Aladdin is a beloved spin on the timeless rags-to-riches tale, and the subject of Disney’s latest on-call remake service. Does it possess the same magic as the original animation? Short answer: yes – in buckets.
We descend upon Agrabah with the welcoming pipes of Will Smith singing us through the gates with ‘Arabian Nights’. It’s rocky to begin with, but Smith settles in to his own voice when he doesn’t try to be too ‘broadway’, he embraces his style and gets comfortable eventually. The city of Agrabah is beautifully imagined. It’s a world that feels lived-in, bustling with markets and traders, overflowing with life and colour. When we meet Aladdin (Mena Massoud) he’s bolting up the side of buildings and trading stolen necklaces for bags of dates; which he shares with the homeless population of the city. Massoud is the human embodiment of charm, with a smoulder and cheeky smile to rival that of Tangled’s Flynn Rider. He and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine share great chemistry, and are truly believable as a pair of unlikely lovers.
Scott’s Jasmine steals the show. She is no passive princess, and her repeated motif ‘I won’t stay silent”, something that may have come across pandering and forced, is instead entirely impactful thanks to Scott’s conviction. Her defiance to have some say in her kingdom is met with shutdowns such as the good old fashioned “Princesses should be seen and not heard.” A cliche that works, and this princess finally gets the solo she’s always deserved in the form of the angsty ballad ‘Speechless’. Scott brings bounds of confidence and a memorable performance – with singing chops that fittingly outshine her castmates.
Aladdin and Jafar share similar beginnings, both have grown up being told “remember your place” and “you are nothing.” But the moral, if you will, is about how one deals with this adversity. These are two men who began the same but who chose different paths. Jafar is done with being ‘second’ to anyone, he repeats, “you’re either the most powerful one in the room, or you’re nothing.” The classic power-hungry villain, but with a characterisation that makes you understand why. Marwan Kenzari is truly menacing as the serpent-staff-bearing tyrant; at first glance, it feels wrong that Jafar doesn’t bare his signature twisted beard, but you soon get used to it.
For Smith, stepping into the boots of legendary Robin Williams as Genie is no easy feat, and he doesn’t try – instead bringing his own Fresh Prince flare to the character. He’s loveable from the get-go, with some genuinely funny moments. The friendship between Aladdin and Genie is the glue that binds the story, and Massoud and Smith deliver. Special shout-out goes to Abu and Carpet, both loyal and overflowing with personality.
As for the musical element, Aladdin remains one of Alan Menken’s most enchanting scores, and he really stretches the wings of his beloved motifs in Ritchie’s imagining, where everyone is bringing full energy and heaps of heart. Of course, we all want Disney to chill on the remaking front, but if it’s here we may as well revel in the magic.
by Millicent Thomas
Millicent Thomas is a proud Mancunian studying Film & Publishing at Bath Spa University. She has written freelance for Little White Lies, Much Ado About Cinema, Reel Honey, and more. Her favourite films include Logan, Columbus, and Spy-Kids. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Letterboxd at @millicentonfilm