They blue it.
No, not really, but Disney are back to cash in on our childhoods.
Set, of course, in Agrabah, a Kingdom earnestly nondescript so as not to situate us in anything even remotely resembling a real life coastline, everyone’s favourite street rat jumps about the market, striking up with Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) out and about beyond the palace walls.
If this sounds like the Aladdin you remember, it very nearly is; save the additions of a few numbers (among the remake’s best, and worst moments) and, of course, Big Willie as the Genie; having more of a ball than he’s had in years.
Let’s start with what’s good about this movie, as despite a weight of low expectations it is by no means, on balance, a bad film. The three heavily Bollywood-inspired dance numbers, foremost among them a sequence original to this remake and the credits scene, are spectacular, exuberant fun. This is in large part due to Smith’s near effortless charisma shining through; proving best when the needless blue haze surrounding him dissipates and the Fresh Prince can just Fresh Prince.
Genie seated in a movie theatre in his most conspicuous fourth wall break is also one of the few instances together with the dance sequences, complete with sped-up though thankfully not dizzying theatrics, where Director Guy Ritchie’s favoured talents shine through and it doesn’t look like he’s just making a carbon copy of the original. The escapade into the treasure horde and the moment when Aladdin (Mena Massoud) picks up the lamp are among the few vignettes which sparkle with the primal magic of that much beloved outing aside our favourite thief those decades ago.
Reaching its heights during the creative palace dance number original to the film, this sequence follows the famous ‘Prince Ali,’ the stilted rendition of the ’92 favourite being saved by of all things colour. The Aladdin remake being the most colour-drenched live-action flick in recent slates of mainstream cinema as regards both set design and costume, the performers who leaned into the show’s campy aesthetic here thrived, central among them Scott.
Nailing the role even when settled with a new song wholly inconsistent with the style and tone of all others, as far as the human characters go she is matched only by Saturday Night Live’s Nasim Pedrad. Filling the role of Jasmine’s handmaid Dalia, her burgeoning romance with the genie is solid gold.
Massoud simply put is good about 50% of the time. Clearly enjoying his big break, he’s not nearly so efficient a musical performer as he is a dancer and endearing schmuck, faring less well in the sequences that require a more dramatic heft. He is not even the best cast Prince, with Billy Magnussen in a fleeting role dropping gems with every line as one of Jasmine’s hapless suitors, coming about as close as humanly possible to that frustrated Prince with the heart-shaped underwear.
Near the entire film highlights this issue; the kinetic, fast-paced nature of the animated version simply by and large does not translate to live form. This is very evident in the awkwardly staged versions of ‘Friend Like Me’ (before the reprise) and the better part of ‘A Whole New World’ (sorry) which will have you fondly wanting to crack out your VHS.
Far and above all else this is apparent in the depiction of Jafar. Marwan Kenzari, filling a role that demanded an Alan Rickman Sherriff of Nottingham-esque level of outrageous scenery chewing, is surprisingly serious and dour; a wasted opportunity if ever there was one.
Fan favourite Rajah is very well handled and enlivened with personality, unlike Abu nor regrettably the magic carpet; the shtick being done better in Doctor Strange which itself took evident inspiration from Aladdin.
It’s not perfect and was never going to be nor a patch on the original, but it’s still a lot of fun and not a terrible way to spend a night at the cinema.
Aladdin is in cinemas now