Review: 'Aladdin' breaks new ground as the best live-action Disney remake

Marcus Goh
Contributor
PHOTO: Walt Disney Pictures

SINGAPORE — Remakes are often tricky territory — after all, not everyone agrees on what elements in the original must also appear in the newer version. Live-action remakes of animated films are even trickier, since it may not always be possible to replicate animated aesthetics or set pieces in a live-action setting. Fortunately, the live-action version of Aladdin strikes gold as a remake that's as good, if not better, than the original film.

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PHOTO: Walt Disney Pictures

Based on the 1992 animated version of Aladdin, which itself was loosely based on the One Thousand and One Nights story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, the 2019 live-action version of Aladdin finds the titular hero in possession of a magical lamp with a genie that will grant him three wishes. Unfortunately, there are dark forces at work who want the lamp for more nefarious purposes, and Aladdin himself must learn that is what's within, not without, that truly matters.

PHOTO: Walt Disney Pictures

Being the title character, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is the one who must carry the weight of the movie on his shoulders. And he does a magnificent job of it, giving us a charming, sincere but vulnerable Aladdin. His motives are genuine but he also has the most relatable of insecurities, and you can't help but want to root for him when you see how wholehearted his actions are. Mena Massoud manages to convey confidence laced with a deep and hidden need for the approval of others, giving us a character that we can't help but want to root for — while also stirring that protective instinct within us. The more physical aspects of the role, such as the dancing and parkour sequences, are also handled well by Massoud, showing Disney that its months long search for the perfect person to play Aladdin paid off.

PHOTO: Walt Disney Pictures

But Aladdin isn't the only one with a story to tell — his beau Jasmine (Naomi Scott) has her own character arc as well. Naomi Scott manages to temper her hot-headedness with a touch of naivety, giving us a strong female protagonist who doesn't just have "stubbornness" as her defining trait. She has her own obstacles to overcome, and learns as much about herself as Aladdin does by the end of the film. And in the end, she solves her own problems, proving herself a worthy equal (and partner) to Aladdin.

PHOTO: Walt Disney Pictures

Genie (Will Smith) is a little hit or miss, though. While his character generally works, and he tugs on your emotional heart strings by the end of the film, Will Smith tries too hard in the opening scenes to depict how over the top Genie is. Some aspects of the animated film don't quite translate very well to the real world, and it shows at certain points. Nevertheless, Smith's Genie does endear to us by the end of the film, when we see his vulnerabilities as well. Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), on the other hand, just comes off as an immature young punk who throws tantrums whenever he doesn't get what he wants. Kenzari's Jafar is whiny, naggy, too easily excitable and just doesn't feel threatening or imposing as a villain at all.

PHOTO: Walt Disney Pictures

If you were a fan of 1992's Aladdin, then you'll glad to know that all your favourite songs are in the film. The musical numbers are beautifully executed, with a touch of nostalgia and an eye towards the fantasy flavour of Agrabah. It's an evocative trip down memory lane that triggers every positive emotion you've ever had about the original. The new songs don't have such gravitas, of course, but they fit in.

PHOTO: Walt Disney Pictures

Most importantly, the message of Aladdin has been updated for more audiences. In a world where we're constantly curating our appearances, it's more important than ever to remember that it's what inside that counts. Aladdin keeps this theme front and centre, with every character reflecting some aspect of this message. It's not a heavy-handed approach, though — the costume design is creative and apt for the setting, and what better to contrast appearance versus character than with plenty of costume changes?

PHOTO: Walt Disney Pictures

There's no denying the sheer amount of heart and soul that has gone into Aladdin. It's a labour of love that hasn't just recreated the Disney classic, but it's reinvented it and given it its own new identify. It marks another breakthrough in Disney's stable of live-action remakes of animated classics, which bodes well for the future of the media titan. Ultimately, Aladdin is fun, sincere, and charming — just like the main character himself.

PHOTO: Walt Disney Pictures

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this more than once? If you liked 1992's Aladdin, yes.

Score: 4.8/5

Secret ending? No, but it has an interesting dance sequence in the credits.

Running time: 128 minutes (~2.25 hours)

PHOTO: Walt Disney Pictures

Aladdin is a fantasy musical adventure film that is based on the animated, 1992 version of Aladdin.

The film follows the adventures of a street rat who falls in love with a princess. He gets embroiled in a sorcerer's villainous plot and finds himself in possession of power beyond his imagining. But when power changes him, he must discover what really matters and stop the sorcerer.

Aladdin is written and directed by Guy Ritchie, with additional screenplay credits for John August. It stars Mena Massoud (Aladdin), Naomi Scott (Jasmine), Will Smith (Genie), Marwan Kenzari (Jafar), Navid Negahban (The Sultan), Nasim Pedrad (Dalia), Billy Magnussen (Prince Anders), and Numan Acar (Hakim). It is rated PG.

PHOTO: Walt Disney Pictures

Aladdin opens in cinemas:
- 23 May, 2019 (Singapore)
- 24 May, 2019 (Malaysia)
- 22 May, 2019 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.


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