In the Guy Ritchie-directed live action remake of Disney’s ‘Aladdin,’ there is a generous amount revisions that splits the focus of the film between the “diamond in the rough” Aladdin and Princess Jasmine that it feels strange that the film is called merely ‘Aladdin.’
Much like the original Disney cartoon, ‘Aladdin’ is about a thief in the city of Agrabah who meets and falls in love with the princess Jasmine and finds the means to properly court her when he is hired by the court vizier Jafar to obtain a magic lamp in the Cave of Wonders. When Jafar double-crosses him, Aladdin is left trapped in the Cave of Wonders with the magic lamp. He frees the genie within the lamp and gains three wishes.
Of course, the first wish he makes is to become a prince so that he can court Jasmine. As Aladdin faces the dilemma of telling Jasmine the truth of his humble origins or continue to pretend that he is a prince, Jafar figures out his secret and attempts to take the lamp for his own nefarious plans.
Guy Ritchie infuses this Disney tale with larger-than-life moments at every turn. Everything is a huge set piece and his camera is so busy trying to impress us with action, colorful and highly detailed backgrounds, frenetic humor, soaring musical numbers, and a lot of magic. This directorial choice makes for an exhausting viewing. Everything is just so big that it never seems to quiet down long enough for it to ever get tender — for any of the emotional elements to really sink in.
It seemed Guy Ritchie was more invested in making ‘Aladdin’ feel just as big, if not bigger, than the cartoon. And that might not have been a good thing.
The original Disney cartoon was charming and didn’t need this overdrive in direction. What is a welcome change though is how ‘Aladdin’ beefs up Jasmine’s role, turning her from a love interest into a whole character with clearly determined wants and ambitions. Here, she is a princess who dreams of inheriting her father’s role as sultan so that she can provide for her people, who are suffering under Jafar’s counsel.
What does not translate well is the fact that Aladdin is a thief with a heart of gold. Regardless of his generosity to sharing what he’s taken with other beggars and starving families on the street, there’s something off-putting about how quickly and easily the narrative brushes away the fact that he steals. They rationalize it that he only steals to survive and he chooses who he steals from but this comes with no real struggle or conflict of character and it is made acceptable because he has a kind heart.
This was a tricky area of the story that might have needed more work instead of just the Robin Hood blanket statement of “stealing only from the rich” and “stealing only to survive.” It just feels so weak when you have Princess Jasmine as a comparison who breaks her father’s rules of never leaving the palace, which she does in disguise so she can see first-hand what the people of Agrabah are experiencing because she wants to make changes, and she has to fight the patriarchy in order to do so.
In this regard, Jasmine’s choices seems so much bigger and more pronounced because these are decisions that would benefit a larger group, whereas Aladdin’s choices would benefit himself. In this, Jasmine seems like the stronger, more prominent character but her name isn’t on the title.
And it doesn’t help either that Naomi Scott, who plays Jasmine, is much more captivating and charismatic than Mena Massoud, who plays Aladdin. Massoud has a consistent look of wide-eyed wonder that tends to make his Aladdin seem one-note. Physically, he can do all the stunts and the dancing quite well, but because he seems to have a smaller range than Scott, you can get tired of him easily.
There are new songs in this version of ‘Aladdin’ and even a few dance numbers that feels like it was sped up by quick cutting frames, which gives it a weird effect, that sort of clashes with the original music of the Disney classic. ‘Aladdin’ doesn’t have many of my favorite Disney songs in them, with ‘A Whole New World’ being the only song I really like from the cartoon, but the new orchestration of the old songs reminded me how gorgeous Alan Menken’s score and music really is.
I’m also not the biggest fan of Will Smith in his past few films and so I wasn’t that affected by his performance, though he really got me at the very end when he finally got a human moment as the genie — the very rare instance in ‘Aladdin’ when Guy Ritchie decides to get quiet and intimate in a scene. It worked well to Smith and Massoud’s advantage.
I appreciate the rewriting of Jasmine’s character and role in the film but I wish the film had balanced out the highs and lows, the explosive production numbers with tender, quiet moments so that I could feel more of the narrative rather than the visual and aural assault that ‘Aladdin’ ended up being. There’s so much to take in and if it had quieted down every now and then, it could have really hit home.