Without dating myself (I’m totally about to date myself), my childhood was a blur of Star Wars and the Disney Renaissance of the 90’s and with all of the recent Disney remakes of classic films from that period it’s given me rose tinted glasses towards basically all those movies. The 2017 remake of Beauty and The Beast in particular I thought did a great job of paying tribute to that film while also adding enough new to make it feel different while also having that original spirit that made me love it as a kid. God help me when The Lion King comes out later this year, I might have to push a few kids out of the way to be the first one in the theater to see it. I say this because I honestly was a bit worried I couldn’t remain objective when it comes to these movies, however I didn’t think that would be a problem with Aladdin. The trailers made it look like a god-awful cringey mess, with an unsettling looking Genie and I sincerely believed it was destined to fail, even with an impressive cast. I went in expecting a disaster, and I walked out with a pretty big smile on my face, although not without some caveats.
The first, and frankly most obvious point in the win column for Aladdin, is Will Smith, whose Genie really injects the film with a much needed shot of energy, charisma, and just plain fun. He had a pretty difficult task of following up the late, great Robin Williams, who will always be loved and remembered by 90’s kids like me for playing the original Genie. While it’s almost impossible to not compare the two portrayals, Smith isn’t simply playing an imitation of the original Genie, he’s making the character his own and does so in prime Will Smith form.”Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” in particular really pop because of his energy and takes what could have been mediocre and makes it great. Smith is one of my acting heroes and it’s great after a few years of less than stellar movies (looking at you Suicide Squad) that he seems to have found that magic that made him a star in the first place.
With a film titled Aladdin, you’d expect the title character to be a character that you really sympathize with and care about and unfortunately I just didn’t connect with Mena Massoud’s portrayal of the character. Granted, he does a serviceable job and it never hinders the movie, but there was never a point in the movie where I thought “Oh, yeah! That’s Aladdin.” it just didn’t really register for me. To bring it back to Star Wars, with last years Solo: A Star Wars Story, Alden Ehrenreich played the iconic Han Solo, and from moment one he was Han Solo. There was never a doubt in my mind that he just wasn’t the character and I had the exact opposite problem with Mena’s Aladdin, although I would really like to see more of him in movies. I think he was really hindered by a less that stellar and slow introduction and the fact that he really can’t sing. “One Jump Ahead” in particular is really jarring and pretty hard to listen to. However as soon as he enters the Cave of Wonders, he get’s exponentially better.
I think this is the first time I’ve ever said this, but “good job Guy Ritchie!”, I was a little worried about him directing this movie and it didn’t really seem to mesh with what they were going for, but I was wrong. From the first frame, you believe you’re in Agrabah and the spectacle that Ritchie is able to create is awesome and brings the world that I loved so much as a kid to life. With his directing and Alan Menken’s excellent score, using song’s old and new, it really sells the world itself.
I have to gush about Naomi Scott, because good God, is she fantastic as Jasmine, and exactly the opposite of Mena’s Aladdin. She is the character and embodies everything you love and remember about the character when you were kid. Strong, smart, determined and dear lord can she sing! The new song made for the film called “Speechless” is a standout and makes this choir kid’s heart flutter. Just a wonderful, wonderful character, and possibly the birth of a star.
While the film does a lot of good, there was certainly some cringe worthy dialogue and music like “One Jump Ahead” and honestly was exactly what I was worried about given both of the trailers and clips that we were given. I did walk out having a lot more fun than I expected and was pleasantly surprised with the film that they gave us. It does a good gob of toeing the line between honoring the original and doing enough differently to justify it’s release. It’s the perfect movie for all those kids that grew up with the original to now take their own kids and introduce them to Agrabah and the world they loved as a kid.
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