With the proliferation of remakes in the conscious of modern popular culture, a certain amount of blowback was bound to occur. Some think that Disney remaking its classic animated films is nothing more than a cash grab. With each remake the tomatometer seems to get lower and the cynicism seems to build. The recent social media uproar over ‘Aladdin’ basically broke down to Will Smith being too blue. Nobody had seen the film before they were already hating it, and talking to other critics that have disliked it felt like I was communicating to people who actively went into the film wanting to dislike it.
Here’s the simple fact though, ‘Aladdin’ has everything in it that was wonderful about the original and a lot more. If these same cynical critics were watching this story for the first time (like millions of kids will be) they would be through the roof for these characters and these actors. They would be singing the praises of most everyone involved. Which is exactly what I’m going to do because they truly deserve it! I’ve already seen this film twice and I can’t wait to go back. In fact, I loved it so much that I took my whole family back the second time and enjoyed it even more. Every time I turned my head, my children were smiling, laughing, or crying at how perfect certain moments were. If this is not the reason we go to summer movies then I don’t know what is.
Almost every aspect of this film works wonderfully. The songs and score are cleverly updated. The production design is beautiful and elaborate. The cinematography choices are particularly inspired at times. And the cast is mostly pitch perfect. In fact, the leads are two of the best choices for roles I have seen in quite some time. I don’t know where this Mena Moussad guy came from, but he is the Aladdin the world deserved and his charm is going to have young girls all over the world swooning. The same can be said for Naomi Scott on the flip side of that coin. Her Princess Jasmine is so perfect that you might think you banged your head on something when you first see her. See is a spitting image of the character. More importantly, she is strong, smart, beautiful, heartbreaking, a killer dancer, and can belt out a musical number like nobodies business. I’d be surprised if these two don’t have huge careers ahead of them.
Then there is Will Smith as the genie. So many of the people who prejudged him before they saw this movie are going to be eating their words this weekend. Smith gives the best performance he’s given in a decade here and he does it by simply just embracing what makes him so great! From the moment we meet his genie we are instantly sucked into the performance. He brings all of that great, big personality to the genie and then amps it up to 11. And when he is getting the opportunity to act off of Moussad, there is real magic in the air. The two of them are truly a dynamic duo and a delight to have the privilege to watch together.
The same can be said for Moussad and Scott. A love story like this can never work without the love interests having chemistry and they certainly do. This is not the kind of lightning in a bottle that exists in movies like ‘A Star is Born’, but it’s palpable and so utterly charming. Man, I want to just watch these two get married and have little movie babies. It’s that infectious to watch them swooping through the city of Agrahah while singing “A Whole New World”. Honestly, I traded up a little bit. It’s just that perfect a movie moment.
Now, that doesn’t mean that every aspect is perfect. Jafar, as played by Marwan Kensari, is nowhere near the villain his animated counterpart was. His voice is significantly less menacing and the dialogue delivery is just less memorable. Not to mention the fact that his pet parrot, Iago, hardly registers as a character. Yet, if you had never seen this character before, then he would just be a pretty decent bad guy.
When I got home from the first screening of ‘Aladdin’ (2019), my 4 year old daughter begged me to watch it again. I told her it wasn’t out yet and had her watch the animated version. She had watched it once before and not cared much about it. This time, she watched it 3 times in a row. Then we saw the new version again and she begged to go again today! This is the first movie she has ever done that about and I don’t think she’s going to be the only kid behaving this way. A new generation is going to come alive to this classic! And that’s the reason why these movies are made. Yes, Disney will keep making money, but my daughter will also fall in love with characters, songs, and going to the movies. I’ll take the trade.