Okay, let’s do this. We're breaking down the live action 'Aladdin' remake right here, so let's hop a carpet and fly to another Arabian night.
Let’s start with what you most likely want to know: the Genie. I’ll start with saying Will Smith (‘Men in Black’, ‘Suicide Squad’) as Genie in a version of ‘Aladdin’ isn’t the worst idea ever, but what is god-awful is the version we ended up with. Here, he's a weird blend of Robin Williams' Genie with urban gangster flavour. There is no world where you will get a version that even comes close to Williams' Genie. Even to get close you would have to do a 180 degree flip on the character and let Will Smith be Will Smith. Here, there's just a constant reminder that I can go home and hear these lines done better (and the singing? We'll get to the music later). A lot of the scenes with Genie are just him rambling on, line after line, hoping something sicks. This Genie simply isn’t fun - he's bland. As a character, it’s more like he is contractually obligated to grant Aladdin’s wishes and nothing more; he isn’t a ‘Friend Like Me’, he just moves the plot along. Also, he is terrible blue CGI for 80% of the film, and I just don’t understand that choice. It would have been fine to make him more human, instead of this horrible rubber nightmare.
Aladdin (Mena Massoud, TV's ‘Jack Ryan’, ‘Run this Town’) is this street rat with a heart of gold, but here he just blandly looks around at things. As an audience member, I never felt invested in him - I never want him to win the girl and save the day. In the original film, he gave bread to those street kids; he has a heart of gold. This time around he steals a necklace instead, which he trades for a bag of dates which he then gives to the children, which is just an unnecessary extra couple scenes for no reason. In the animated 'Aladdin', this is a big moment to tell us what kind of person Aladdin is, but here it just happens and we gloss over it, without even a close up of the kids.
Jasmine (Naomi Scott, ‘Lemonade Mouth’, ‘Power Rangers’) is probably the best transition, but there's still problems. She's easily my favourite Disney Princess (tied with ‘Beauty And The Beast’s' Belle) - she was strong without being forced, she and Aladdin worked together rather than man-help-girl, and even when she was a damsel she would still help out. Most of this stays the same this time around, but because it’s 2019 she's even more woke, so she wants to be Sultan because she cares about the people and wants women to be speechless no more. Of the entire cast, Scott seems to care the most, but she is missing for large portions of the film. There's a part where the guards are chasing Aladdin and Jasmine in her beggar disguise, and they must jump from one building to the other. Aladdin does it with ease and hands Jasmine a pole to jump across, but oh no, she's scared and it’s not until the last minute as the guards surround her that she jumps. In the animated version they still have to complete a giant jump from one building to the other, but when Aladdin hands her the pole, Jasmine just runs past and does the jump with ease. It shows you she is a strong, independent woman and is on a similar level as Aladdin. Twisting this moment changes how we see Jasmine - it almost takes away from her character in a weird and unnecessary way. In the original, Jasmine revels herself to be the princess in front of Aladdin to save him, but here Jafar tells Aladdin about her lie right before he gets the lamp... I guess to give Jafar something to do.
SWITCH: 'ALADDIN' TRAILER
Believe it or not, but the Genie isn’t the worst character in the film - he is close, but the prize goes to Jafar (Marwan Kenzari, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, ‘The Mummy’). Oh boy, what was that? Yet again, Disney ruins its villain (*cough* ‘Maleficent’ *cough*). In the animated 'Aladdin', Jafar is this fun, playful, creepy, menacing character, he has fun banter with Iago, but is terrifying when pining after Jasmine. This time around he's so bland, he actually sucks out energy from the audience, and he isn’t threatening in anyway at all. His motives are all over the place, and they eliminate him wanting to marry Jasmine except at the very end. Instead, he now wants to start wars with countries and his has so little to do with Aladdin’s story. Outside of sending him to the cave and then wanting the lamp, Jafar poses no real threat to Aladdin. He only has an impact because we need a third act where everyone is in the same place. And in ‘Maleficent’ fashion, Jafar does not turn into a snake - instead, we get a magic carpet chase... Whoopee!
The animal characters are all terrible. Abu has the most to do, but again lacks the energy and relationship he has with Aladdin from the animated film. Raja is there just because he was in the original. They add a new character to take his place with Jasmine's assistant Dalia (Nasim Pedrad, TV's ‘New Girl’, ‘The Dictator’), who I actually enjoyed - all my laughs came from her, and I love the actress. The Sultan (Navid Negahban, ‘American Assassin’, ‘American Sniper’) isn’t a bumbling fool, he's just Jasmine’s dad because she has to have one, and sadly they have made Iago (Alan Tudyk, ‘Zootopia’, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’) a real parrot, no longer a fun evil sidekick, just a bird who repeats words.
Now to the section where a Disney fan rants about changes. Jasmine and Aladdin now meet earlier in the film, before the song ‘One Jump Ahead’, which is the film's opening scene. Jasmine is now involved in that number, with the guards chasing both of them and Aladdin trying to protect her. This change isn’t the worst, and story-wise it cuts both of their introductions in half, which is fine considering the movie doesn’t care for its characters, but it takes some fun out of their chemistry. Instead of Aladdin and Jasmine bonding over the fact they both feel trapped by their social class, they now bond over the fact they both don’t have mothers, because why not. Instead of being told he will “always be a street rat” by a Prince, it’s now just a random guard, taking away the foreshadowing and metaphor the animated film had with that line. My last gripe is the Cave of Wonders: instead of being hidden, it’s just a built-in rock formation. The cave isn’t that epic, there are just some jewels thrown on some rocks, and instead of being multiple rooms it’s just one big rock pit with the lamp at the end on top of a pillar. Also, the stone Abu touches that causes the cave to collapse is just a single red jewel that falls - it’s not the big gold ape holding a giant stone, a minor change but worth noting.
Disney was once a studio that could teach valuable lessons to kids while still providing groundbreaking animation, award-winning songs and memorable characters. Now they just give fans empty shells of these classic films, and that’s what hurts the most.
Now to the songs!
We're breaking it down song by song, so sit tight. With the opening song ‘Arabian Nights’, it’s almost been developed into its own number. The film starts with human Genie on a boat telling two kids the tale of a street rat and a princess, thus leading into the song. Here it’s not epic - the score still is, but Will Smith speak-singing the lyrics to this epic song just makes for an underwhelming start. Next up is ‘One Jump Ahead’ and wow, maybe get an Aladdin who can sing rather than have a speak-sing cover of a Disney classic... again. The scene has a weird moment where they fasten up the footage and it’s just so cringey. Choreography-wise it's also bland; they're just walking around Agrabah, and while Aladdin might do a flip, it’s otherwise pretty static. There are weird choices with some of the secondary characters in the song, like the lady who says, “Still I think he's rather tasty,” and when she sings it, they pan away from her. We also get two reprises of the song and they both sound the same. With Aladdin at home singing sadly 'Riff Raff, Street Rat', they should have removed the first reprise, and just had the sad one in the third act.
Next up, Jasmine gets a solo (nope, not the already great song written for her from the Broadway show - that be silly, how can Disney go for an Original Song Oscar that way?) with 'Speechless'. The first time she sings it is fine; Scott has a decent voice and is easily the best singer, but the song is too poppy for the ‘Aladdin’ soundtrack (it was written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who wrote ‘La La Land’ and 'The Greatest Showman's' songs, and it fits more there). The second time she sings it in the third act - OMG, it's easily the most batshit scene. It’s so insane and I don’t want to ruin it, but wow, talk about being dramatic. The song lyrics are fine, they are Disney’s typical female empowerment anthem. It’s something that can be easily taken out of context and used as a message for not being speechless and standing up for yourself, but you could have added amazing songs that where cut from the original film or even some of the new stuff written for the stage musical.
On to 'Friend like Me', with all the urban gangster flavour you never thought it needed. Again, wildly underwhelming and not creative, this song should be insane and epic and crazy but nope, nothing here. They just constantly throw CGI at you with no effect. In the credits, there's a version of the song where Will Smith actually raps it with DJ Khaled and while I want to state how bad that version is, I kind of wished that version was the one in the movie because at least it’s different, but instead we get a weak attempt at recreating the original. The one that hurts the most is 'Prince Ali', hands down my favourite 'Aladdin' song. It’s meant to be this big huge number with a huge choir, you have the Genie whipping around and changing into different characters, there's a massive group of people parading down this long street and breaking into the palace. Well, there must have been budget cuts, because there's been a downgrade from literally thousands of people to maybe a couple hundred, and instead of a massive parade it only takes place on one small part of the street.
The only cut song is Jafar’s reprise of 'Prince Ali'; now he just kind of speaks it, which doesn't work. Last up, we have the greatest Disney love song 'A Whole New World', the best song in the movie. Naomi Scott sure can can hold a note, but Mena Massoud not so much. The scene has a dark blue tone to it, so everything could have done with a little more light to be more romantic. Overall, if this was the first time hearing any of these songs, they wouldn't be memorable in any way.
Very lightly touching on cultural appropriation - the animated film does this, and a lot of Disney movies feature a blend of cultures to create their own, such as ‘Moana’ and ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’. The only issue in live action ‘Aladdin’ is in the dance numbers where they mix belly dancing with RnB dance moves, and it just feels wrong.
‘Aladdin’ isn’t quite as bad as it could have been, but it’s still a terrible remake that doesn’t understand what made the original work -and that isn’t just Robin Williams. The animated ‘Aladdin’ taught me lessons about love, friendship and, most importantly, being yourself. The live action version misses all of these in some way, and I can’t see kids learning anything here. Disney was once a studio that could teach these valuable lessons to kids while still providing groundbreaking animation, award-winning songs and memorable characters. Now they just give fans empty shells of these classic films, and that’s what hurts the most. You took a 91 minute story and made it 127 minutes, yet still lost everything.
I can’t wait for this to make all of the money so we can finally get a live action ‘The Return of Jafar’ and hopefully ‘Aladdin and the King of Thieves’.