Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott
Writer: John August, Guy Ritchie
Director: Guy Ritchie
Despite exceptional box office performances and critical acclaim, Disney’s live-action remakes continue to draw skepticism. 2019 features three of these remakes, two of which are arguably the most beloved Disney films of their era: Aladdin and Lion King. Dumbo was released earlier this year and was panned by fans and critics alike. The lack of buzz surrounding its release may have been an indication of the difficulty in properly translating the film to a live action format.
Fortunately, Disney managed to get the right amount of magic into the Guy Ritchie-directed Aladdin. Even though this takes place in a fantasy setting, this is the most tame Guy Ritchie film you’ll ever see. This isn’t a bad thing, honestly, especially when you consider that this is the first film since his attempt at adapting Arthurian legend. For the first two acts, Ritchie colors within the lines to make sure the story hits those beats of the original while making modern tweaks here and there. For instance, switching the harem to an all-girls school.
The third act is where things begin to go a bit left. Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) turns the cartoonish villainy up to 11. This would be nice if this lead to a giant CG cobra. But that switched out for a monstrous version of Iago. There’s also a song that’s thrown into the third act. It’s well-meaning and fits with the overall theme of this film, but throws off the pacing and brings the film to a halt.
Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott do an excellent job of portraying the chemistry between Aladdin and Jasmine. The actors did their own vocals, with Scott delivering the strongest singing performances of the entire film. I hope she does more musicals in the future. Yes, she’s that good.
Will Smith does a great job of making Genie his own. Trying to mimic Robin Williams’s performance would have done him no favors and hurt the film. Smith’s Genie is a modern breath of fresh air and more relatable to the younger audiences who this film ultimately aimed at.
The special effects were top notch throughout the film with a few exceptions here and there. But that can’t be helped these days. It would take a lot of money to recreate every piece of Agrabah from scratch. Green screen and post-production effects are the best options when it comes to staying under budget and on schedule. Christopher Benstead does an excellent job of scoring the film. Benstead has worked on numerous Disney projects including Thor, Brave, and the live-action Beauty and The Beast.
Considering how beloved the original is, Aladdin likely had the most pressure of all the live action remakes. The cast and crew certainly delivered on all fronts. Parents who grew up with the film will be delighted while their children may be discovering the story for the first time. This should get audiences excited for Lion King since it’s arguably easier to recreate out of the two but carries just as much weight in the cultural zeitgeist.