Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Guy Ritchie, John August
Cast: Will Smith, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Alan Tudyk, Billy Magnussen
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios
Rated PG | Runtime: 128 Minutes
Release Date: May 24, 2019
There is absolutely no room for error when it comes to adapting a Disney animated classic into a live-action film. The studio has recently found some modest critical and commercial success with some of their titles. But the one common thread that each of them shares is that all of them are a part of a legacy and each has a large existing fanbase. So the bar of expectation for a live-action take on Aladdin is pretty high. Especially when it comes to capturing the same spirit of the story, themes, and music. But most of all, the characters, like Aladdin, Jasmine, and the unforgettable Genie.
Luckily, Guy Ritchie‘s take on the film is something that stays true to the spirit of the animated original while still maintaining his style of filmmaking. A huge surprise at best, the film captures everything that we love about the animated original through its cast, especially with Will Smith‘s Genie and Naomi Scott‘s scene-stealing performance as Princess Jasmine. With some slight updates to the story and songs, along with a brand new song from Alan Menken, this version of Aladdin is an upbeat and fun contemporary take on the 1992 original.
For the most part, this live-action adaptation of Aladdin follows the animated original story beat for story beat. In it, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a street rat who knows the art of the hustle. When fate draws him and Princess Jasmine (Scott) together, the two immediately fall in love. But each of them has their reasons for not revealing their true feelings – Aladdin believes someone like Jasmine won’t marry a street rat, and Jasmine must marry someone who is a prince. This blossoming relationship is quickly extinguished when Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the Sultan’s grand vizier, takes Aladdin away and promises his freedom and enough treasures to make him a prince if he retrieves a lamp in the Cave of Wonders.
Skeptical, Aladdin nearly refuses the offer but accepts when Jafar reveals that he is a lot like him considering he too was once a prisoner and a street rat. And with the help of Abu, his trusty pet monkey, Aladdin journeys into the Cave of Wonders, only to be imprisoned once more by Jafar. Trapped, Aladdin decides to see why Jafar was so desperate to retrieve the lamp, and without realizing it, he frees an all-powerful and excitedly energetic Genie (Smith). Genie grants Aladdin three wishes, which he uses to create Prince Ali, a persona that Aladdin will use to impress both the Sultan and Princess Jasmine in hopes that she will take his hand in marriage. Meanwhile, Jafar realizes this farce and devises a plan to take the lamp for his own so that he can use it for his own nefarious purposes.
For the most part, this is a true live-action adaptation of an animated classic while also still being a Guy Ritchie film. It has that swagger of street hustlers and fast-moving action sequences. Though at times the editing of the scene involving outrunning the palace guards in the streets of Agrabah may be a bit dizzying, it seems to hit the right notes as it is done to the song “One Jump.” Each beat is perfectly choreographed with landings, jumps, swings, and kicks. Ritchie’s penchant for sharp and witty banter and the quirkiness are also sown into the fabric of the film.
And though it is a pretty faithful adaptation, there are still some slight changes to the film that not only makes it a Guy Ritchie film, but also a more contemporary film. This includes having more of an emphasis on female empowerment. For the most part, the animated original skimmed along the surface of the idea that a princess is “not a prize to be won.” Here, Princess Jasmine makes her voice loud and clear not only in her actions and knowledge of diplomacy but through her song “Speechless,” which is a pivotal moment in the film that gives her a chance to shine whenever a man of power brings her down.
This is exactly why Scott steals the entire movie. She brings in the same kind of energy, strength, and fearlessness that we saw in the character of the animated original. And none of that is shoehorned into the film. It organically works its way into the film because its themes are a reflection of what we are seeing today.
Massoud charms his way into the film capturing every nuance of the title character from his sleight of hand thievery, quick footwork, and undeniable swagger. The character gets himself involved in some pretty fast-paced action sequences, with one that involves the title character free running through the streets of Agrabah. The entire shot feels wildly kinetic and no movement is wasted.
Of course, the one character that is on everyone’s mind is Smith’s Genie. The late Robin Williams, who voiced the Genie in the animated original, set the bar incredibly high by becoming an extreme version of himself. And like the character, Smith has a phenomenal personality that simply cannot be contained, unless of course it is done by some greater cosmic force.
The actor uses some of that natural charisma and brings in a hip-hop flair to make Genie his own. So while the two Genies share some of the same qualities, colorful expressive gags, honesty, and humor, the two have a different style of delivery. This modern take is more reflective of the world that we live in now, which makes the film that much more contemporary. And you can hear a lot of that in Smith’s take on “Friend Like Me.” We may all remember it as a song that Williams performed, but that touch of hip-hop flavor and slight tweaks to the beats per minute makes it new and fresh.
Though the individual performances are great, Massoud, Scott, and Smith all have excellent chemistry with each other. Even Nasim Pedrad pairs well with certain actors whenever she shares some screen time with her fellow costars. All of them are able to match wits with each other, never once missing a beat during all of the snappy tongue-in-cheek banter, which Ritchie is so well-known for.
Even the costume and set designs have a sense of depth and personality. It’s almost as if the two were characters themselves. Additionally, the spaces are filled with a diverse crowd of faces, and one that you might see at a seaport like the fictional city. This city is bustling and alive, but as we will see with Aladdin, has a few secrets that only he knows about. Making the city even more livelier are the large and boisterous prince processions that try to impress the Sultan and Princess Jasmine. But none come nearly as flashy as Prince Ali aka Aladdin’s parade. Though we may remember it as a farce, it is still very much a giant spectacle that explodes with color, exotic animals, and shiny treasures that will surely catch everyone’s eye.
It’s really impressive to see how Ritchie and co-writer John August were able to jump over some of the major challenges that come with adapting a beloved Disney animated classic. Aladdin was always going to be a tough sell, especially with fan-favorite characters like Genie. And yet, the two were able to conjure up something that was exciting and embodies the spirit of the animated original and infuses their own signature styles.
The snappy dialogue pairs well with these street-wise and witty characters, all of whom have fantastic chemistry together. And their magnetic personalities and undeniable charm are hard to escape. There is such a respect for the original, which can be seen in the jazzy action sequences, extravagant musical numbers, thrilling suspense, and wonderful characters.
Sure, these live-action films may seem like a quick cash grab, especially since they are being released at near breakneck speed, but as long as there are filmmakers and storytellers that have a strong and intimate understanding of the title, it is safe to say these live-action adaptations are in good hands.