So, we were all skeptical of the live action Aladdin remake to begin with. How can anyone else play the Genie? Robin Williams’s performance was brilliant in ways we can never imagine replicated by any actor. Then the casting started. We got an unknown male lead to play Aladdin, Mena Massoud, and a slightly unknown female lead for Jasmine, Naomi Scott (the Pink Ranger in the new, underrated, Power Rangers movie). So far, so good. The cast started rounding out with actors of Middle Eastern heritage, such as Marwan Kenzari (Jafar), Navid Neghban (the Sultan), and Nasim Pedrad (a new character, Dahlia, Jasmine’s handmaiden). And pretty much all the small roles too. But they still didn’t announce who would play the Genie. And then they finally did, and the world groaned. Will Smith.
But let’s be honest, the world would have groaned regardless of casting. There was no way anyone would have accepted anything short of Robin Williams himself resurrected for the part. It had nothing to do with Will Smith. It was the deep nostalgic cry of “how dare you to replace my childhood hero!” That’s what most of the hatred for these live action remakes comes down to: nostalgia. “How dare they remake .” However, these live action versions make boatloads of money, and so far, they’ve been pretty good, and that includes Aladdin.
Disney Crew Just Having Fun
It felt that everyone making this movie knew ahead of time that audiences would criticize it for being nowhere near as good as the “original” (keep in mind that all of the animated classics were adaptations of other works). Come on. A live action Aladdin? Who needs that? (Really, we don’t need any movie). So, instead of trying to live up to crazy expectations, everyone just had fun making the movie, from the costume designers to the director himself, Guy Ritchie.
The production itself is impressive. The costumes are vibrant and dazzling, simultaneously updating the looks from the animated film while keeping the sense of magic. Jasmine is dressed as an actual princess and not a belly dancer (much to the displeasure of fanboys wanting to see an exact replica of their prepubescent animated Disney princess crush). The Sultan looks damn regal. Aladdin, the street thief, looks even more ragged while his Prince Ali persona looks even more princely. And when Will Smith is in his human guise, his costumes are brilliant. Sometimes subtle, but when they aren’t, you can see the designers going, “let’s see how far we can go.”
The sets too are spectacular. The city and the palace are both characters in themselves. For the most part, the live action remakes explored relative small settings. The castle in Beauty and the Beast, the jungle in The Jungle Book, the future park in Dumbo. Aladdin has a lot of locations to explore, and really big ones at that. Agrabah feels so real and full of life, you can almost forgive the 41% of President Trump’s supporters who wanted to bomb the fictional city.
Guy Ritchie in Live-Action Aladdin Showing his Musical Magic
But the person having the most fun? Guy Ritchie. Making a live-action musical based on a Disney cartoon does not fit into Ritchie’s filmography. He’s the guy who made such modern classics like Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. While he did make a King Arthur movie, it had nothing to do with the Disney animated feature (and was also quite terrible). Maybe the closest he’s gotten to a movie like this is his two (soon to be three) Sherlock Holmes movies. But even those are a far cry from Aladdin.
All of his films focus on grit. Aladdin focuses on dazzle (at one point, the genie is wearing a giant turban that explodes with glitter and confetti. That might be a little racist, come to think of it). The dance numbers are incredible (props to the choreographer, who took the animated and physically impossible dances in an animated movie and somehow got real people to do them). This is pure spectacle, and it is clear that Ritchie is loving every moment of it.
The actors are also having a good time. Though Massoud is clearly nervous and overwhelmed in many parts of the movie, you can see him gain confidence as he goes. And despite knowing that this could be the movie that launches her into stardom, we can see when Naomi Scott takes a little more time to breathe. The performer having the most fun is Nasim Pedrad (of Saturday Night Live) who brings a lot of humor to the Jasmine scenes (that is one serious princess).
Will Smith brings own fun-loving Genie to new Aladdin
Okay, you don’t care about any of those people, do you? You’re thinking “fine, I just want to know how bad Will Smith was as the Genie.” And yeah, I have some bad news.
He was good.
Was he perfect? No. Was he Robin Williams level amazing? Definitely not. Did he make this character his own? Most of the time—and those were the best parts of his Genie. There are Robin Williams-esque scenes that are painfully forced (like when he dresses up as one of the brothel women during the Prince Ali song and sings with them. Oh, you didn’t know that was a brothel. Google it). It’s when he’s playing the Genie, and not Robin Williams playing the Genie, that Smith brings a lot to this movie, and helps deliver the overabundance of fun this movie offers.
Not All Magical is in the Live Action Aladdin Movie
The live-action Aladdin does have some downsides, though. The pacing is bizarre. It starts relatively slow and then rushes at the end. It’s one of the fair comparisons to make to the animated movie. At the end of the movie, Jafar is terrifying. He turns into a snake and a giant red demonic genie wielding the cosmos in his hands. But we don’t get that scale (though we do get a giant Iago, which leads to a fantastic magic carpet chase. However, the CGI was hit or miss.
Speaking of Jafar…eh. Kenzari just doesn’t feel threatening at all. He’s also much too young for the creepy old Visor in the animated version. And it’s an unfortunate failing for Aladdin’s live action rendering. Disney heroes are only as good as their villains, and Jafar was just kind of there.
But it’s a small failing. Otherwise, the Live-Action Aladdin movie is a blast and definitely needs to be seen in theaters for the sheer scope of it all. If you’re still adamant that the live-action remakes such as Aladdin are somehow ruining your childhood, well, it is just a movie. Go, have some fun. And in 40 years, when they remake the live action Aladdin movie, and your kids are in their 30’s complaining about it, you can just laugh and laugh.
Live-Action Aladdin Movie Review: Grade: B+
WAIT. How could I forget? The real hero of the story. Abu!
Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.