Disney are undertaking a bold crusade in remaking their beloved classics. They managed to succeed with The Jungle Book by bringing the classic (but slightly dated) movie up-to-date but the CGI and spectacle of seeing the animated animals “in the flesh” helped with the delivery. Aladdin is a different issue, with the thought of remaking one of Disney’s modern animated classics almost seeming like sacrilege. Like Jon Favreau with Jungle Book, Guy Ritchie has taken the impossible task and done a fantastic job by honouring what made the original so brilliant but also bringing the tale up-to-date.
This is clear from the beginning. Instead of a dodgy street pedlar introducing the tale, it is a sailor teaching his children a lesson in the danger of wanting what others have. It is a small change but a good example of the modern feel of the film. The same can be said of the first “proper” song. Delivered by Aladdin in full, “One Jump Ahead” is not just a comedic introduction to the character but also used to show the in-disguise Jasmine how charming her rescuer really is. The story is streamlined this time and by condensing some of the less necessary scenes, it makes the movie much more effective.
It leaves more time for character development that wasn’t apparent in the 1992 animated original. Aladdin, Jafar and The Sultan remain mostly untouched by the update but it is Naomi Scott’s Jasmine which gets one of the most important developments. Her character is less of a damsel-in-distress passenger in the story and has an arc which makes more sense in a modern climate. She even gets her own original song which proves to be a key moment in her story and the movie as a whole.
She also has very good chemistry with the updated Aladdin. Mena Massoud is a good lead for the film. A charming, likeable actor, he embodies a “real-life” version of the 1992 character well. He sings, dances and keeps-up with the action perfectly, especially when faced with a Hollywood mega-star on top form.
Will Smith arguably had the greatest challenge to overcome. Robin Williams’ Genie is iconic and many can’t see past the actor as the voice of the character. Will Smith doesn’t completely change the character but does manage to make it his own. Will Smith has an effortless charm which seems to have been forgotten in his more recent movies. Aladdin is a return to the classic Smith which made him a mega-star and the movie is better for him being on-screen and involved. He manages to mix elements of Williams’ Genie as almost a loving homage while adding his own, unique style.
This is most apparent in the songs. This is where many would find the biggest issues with a new Aladdin but the songs are treated with the respect they deserve. “One Jump Ahead” has already been mentioned but add this to Will Smith’s version of both “A Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” which delight, bringing the original up-to-date by keeping the same tune, and lyrics but adding some more modern elements.
Even the classic “A Whole New World” is brought to life effectively. The fact that these are being done “live-action” manages to add to what made them so iconic and enjoyable in the first place. This goes for some of the action sequences as well, particularly the finale, which has yet more positive changes but manages to update the stakes further and make the eventual defeat of Jafar so much more satisfying.
If you like the original movie, you can’t help but be impressed with this modern retelling. The 1992 movie is fantastic but everything that works well in the first works even better with the benefit of hindsight and modern storytelling techniques. Some will still struggle with the lack of Williams but if you can look past this unavoidable change, you may find (whisper it) this version could be better than the original.
Overall, it is a bold move to update and remake a classic Disney movie like Aladdin but Guy Ritchie does so perfectly. He manages to take what made the original so effective and bring it up-to-date. A better version of Jasmine, updated and modernised songs and a Will Smith on top form make for a new “classic version” of the timeless tale.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)
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