: B-