Disney is currently working on bringing several of their classic films to life via live-action remakes, and after Beauty and the Beast and before The Lion King we have Aladdin, a film that was wading through murky waters from the get-go with the controversy surrounding its casting choices for a film set in the Middle East. It's currently sitting on a hefty box office sum regardless of the questions raised, but how does Guy Ritchie's take on the tale perform?
It's rather bizarre to see Guy Ritchie's name on it at all, but this isn't a gritty, cockney take on Aladdin. This is still a family-friendly affair, with all the cute trimmings you'd expect. The musical numbers are still present and accounted for - including Jasmine's solo Speechless, which is one of the highlights of the entire film - and the cast is still as varied and entertaining as it was back in 1992. Mena Massoud is a great version of the protagonist, with a voice that sounds startlingly similar to the original, and Naomi Scott provides a strong and resilient Jasmine, fleshed out and given a bit more time to breathe in this version.
The first sticking point surprisingly comes from Will Smith though. Whereas Robin Williams had a soft silliness about his eccentric Genie, Smith brings his trademark arrogant style to the role, which actually steals the show from his co-stars in each scene... and not in a good way. He overwhelms everyone else in the film, to the point where we were pleased to see him absent so others could get a chance to shine. He has moments, as expected, but his overall performance felt like an odd fit to us.
Then come Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, perhaps the weakest point of the film. Whereas the original Jafar was as sinister and menacing as the snake that adorned his staff, Kenzari's delivery seems muted and perhaps more whiney than evil. He strikes us more as a child throwing his toys out of the pram because he can't be sultan, rather than an evil force scheming in the shadows for the downfall of his enemies. We actually felt that Iago was more threatening, as his realistic croak provides more of an unnerving edge than Jafar managed for the whole two hours.
As expected this is a visual spectacle to behold, whether that's the parade to mark Prince Ali's arrival or the Genie's various magic tricks, and it's definitely one that benefits from a cinema screen. Most of it looks lovely, like the personified magic carpet, but occasionally there are moments that don't look quite right, like the ballooned Will Smith as the blue floating genie with outrageous muscles and the speeding up of Aladdin and Jasmine running through the streets of Agrabah to match their mouths with the music.
The traditionalists among you will be pleased to hear that this hasn't sullied the good name of Aladdin, and it actually sets itself apart with some key style choices and extras like new songs, but it doesn't quite reach the heights of the 1992 original. It's particularly hard for Smith to compete with the late Robin Williams and his iconic performance of the Genie, and we felt that this version just lacked the magic of the first. That said, for a child experiencing the wonder of Aladdin for the first time, you can do far worse than this.
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