I will admit I was a little surprised when I heard that Guy Ritchie was chosen to direct Disney’s live-action version of ALADDIN. He doesn’t come across as a big musical number kind of guy, a la Baz Luhrmann, but hey, if the powers-that-be at Disney are convinced, I was open to giving him a chance. And shockingly, he pulls it off.
ALADDIN, kind of, sort of based on a Middle Eastern folk story from
“One Thousand and One Arabian Nights”, is timeless. It’s not only a love story, but also a cautionary tale of the pursuit of money and power. And Disney’s Oscar-winning animated version from 1992 is one of the most beloved of its classics. So Ritchie and his multi-talented cast and crew had to work extremely hard to maintain its original charm while creating a film that is also fresh and new.
Beginning with the cast, it was decided that both Aladdin and Jasmine should be culturally appropriate to the Middle East and relatively unknown. After an extensive search, Egyptian-born Mena Massoud won the role of Aladdin, with Naomi Scott of South Asian descent securing the part of Jasmine. Both of these young actors worked tirelessly to perfect their portrayals and it’s quite apparent, especially with their singing and dancing abilities.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to success for this ALADDIN was finding the right actor for the role of the Genie. Replacing Robin Williams as the iconic voice of the Genie would be next to impossible, so whomever it was would have to make the role their own. And, despite the rash of misgivings from so many people, I think Will Smith does a splendid job.
He definitely fits the bill with his singing, dancing, comedic timing and dramatic attributes. And as many times as we have watched the animated ALADDIN with our daughter when she was little --- and as much as I am a huge fan of Williams --- I did not think of Williams once while I was watching Smith. He’s totally entertaining and brings great energy and joy to the Genie --- very much making him his own.
My greatest disappointment with ALADDIN is the casting of Marwan Kenzari as Jafar. Kenzari just isn’t menacing enough, perhaps because he seems too young for the part. I think a better choice would have been Numan Acar, who plays Hakim, the leader of the guards. He’s older and more intimidating than Kenzari. But this is minor compared to the immense value of ALADDIN.
As is true of most Disney efforts, the production designs, visual effects, costumes and choreography are all stupendous. The fictional city of Agrabah affords these teams the luxury of such luscious fabrics and colors of the Middle East. Set against the Marrakesh pink walls with the vibrant colors of the market stalls to the glorious interiors of the sultan’s palace, especially Jasmine’s suite, production designer, Gemma Jackson, who won an Emmy for her work on “Game of Thrones”, has created a mythical world of splendor.
And the costumes by Michael Wilkinson are just gorgeous, especially in the big musical numbers like “Prince Ali”, which is out of this world. When Genie makes Aladdin into a prince so he has a shot at marrying Jasmine, his entrance parade into Agrabah is a thing of wonder. More than 200 costumes were sewn from scratch with each participant having their own unique look, including wardrobe, hair and make-up. It’s amazing!
Ritchie had the idea of updating the fabulous score and songs, by eight-time Academy Award winning composer Alan Menken and Oscar-winning lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, from the 1992 version and Menken agreed. The new arrangements have incorporated more pop, but the score is still resonant of old Hollywood. If you liked the music in the original --- you will LOVE this music as much, if not more. I was bopping around in my seat.
Oh my gosh, as with DUMBO, there are always people (critics) who can’t understand why Disney would recreate the wheel. The complaints are staggering and stupid! I happen to love these live-action do-overs. There is nothing wrong with updating a classic --- and get prepared --- there are more to come.
ALADDIN is a big ol’ musical --- it showcases singing, dancing, comedy, drama, action and marvelous special effects. What more could you ask for from a magical Arabian experience?
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
ALADDIN is total entertainment for the whole family. Will Smith is the perfect genie, Mena Massoud (Aladdin) and Naomi Scott (Princess Jasmine) have wonderful chemistry, and the three major production numbers are spectacularly performed and filmed. The visual effects, music and costuming are all extraordinary. And the editing is amazing. The camera shifts from the ensemble song-and-dance sequences to brief close-ups of other characters to get their reactions, then back to the ensemble.
After a soft beginning, this movie takes off and never lets up. It features a true villain in Jaffar (Marwan Kenzari, despite Jeanne’s objections) and solid supporting performances by Nasim Pedrad as Dalia, Jasmine’s hand maiden, and Navid Negahban as Jasmine’s father, the sultan.
Similar to the 1992 animated version starring Robin Williams, this live- action ALADDIN features everyday conversational patter by all the characters, which I found very enjoyable. The movie is filled with humor and action --- it is one of the best films so far in 2019, and it should be seen on the big screen.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!