With the original Aladdin (1992) being probably my favorite animated movie of all-time, you can imagine that I have been anticipating this movie for a while. The thing is, I really didn’t have incredibly high expectations. I was skeptical that they would be able to tell this iconic tale in the same kind of playful and fun way. How would they tackle the genie? Having now seen it, I think they did a pretty good job.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
The original movie introduced Jafar, who is possibly the best villain in the history of Disney Animation. I have always been a huge fan of Jafar as a villain, and Marwan Kenzari just doesn’t do it for me. To me, it was by far the most glaring casting issue of the movie. I don’t really know who I would’ve cast instead, maybe like Ben Kingsley or something, but Kenzari isn’t intimidating enough to strike fear into the audience. Disney kind of let me down with that casting choice.
One thing I didn’t understand was how Aladdin could be so clever to figure out that Jasmine lived in the palace but couldn’t figure out that she was the princess even after he snuck into the palace to deliver back her bracelet. Maybe he just wanted to believe that she was only a hand-maid, so that is all that he saw?
The message of empowerment is definitely front-and-center with Jasmine’s character arc. It is not subtle, but it is also not at all overbearing. The issue I have with it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that it is pushing gender equality, as I actually found myself enjoying that aspect of Jasmine, but more-so that the emphasis to Jasmine’s independent character is just a little inconsistent throughout. When I noticed the movie going in that direction, I thought it would likely change the development arc with Aladdin and Jasmine’s characters. For instance, early-on Jasmine mentions to the Sultan and Jafar that she should be allowed to lead as Sultan. Of course, the Sultan dismisses that at first because a woman has never been allowed to be Sultan before. Then, during Jasmine’s first interactions with Prince Ali, it became very clear that she wasn’t interested in him as a potential suitor. Knowing the story arc of the original, I thought maybe in this version Jasmine’s affection wouldn’t be won over after a melodious duet on a magic carpet. However, after the iconic song, she and Aladdin shared a kiss exactly like they do in the original. I felt like it would’ve been a little more fitting for Aladdin to lean in for the kiss at the end of the night only for Jasmine to back off because she isn’t a “prize so easily won”.
Let’s talk a little bit about Mena Massoud. I wasn’t sold on him as Aladdin from the trailers, but after watching the movie I think he was an excellent casting choice. Not only did he have the look, but he also had the voice and charm of the original character. I knew from his song One Jump Ahead that he was going to be a good fit. Naomi Scott was also a good casting choice for Jasmine. Who knew she could sing that well? While it is impossible for anyone to match what Robin Williams did, I think Will Smith was great in this movie. What made it work was that he didn’t try to be Robin Williams’ Genie, but instead, he tried to be Will Smith’s Genie. He added his own flare to the character that honestly worked really well.
I have watched quite a few movies lately that were supposed to be funny but didn’t really make me laugh very much. Shazam!, Detective Pikachu, and The Lego Movie 2, to name a few. Aladdin, however, made me laugh out loud A LOT. There are a lot of awkward moments that induce a kind of cringe laughter, as well as some really funny lines from Will Smith and Nasim Pedrad as Jasmine’s hand-maid Dalia.
Guy Ritchie brings a specific style to all the movies that he directs, and usually, you either like it or you don’t. I enjoyed his work on the two Sherlock Holmes movies as well as King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and I really enjoyed his style in this one as well. You can taste his style the most in the action scenes as well as the musical numbers. His use of many camera angles, slow motion, and high volume background noise really add to the intensity of some of the biggest moments.
The last thing I wanted to mention is the soundtrack. Pretty much every iconic song from the original has a new twist to match the updated style of the movie. Also, Jasmine gets her own song “Speechless” which is definitely my early pick to win the Oscar for Best Original Song come February.
I absolutely loved this movie with the exception of my distaste to Jafar. So why are the critics giving it such an average score on Rotten Tomatoes? I believe that the answer is Guy Ritchie. He has never really been hailed as one of the better directors in Hollywood and I feel like most critics love to hate on his unique style. I think it has almost gotten to the point where critics are expected to drag his movies through the mud and if they don’t then they may lose credibility. This may not be entirely true but it is the best guess I have at the moment because Aladdin (2019) should definitely be certified fresh.