Guy Ritchie brings the kingdom of Agrabah to life in Aladdin. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a street rat, who dreams of a better life, especially after he meets and becomes infatuated with Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who lives a sheltered life in the palace and must only marry a prince. Aladdin is recruited by scheming Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) to travel to the Cave of Wonders and recover a magic lamp. When Aladdin becomes trapped in the cave, he discovers that the lamp is home to an all-powerful Genie (Will Smith), who helps him escape and creates a princely persona for Aladdin, so he can travel to the palace and woo Jasmine.
Disney continues its trend of producing live-action remakes of its animated classics with Aladdin. The original 1992 animated film was part of Disney’s 1990s renaissance, which including Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, which the remake of the latter coming later this summer. On the surface, British director Guy Ritchie is an odd choice to direct this middle-eastern set story, though the film does feature an ethically appropriate cast that includes Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud (Jack Ryan) in the titular role, Anglo-Indian actress Naomi Scott (Power Rangers) as Jasmine, Dutch-Tunisian Marwan Kenzari (Murder on the Orient Express) as Jafar, Iranian-American actors Navid Negahban and Nasim Pedrad as the Sultan and Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia, and Turkish-German actor Numan Acar as head guard Hakim. In fact, the only non-ethnic actor in the main cast is Will Smith as the Genie, though he is essentially playing a version of himself.
This new live-action Aladdin is more or less a by-the-numbers retelling of the original animated film, including all the original musical numbers. The result is better than expected, though the film does still pale somewhat in comparison to the original. Part of this comes from the performance by Mena Massoud, who doesn’t really fully fit into the role. However, the opposite can be said about Naomi Scott, who shines during her moments in the film, particularly the new solo song “Speechless,” which turns Jasmine into a much more independent and empowering character. Also, I would say that Will Smith does his job, even though he is nowhere near the original voice performance by Robin Williams.
While I would say that this new version of Aladdin is ultimately a passable film, there are some elements that didn’t work at all. One of the scene-stealing elements of the original animated film was Gilbert Gottfried’s performance as Jafar’s wisecracking parrot sidekick Iago. However, in this new film, Gottfried is replaced by Alan Tudyk, who doesn’t even try to mimic Gottfried’s performance, instead, he just plays Iago as a more generic parrot. In fact, I would also argue that Jafar himself was somewhat miscast, with Marwan Kenzari not seeming sinister enough.
If you are nostalgic for the original animated film, I would say that this new Aladdin is worth a watch. Otherwise, it it is probably best to just stick with the original.