In truth, I was quite worried when I heard that Disney were doing a live-action remake of Aladdin. I was never this concerned for previous Disney live-actions films, but Aladdin means so much more to me than its live-action converted predecessors. I grew up watching the 1992 original Aladdin film as a kid and know it so well, I can quote the entire film dialogue word for word including singing all the song lyrics. So, you can imagine my hesitation when it came to the 2019 live-action remake of Aladdin. But I am here to tell you that this newly adapted version of Aladdin is nothing to be worried about and deserves your attention. Directed by Guy Ritchie, the 2019 retelling stars Will Smith as the Genie, Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine and Mena Massoud as Aladdin.
It is clear that Disney spared no expense with this film. The set designs, the props, the costuming, the colours and the cinematography are all incredibly impressive. The film also surprisingly refuses to copy and paste the original animation score, with a new score composed by Alan Menken (a Disney legend who also worked on the original film’s music) with Pasek & Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman) tackling the lyrics. Although the compositions are new and give more of a modern pop-sounding feel, they remain true to the original work that Alan Menken created with the late great lyricist, Howard Ashman.
The same could be said for the film itself. Aladdin is a very treasured animation and the groundwork from the classic gave very little leeway to work with, but the changes made in this new film are justified and have married with the core storyline to give the best possible version of Aladdin. We all know the story, a ‘street rat’ meets the princess in disguise, falls in love, and attempts to follow his heart by wishing himself a prince with the help of the genie, and then eventually settling the genie free. This doesn’t change, but what does is a welcome change to the storyline that is refreshing and somewhat empowering. Because of this change, I believe that Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine was the highlight of the entire film, especially when she sung her solo number (Yes, Jasmine finally gets her own song!) “Speechless”. It was a change that I never knew I wanted and needed until I saw it happening right before my eyes. The song itself is also so wonderful, I really hope the film wins a Grammy and Oscar for it.
Will Smith is surprisingly satisfying as the Genie, adding a little ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ style. While the man is not a singer, he does his best with the song “Arabian Nights” and owns “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” which have been reinvented with his personal touch. His chemistry with Mena Massoud’s Aladdin on-screen is also incredibly delightful to watch, the two even doing improv on their “jam” scene (you’ll know what I mean when you see it) which is hilarious. When Smith was initially announced as the Genie, I was cautious, but now I can confidently say that he is the Genie and I could see no-one else in this live-action role other than him. Without harming the originally material and hindering the legacy that Robin Williams left behind, Will Smith has successfully managed to stay true to the character while also making the role his own.
I can’t say the same for Jafar played by Marwan Kenzari. Unlike the overly confident original, this Jafar has a massive chip on his shoulder. In the animation, I loved Jafar. If anything, Jafar is one of my favourite villains. Although the live-action does give Jafar more of a backstory than its animation counterpart, there is very little for Kenzari to work with and ultimately, I still feel like we didn’t get to know the character as much as the original film.
Jafar’s bird companion Iago is great, however. The animation for the bird is superb and the voice acting from Disney’s lucky-charm, Alan Tudyk (who has voice more Disney characters than you think) is great as always with some clever lines used as foreshadowing.
Last but not least, Mena Massoud in the title role is the perfect Aladdin. The way Massoud displays Aladdin’s strength and humility is both impressive and effortless. While I would also have liked to have seen Aladdin have a new song, I loved the harmonising Massoud does in “A Whole New World” with Scott and their on-screen chemistry which is believable and heartwarming. I admit, I did get teary during their duet. While the film isn’t really a necessary remake, the film exists for the fans and as a fan I was very satisfied.
I was worried, but the 2019 remake is the best version of Aladdin and deserves your attention. The film spins a new course while remaining true to the original. Fans of the original will love this and those who are watching Aladdin for the first time via this live-action will still enjoy it. Basically, it’s a win-win and I loved it.