Aladdin (2019) Review

Guy Ritchie's directorial style is often closely associated with London gangsters and stylish action shots. This style can be seen in his latest endeavor, a live-action remake of Disney's "Aladdin" (the animated version was released back in 1992). The action sequences Aladdin has when running through Agrabah and the collapsing Cave of Wonders sequence are reminiscent of the fantasy-action audiences have previously fallen in love with in films like Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings.

Will Smith's Genie has been a hot topic of discussion since the first trailer dropped. Much of these complaints are likely stemming from the cynical outlook adults have about corporate decisions to remake films that are held in sentimental regard. It's a strange outlook to have, given that fairy tales and similarly old tales are frequently re-adapted and re-imagined by creatives. If anything, the cartoonish appearance of Will Smith's Genie when blue creates a hybridization of the original animated format with the contemporary live-action one.

Smith was understandably weary of stepping into a role that was made iconic and beloved by Robin Williams but he only agreed once he found a way to make the role his own. Robin Williams was successful as the Genie because he had the freedom to model the character after his own style of comedy. Smith has done the same thing both in regards to the characterisation and the film's music. While Williams' high-energy, fast-talking, rolodex of impersonations was perfect for a cartoon, Smith's Genie expands more on the dramatic side of his character. The audiences gains a deeper emotional insight into what Genie experiences by being trapped in this role for so long and how much it means to him to be free from this entrapment.

CGI is also used to render the animal characters, Abu, Iago, and Raja. Being that this is a live-action film, these animals were never going to work as anthropomorphized characters the way they were in the animated film. Iago communicates with Jafar but apart from that, these animals aren't intended to be particularly expressive in how they contribute to the story's narrative. Though they take a backseat to their animated counterparts as far as expression goes, the 2019 Aladdin more than makes up for this by allowing the lead characters to be more developed.

Mena Massoud is fantastic as Aladdin. There's a consistent charm he has that not only allows the audience to fall for him but is also important in developing the attraction between him and Jasmine as well as the friendship with Genie. The depth of these relationships feels more substantiated than how they are in the animated film but without slowing down the pace of the story.

Naomi Scott as Jasmine stands out just as significantly. She's full of fire and passion, and her new song "Speechless" is one of the most powerful dramatic performances of the entire film. Alan Menken did the music for the animated Aladdin and was brought back to work his magic again for this adaptation. This new Jasmine also has a character revamp. In the animated film, her main conflict came from her lack of freedom to choose who she'll marry. This time, she is seeking to become the Sultan of Agrabah after her father. She cares about her people and though the film makes a point of never having her naysayers explicitly state that she can't perform these duties because she's a woman, the implication of their negative sentiment is entirely clear.

The costumes and set design are beautifully designed and constructed. Having such a strong Middle-Eastern, South Asian influence on the presentation is not only good for the representation it can offer viewers who are unaccustomed to seeing themselves as the stars of Hollywood productions but on an aesthetically level this in cultural influence also offers a rich tapestry when developing the design. Visually, this film is bold, vibrant, and the Bollywood influence on certain dance numbers is also commendable.

This version of Jafar has received some extra criticism, which is odd considering that Disney's fairytale films have never been the go-to destination for nuanced villains. More often than not, the heroes and villains are presented with clear lines drawn between the two sides. In actuality, Jafar has also been changed for the better in this adaptation compared to the animated version. Before, Jafar was a creepy old pervert obsessed with wanting to get with Jasmine. He put her in a slave outfit and she ended up using her sexuality to try to help defeat him. It's not exactly something that should be put in a film first and foremost intended for children. This time around Jafar's origins have more context and the focus is shifted to his lust for power. Agrabah feels more real because of various discussions characters have about its allies and potential invasions.

The 2019 Aladdin is updated in the ways that matter while retaining the sense of adventure and wonder of the animated version. Guy Ritchie makes the smart choice to jump right into the action instead of wasting time on exposition that absolutely no ones needs because of how familiar the audience is with the previous adaptation. As a result, the heroes have more time to show how they have been updated and establish the depth of their relationships with one another. It's bright, colourful, exuberant, fun, and the songs and dance numbers are stellar. Whether you're going to bring your children, young relatives, or just see it on your own, there is plenty of enjoyment to be had.

Aladdin is playing now in cinemas worldwide.

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