Back in 1992, the only way you could make a movie like Aladdin was as an animated feature. But today’s CGI technology has brought moviemaking — pardon the pun — into a whole new world. So, in 2019, we get a new, live-action Aladdin that takes the same story and adds a few new twists.
As in the original, the movie’s standout role is the frenetically fast-talking blue-hued Genie, this time played by Will Smith. And while nobody could ever match the frantic energy the late Robin Williams brought to the role, Smith certainly gives it his best shot. Does he make the role his own? Not really — the script basically demands that he give a Williams-type performance. And while he never rises to the inspired lunacy of the original, Smith’s personality is ultimately a good fit for the character.
But the movie’s real MVP is Guy Ritchie, who directed the film based on a script he co-wrote, and it’s obvious that he had a clear vision for the film from the very beginning: Do everything the animated film did, but do it bigger. So Aladdin’s attempt to escape the Cave of Wonders turns into an Indiana Jones-inspired thrill ride. And several of the songs that made the jump from 1992 to 2019, including Friend Like Me, Arabian Nights, and Prince Ali, are turned into colorfully choreographed production numbers that feel like Arabian tributes to Moulin Rouge.
While most of the music is (relatively faithfully) transplanted from the original, there is one new song that’s been added: Princess Jasmine’s Speechless, sung twice in the movie by Naomi Scott, takes on the timely theme of female empowerment and sets up a new scene where her character bravely stands up to the film’s villain, Jafar. (While the 1992 Jasmine was seen as rebellious at the time, the new version takes her “girl power” to new places, including an ending that strays significantly from the original.)
There’s a bit of an uneven quality to the acting — a few of the actors (most notably Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar) stay committed to playing their characters as cartoonish while others strive to humanize them — but the three leads (Smith, Scott, and Mena Massoud as Aladdin) all handle their roles and songs skillfully. While Aladdin and Jasmine looked like baby-faced teens in the ’92 film, Massoud and Scott bring a more mature sensuality to the characters and deliver a believable on-screen chemistry.
If the 1992 movie didn’t exist, this Aladdin would be seen as a fun piece of escapist entertainment. But it will be difficult for Disney aficionados to see the movie without triggering fonder memories of Williams and the original film. Ultimately, how much you enjoy Aladdin will depend on how much you can separate the new from the old and judge them on their own virtues.