John August, Guy Ritchie
Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban
Every time Disney announces a remake of one of its classic animated films, it is greeted with mixed reactions. The new film has to strike a perfect balance between nostalgia and novelty. It has to be different enough to justify its existence but also lives up to the fans expectations- it is not an easy feat. Aladdin was no exception to this scrutiny and even had the added layer of pressure when it came to the much-beloved Genie. What I witnessed was unexpectedly exciting and a great prelude to another exciting remake: The Lion King.
Aladdin is the story of a young kind-hearted street hustler (Mena Massoud) living in the Arabian city of Agrabah, along with his pet monkey Abu. He rescues and befriends a headstrong young woman who unbeknownst to him is Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), the princess of Agrabah. Aladdin decides to pursue the princess romantically, but his plans are foiled when he is kidnapped by the kings Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) and forced on a quest into the Cave of Wonders to retrieve a magic lamp containing an omnipotent Genie (Will Smith). The quest does not go according to plan and Aladdin finds himself on a personal quest of self-discovery in the midst of a lot of magic and every luxury he’s ever wished for.
For a remake, Disney succeeds at the novelty-nostalgia balance. The film not stray from the classic tale, and maintains it as a strong foundation, whilst including interesting new elements which only amplify the story. It is in no way contrived but instead is a modern-day Aladdin in every sense.
Much more attention was placed on character development, there are relevant backstories that allow the audiences to understand the characters much better, with details which are incorporated seamlessly into the dialogue. From Aladdin’s backstory right down to Jafars, we get more of an insight as to how the characters came to be and why they act the way they do, this efficiently pulls the whole story together.
The dialogue is free-flowing, with tonnes of drama, action, suspense and comedy. If you’re looking to mumble along to the dialogue, you might be a little disappointed, there are some borrowed lines from the animation, enough to stroke your nostalgia, but much of it has been reinterpreted and rewritten to fit a feature film. The script is written in a way that makes the film appealing to both the young and the old. Disney succeeds at this by highlighting social elements that adults could relate to as well as children being introduced to the Disney dossier. The dialogue has also been developed to suit the times, as the film has a strong female empowerment feel, we get a stronger sense of who Princess Jasmine is as a woman, something we only got a small glimpse of in the animated film.
Aladdin has been labelled as having the most ethnically inclusive cast of any Disney remake of all time with lead performers of Egyptian, South Asian, Dutch-Tunisian, Iranian and African American descent, this beautiful display of diversity complements the rich tones, culture and colours of Agrabah. In the midst of all these additions, expect to see some deductions as well, but all these changes are relevant to the story and shouldn’t leave you disappointed.
This is the 6th live-action remake of a Disney classic, and the first directed by acclaimed director Guy Ritchie. What Ritchie does especially well in this film is to capture the hustle and bustle of Agrabah and an exciting element of danger in the way Aladdin manoeuvres through the market. He utilises first-person point of view shot which gives the audience a look through the character’s eyes, something we did not get from the animation. From scaling the walls to racing on rooftops, we get a feel of how Aladdin moves like the “street rat” he touted to be. Richie also utilises this method on the magic carpet ride, which gives it a more realistic feel, as children after watching Aladdin you might have thought it fun, but after this film, you might think otherwise.
The Genie is probably the most controversial element to this film. In 1992, legendary actor Robin Williams lent his voice to bring the Genie to life in the animated film. This was not common back then and paved the way for other celebrities to branch into voice acting. Williams sadly passed away in 2014, but his performance as Genie is still considered as one of the best voice acting performances of all time due to the level of improvisation, creativity and vigour Williams brought to the film.
Fans were especially worried about protecting the sanctity of the character so it was no surprise there was so much talk when Disney announced that none other than Will Smith would take on the role in the remake. I should add that I strongly believe that no matter who was pitched, they would have received the same backlash because of the big shoes Williams left behind to fill. Regardless, Will Smith lived up to the challenge by giving a fantastic performance and putting his critics to shame. Smith delivered a beautiful and respectful interpretation of Genie that is his and his alone. For starters, he borrowed absolutely nothing from Williams, this has also forever immortalised Robin Williams’ performance and left no room for comparison between the two.
The Genie has always had a garrulous feel, bursting with energy, magic and animation, Smith was all of those things, but in a different way to the animation. If you’re a fan of the sitcom “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” you will instantly recognise the same energy Smith infuses into the Genie. He brings a more urban cool and funky element to the character we have not seen before, he even includes some rapping and breakdancing in the musical numbers, which is an absolute joy to watch. As the film is live-action, Smith successfully humanises the character and we get to see a wider range of emotion from Genie, there is more room for open expressions of joy, disappointment and everything in between.
Another fantastically executed detail is the CGI (Computer-generated imagery) version of the Genie. It is not overdone and is used appropriately to give Smith a commanding appearance without looking out of place with the rest of the shot. It is safe to say that the re-imagination of Genie is successful and a joy to witness.
Any Disney fan knows that no hero is complete without their trusted animal sidekick, and this is where the audience sees a stark difference between the animated and live-action. Iago, Jafars parrot sidekick, was originally voiced by comedian Gilbert Gottfried in the animated film. He was more of an assistant than a pet, and often gave his input during discussions with Jafar. Iago is probably one of the most complex animal sidekicks in the Disney family, as he’s just as power-hungry and cruel as his superior but is limited by his lack of ability to carry out tasks. In the animated film, he openly advocated for the murder of the sultan, and once when Jafar gained control he forces fed the Sultan the same stale crackers the Sultan fed him when he thought he was only a pet.
Fast forward to 2019, Iago is still an animal sidekick, only he’s a smart parrot with outbursts of phrases, like any other parrot, only he appears highly trained and very smart. He certainly is not as animated as he was in the animation but he does come out with phrases that are more evil inclined. I do think Iago lost a bit of his magic and the sarcastic charm he brought to the animation, but it’s a small price to pay for the film as a whole.
Abu, Aladdin’s monkey and Raja Jasmines tiger were both less animated and expressive than they were in the animated film and rightly so. It’s a bit of a shame that the animal sidekicks overall lost a bit of their magic and expression when re-imagined in a more realistic world. In the animated film, their energy allowed them more screen time and more presence in each scene, but the live-action film diminished them into the background and made them less relevant. Nevertheless, they served their purpose as sidekicks.
One element worth mentioning is the use of digital fur technology to give the animal sidekicks a realistic appearance, although CGI generated they did not look at all “cartoonish” and their fur moved naturally like any animals would.
Music is such an integral part of any Disney film and was one element that set the company apart from its competitors. Alan Menken, who composed the score and co-wrote songs for the animated film returned to co-write new songs for the live-action remake. Most of the classic songs are featured, notably “A whole new world” and “Friend like me”. A great new addition to the song list is the power ballad “Speechless” performed by Princess Jasmine. It truly highlights the women’s empowerment feel of the film as it’s the first time the princess has had her own song, not to mention the lyrics. Will Smith also put his own spin on songs performed by the Genie, and his sound makes for a more contemporary feel.
One surprise is the inclusion of folk dance to some traditional music in one scene, in which the Princess and Aladdin share a dance at a party held at the palace, this is an attempt to highlight the culture of Agrabah. In a bonus finale number, the cast comes together in another rendition of “Friend Like Me” where we witness key characters partaking in a Bollywood style music video in which Princess Jasmine beatboxes and Aladdin breakdances, solidifying the modern feel of Aladdin. Although it’s vibrant and exciting to watch, one could see this final scene as a little gimmicky or even pantomime-like, it is a tad exaggerated couple with the camera effects utilised on the dancers. I do think that’s the whole point of the tale of Aladdin in itself, it is a little over the top, but as this isn’t done throughout the film it is well balanced.
In all, Aladdin is a great film. Following the mark, the animated film left on fans would not have been easy but I believe it was well executed. It was bound to divide opinion, which it has but none which should take away from the great work that was produced. It certainly is a feel-good film for both young and old.
By: Emefa Tsikata | citinewsroom.com | Ghana
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