When the trailer for the highly anticipated live-action remake of Aladdin dropped last year, the response wasn’t what director, Guy Ritchie, perhaps hoped for.
The general feeling from the public was that Genie, played by Will Smith, looked terrible. “Blue Will Smith” became an overnight sensation for all the wrong reasons.
They shouldn’t have worried. The jury’s verdict is in - and it’s a great film!
Ritchie, known for his crime-action comedies, Snatch (2000) and the Sherlock Holmes (2009 and 2011) films, seemed an unlikely choice to direct the musical, especially given that the film’s depiction of Arab culture would be under the watchful eye of appropriation critics.
However, his interpretation of the fictitious Agrabah avoids the ethnic stereotyping that other films have been guilty of. Remember Mike Newell’s adaptation of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, featuring a strapping Jake Gyllenhaal as the street urchin, Dastaan?
For starters, Aladdin is portrayed by the adorable Egyptian-Canadian Mena Massoud, who deftly brings the character’s rough charm and wit to life. British actor Naomi Scott, who is of Indian descent, gives Princess Jasmine a much deserved modern-day personality makeover, as her character is written to be more defiant and head-strong. And Dutch-Tunisian actor Marwan Kenzari portrays the evil vizir Jafar’s Machiavellian character with ease.
But understandably after that trailer, most people will focus on Smith’s portrayal of Genie. And to give Smith due credit, he delivers well. It wasn’t an easy task to follow in the footsteps of Robin Williams, who voiced the iconic Genie in the 1992 version of the film.
Having acted in several dramas in recent years, Smith is back to his rambunctious self, returning to the cheek and humour from his days on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In a (very sweet) new tweak (micro-spoiler), Genie also gets a little romance.
While Ritchie made the right choice in – mostly – sticking to the original storyline, Princess Jasmine’s rewrite is a welcome change. She gets a friend in the form of her handmaiden, Dalia, played by American actress and comedian Nasim Pedrad, and a new power ballad of her own, written by composers Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, the creatives behind the soundtrack of La La Land.
However, the song might have made more of an impact had it occurred earlier in the film, as it could have depicted Jasmine's growth in more depth. Another storyline that wasn't addressed is that of Jasmine’s mother's death. If explored better, it could have provided an interesting arc for her character.
Speaking of songs, the memorable number Prince Ali, is done very tastefully, with a bit of Bollywood flamboyance.
But the beautiful duet, A Whole New World, lacks some of the magic and charm of the original. The sequence looks like it was set in the Battle of Winterfell from Game of Thrones, as it is dark and not as “wondrous” as Jasmine proclaims.
That being said, the audience will enjoy Ritchie’s take on one of Disney’s most beloved tales. Ritchie’s ultimate goal was to make everything look authentic and realistic, while staying true to the charm of the original film. That’s exactly what we get: a slightly updated, more realistic Aladdin, with a sweet message about morals and self-discovery.