UK Release Date: 22nd May 2019
Runtime: 128 minutes
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: John August, Guy Ritchie
Starring: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Marwan Kenzari, Nasim Pedrad, Navid Negahban, Billy Magnussen
Synopsis: A street thief falls for the princess and sees an opportunity to get closer to her when he becomes master of an all-powerful genie.
The Disney remake machine continues to roll, like an unstoppable juggernaut working its way through the studio’s formidable catalogue of animated classics. This year alone, we have already seen a fresh take on Dumbo, with The Lion King arriving this summer. The one with the most question marks surrounding it, though, was definitely Aladdin. Guy Ritchie‘s hiring as director was a head-scratcher and early glimpses of Will Smith‘s Genie sparked derision on social media. But thankfully, the finished product is a raucous, energetic treat that introduces a generation of audiences to, and I’m sorry for this, a whole new world.
Newcomer Mena Massoud is electric and charismatic as the titular “street rat”, who steals his way through the bazaar of Agrabah with his monkey Abu. He meets a mysterious woman (Naomi Scott) one day and later learns that she is the Sultan’s (Navid Negahban) daughter – Princess Jasmine. Trying to get into the palace to see her, he is captured by the scheming Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who uses him to steal a magic lamp. It’s Aladdin, though, who unleashes the Genie (Smith) inside, earning him three wishes.
The plot is simple, but Ritchie infuses some of his chaotic, street-level thriller energy into the world of Agrabah, with an early, parkour-inspired chase through the dusty streets standing out as a calling card for the movie to come. Ritchie does indulge himself in the occasional flourish, but it works here in stark contrast to the bizarre Mockney world of the risible King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. This is a director clearly approaching the project with a sense of fun and silliness, alien to the very straight trend put forward by recent takes on Cinderella and indeed Dumbo.
Will Smith’s Genie is all Choices™, from his hip-hop inflected takes on the songs to his regular excursions into human form and bizarrely muscular body. We even see him lifting weights. There was never any chance of the star matching up to Robin Williams’s iconic blitz of effervescent impersonations, but his take works in its own right. Disney has done Smith no favours with the marketing material – cheap, dress-up aesthetic in stills, and the least energetic segment of the ‘Prince Ali’ number – but Smith does just fine in context.
It’s Naomi Scott who takes this film by the scruff of the neck, though, delivering a bang up to date take on a princess who already had more agency and vigour than most of the Mouse House’s royal roster. She still lets her tiger Raja swipe right or left on potential suitors – including a high-camp Billy Magnussen – but she’s believable as a woman making her own way in a world of men who are either evil – there’s no veneer of charm to this film’s Jafar – or a little pathetic. When she takes centre stage for the brand new musical number ‘Speechless’, it’s a punch-the-air highlight. Scott was ace in the underrated Power Rangers reboot, but this film will cement her as a star.
It’s not all plain sailing for the film. The aesthetic is more Bollywood than Arabia, which sits a little awkwardly, and the relationship between Aladdin and the Genie doesn’t feel as heartfelt as it did in the 90s animation. There’s more plot to get through here, including a baffling thread in which Jafar wants to invade a neighbouring country, and the slightly revamped conclusion doesn’t have the same ‘gotcha!’ punch of the original climax.
Some of the new additions, however, do land nicely. Chief among these is a comedic role for Saturday Night Live alum Nasim Pedrad as Jasmine’s handmaiden, who sparks a romantic connection with the Genie that provides a neat counterpoint to the more fraught courtship between the two leads. The romance, in fact, is played with a terrific sense of fun throughout, including with a guys/gals montage of intercutting dialogue scenes that could only be improved by a rendition of ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease.
Overall, this new Aladdin is a delight. Ritchie helms the proceedings with a light touch and, while not all of the changes work, the film deserves praise for its willingness to be something vastly different to a shot-for-shot remake of the classic original. So much so, in fact, that I’d be happy to return to Agrabah for a sequel.
Pop or Poop?
Guy Ritchie seemed like a weird choice to helm an updated take on Aladdin, but the film is a joyous revamp of the classic animation. Of course, Will Smith doesn’t get near Robin Williams with his take on the Genie, but the beefed up role for Jasmine ensures that this steps clear of simply being a glorified shot-for-shot remake.
This one goes straight into the upper echelons of the Disney live-action remake trend.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.