Along with Beauty & The Beast and The Lion King, Aladdin is one of Disney’s most-loved animated films. With Disney’s penchant for remaking their classic cartoons over the last few years, it was always going to be the case that Aladdin was going to be on the cards.
Director Bill Condon’s Beauty & The Beast was an enchanting ride that just fell short of living up to its predecessor and The Jungle Book director Jon Favreau has been tasked with bringing The Lion King back to life in live-action. We’ll find out how he gets on in July.
After Dumbo’s less than stellar performance with both critics and audiences in March, dark clouds were circling around the House of Mouse’s live-action arm. Hoping to inject a shot of hope to this ambitious release schedule was Guy Ritchie’s remake of Aladdin. Things didn’t look good from the marketing with poor CGI and seemingly wooden acting, so what does the finished film end up like?
Young Aladdin (Mena Massoud) embarks on a magical adventure after finding a lamp that releases a wisecracking genie (Will Smith). In his efforts to impress the wonderful Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), Aladdin embarks on a battle between good and evil against the wicked Jafar (Marwan Kenzari).
To look at, this live-action remake is absolutely packed full of colour and excitement, helped in part by Guy Ritchie’s frenetic filming style. Like Tim Burton before him, I was concerned about Ritchie’s appointment as director of this universally adored film, but unlike Burton, Ritchie gets it absolutely spot on. There are some absolutely stunning shot choices dotted throughout and the action is filmed with typical aplomb by a film-maker who has proven himself to be adept in this area.
The music, with original songs and updates of old classics is superb. Will Smith’s take on Friend Like Me is lip-smackingly good and will have you wanting to dance around the aisles, while A Whole New World really takes flight in this new, CGI-enhanced environment. Brand-new song, Speechless, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and sang by Naomi Scott is Let It Go levels of awesome with Scott singing it exquisitely.
Will Smith’s take on Friend Like Me is lip-smackingly good
The special effects are on the whole very good and not as jarring as those in Dumbo. It’s unfortunate then that there are instances in which the green-screen is all too obvious and the CGI all too artificial. This is a shame, as the rest of the picture is extraordinarily well-filmed and feels, for want of a better word, incredibly opulent, dripping in gold hues. Again, Disney tests the limits of CGI and these limits are becoming more and more obvious as film-makers pursue more extravagant sequences.
Elsewhere, the cast is both a highlight and a hindrance. Mena Massoud plays the titular character with a cocky charm that makes this Aladdin very likeable indeed, while Naomi Scott is so much better than the trailers made her look. The film however belongs to Will Smith. He’s a brave man taking on a role that has become synonymous with Robin Williams but he brings depth, charisma and some of that old-fashioned Will Smith charm to the role – it’s the best we’ve seen him in years, even if he is doused in blue CGI for the majority of the film’s runtime.
Unfortunately, this modern reimagining hasn’t got everything right. Marwan Kenzari is severely miscast as Jafar. Bringing absolutely no menace to the role whatsoever, he proves to be a disappointing antagonist and the film’s only major black mark. The clunky CGI can be forgiven but this unfortunate characterisation can’t. Jafar is one of Disney’s best villains and for him to fall flat here is unacceptable.
Nevertheless, poor marketing aside, Aladdin is an absolute blast from start to finish. Well-paced, nicely acted (for the most part) and packed full of stunning music, this live-action remake has proven that Dumbo may have just been a disappointing sidestep in Disney’s ambitious live-action schedule.
That’s two out of the three. Don’t let us down Jon Favreau!