Aladdin is out this weekend, and Disney fans can breath a sigh of relief, because it’s perhaps the best live-action reboot the studio has done yet.
Directed by Guy Ritchie, the film stars Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, and Will Smith as the Genie.
Admittedly, the movie starts on shaky ground. The opening “Arabian Nights” number will give you goosebumps, but the rest of the first act falls flat. It feels like the actors are just “playing Aladdin” and going through the motions. The writing is stiff and the acting is wooden. There are flickers of goodness, but the film doesn’t really take off until we hit the Cave of Wonders.
There’s a lot of pressure on Will Smith’s Genie. The whole story hinges on this character, and Robin Williams set such a high bar in the original role. Luckily, Smith delivers the goods. His Genie isn’t as “in your face” and boisterous as Williams’, but he’s charming and charismatic, he’s full of energy, and he builds a real connection with the audience. Smith makes the Genie his own while still respecting the history of the character. His entrance signals a shift in the movie. It’s as if he lifts the story and his fellow actors up on his massive blue shoulders, because everything and everyone takes a step up.
From the Cave of Wonders straight through to the end, Aladdin is a fun, charming ride that sucks you in. (Author’s sidebar: I’ve used the word “charming” twice now, and it’s in the review title, which kills me BUT it’s also the best word to describe this whole experience. Take that for what you will.)
Ritchie and co-writer John August do a lot to make this movie its own thing. It doesn’t feel like a bland rehash of old material like some Disney live-action reboots have. Ritchie and August change story beats, add new material, and – for the most part – it works really well. It gives new depth and context to the story while retaining the original themes and morals.
The best example of this is Princess Jasmine’s story arc. The writers give Jasmine a lot more to do in this film, including a new musical number, and the new material solidifies her as a strong, independent role model for young girls.
Another great example is the addition of Nasim Pedrad’s character. Pedrad is funny in the role, and she gives Smith’s Genie a character besides Aladdin to play off of in brilliant fashion. If Pedrad is on screen, you can expect to laugh.
Aladdin is still a musical, and the soundtrack well lives up to the original. Massoud, Scott, and Smith all prove their vocal chops and deliver great numbers worth relistening to once the album drops. And the visuals surrounding the songs are fun to watch, for the most part, with the dance choreography being the high point.
The Disney live-action reboots have been a mixed bag so far, but Aladdin may be the start of a new era. Let’s hope Lion King keeps the ball rolling.