There’s no Disney film more livelier than the animated musical smash hit that was Aladdin, and now this Middle Eastern fable gets some amazing new energy in a brand new live action adaptation that brings plenty of fun to the big screen.
A kind-hearted, thieving street urchin, Aladdin, is in love with Jasmine, the princess of Agrabah. To win her love, Aladdin is ordered by Jafar, the Grand Vizier to bring him a magical lamp, which wields the powerful Genie. Now it is upon Aladdin and Genie to stop Jafar and his evil intentions and marry the love of his life.
Beloved by many, Aladdin is a vital chapter of the Disney Renaissance and now director Guy Ritchie re-imagines it’s bold storytelling for the big screen in a magical and exotic fairy tale that really entertains. Known for his incredibly masculine sense of direction, Ritchie’s talents and narrative interests serve Aladdin well here, as he takes the story of a street kid named Aladdin and injects the film with his hard-charging sense of action cinema. This, mixed in with the fairy tale, fable magic that audiences expect from Disney, makes for a very thrilling adaptation. Aladdin represents both the familiar and the new for Ritchie, and he really invests himself in the project. As a father of five children himself you feel that he was making this film out of a desire to just entertain his kids, and in doing so the greater audience get a very fun treat.
Taking on the role of Aladdin is Canadian-Egyptian newcomer Mena Massoud, and this young actor really shines as the young street kid who wants to be more than he is. There’s an instant likeability to Massoud’s Aladdin, and he’s able to handle himself in the wide ranging role which stretches him in as a performer. Whether that’s as the happy-go-lucky street kid, daring parkour runner, smitten romantic or just being a straight up klutz after assuming his Prince Ali get up, Massoud has a great sense of himself as the character and you really buy into his journey as a good person who just wants to be more than he is and who wants a shot at some kind of greater sense of happiness.
Standing next to Massoud is Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine and the young actress does a terrific job of channeling one of Disney’s most beloved princesses to the big screen. As Jasmine she is a very modern woman in a fairy tale world who is trying to find her place, just as Aladdin is, and navigate the stringent and complicated rules of her life. Caring and compassionate, Scott’s Jasmine is invested in the lives of the people of Agrabah, and desires for a way to help them from the high palace that she finds herself locked away in. Scott also has a great chemistry that she shares with Massoud, and as their romance grows together, you can feel the love in the air. She also unleashes a phenomenal voice as Jasmine and her musical performances hold the attention of the audience in awe.
But if Aladdin does have a scene stealer than it is quintessentially Will Smith as the one and only Genie of the Lamp. Strutting over the cinema canvas with plenty of fly style and exuberant confidence, Smith’s Genie is the ringmaster of this exotic fairy tale and he has a ball with the role. Spinning with rap-music energy, Smith really brings his animated personality to the role and his life as a performer really helps inform himself as the character. But alongside this joyful self is also a deeper analysis of the Genie and what he ultimately would wish for himself: freedom. And it’s this desire, and Smith’s expression of it that gives the character real depth and significance.
Smith also gets to put his rap game to amazing use with plenty of incredible musical performances including the likes of ‘Friend Like Me’ and ‘Prince Ali’ (which just happened to be my favourite), and his 90s flair as the Fresh Prince definitely shines through. Ultimately, Smith makes the Genie his own, while also honouring the late, great Robin Williams at the same time, and I think Robin would be smiling with what we get here.
In terms of it’s location and cinematic style, Aladdin is a picture filled with exotic colours and rich textures and Ritchie and his team make this Middle Eastern world come to life in such a believable way that you feel like you could run your hands through the sands. Taking influences from a broad range of Middle Eastern cultures, production designer Gemma Jackson, who was responsible for the world building of Game of Thrones, brings to life the amazing locales of Agrabah. Her focus is on building an environment that is bright, foreign and incredibly inviting and magical. And she absolutely succeeds with what the audience sees on screen.
Ritchie’s fantastical cinematography captures all of it here, and again he’s able to focus in on some amazing compositions of colour and energy. This is particularly true for the film’s buoyant musical numbers, while the film’s action set pieces really get amped up thanks to his directorial eye. Incorporating advanced parkour free-running see’s Aladdin and Jasmine traversing the city of Agrabah with vibrant energy and the Cave of Wonders provides an incredible mystical environment, which with the aid of Ritchie’s kinetic style, realises the epicness of the Arabian Nights.
Like it’s 1992 forebear, music and sound play a massive part in the realisation of Aladdin, and the grand score and fantastical songs of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are joined by new music composed by the whizz-kid combination of the noted Pasek & Paul, and the resulting soundtrack is a wish truly granted. Again, the score uses a strong Middle Eastern and culturally diverse range of sounds and musical structure to bring this fairy tale to life, and with the addition of Will Smith’s hip hop stylings you get something very different and unique for Disney audiences. The songs here are vibrant and packed full of passion and you’ll definitely be grooving in your seat.
From beginning to end Aladdin is a joy to watch and it’s mix of love, action, music and acceptance will appeal to audiences of all ages. It’s the perfect family watch, and you’ll be truly transported to a far away fantastical adventure that is everything you could wish for and more.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures