Aladdin Is Disney's Most Surprisingly-Fun Remake To Date
Don't let the lackluster marketing and *that* Genie reveal stop you from enjoying a witty, joyful glam-up of a beloved classic.
If you've heard or seen anything of Disney's latest live-action remake by now, it's been either a so/so trailer or that terrifying first look at Will Smith as himself... but blue... in a cave... as the Genie. Indeed, whether you're already on board or not, the internet has not been kind to what we've seen of Guy Ritchie's SFX-heavy Arabian Nights. Thankfully, though, the reality of an Aladdin made for our 2019 audience with Will Smith as the only bankable star is far less garish - and far more joyful - than this film lover and press member ever expected.
*Whoever thought *this* was an appropriate first-look at Will Smith's Genie should be, at the least, firmly stared at until as uncomfortable as we all were upon first seeing it.
Trailers have pushed a half-baked remake with Will Smith simply acting like himself - But ALADDIN thankfully turns out to be a great time, instead.
Remaking a classic is never an enviable task, but its also no secret that the internet is ripe with negativity. It was highly satisfying, then, to go into Aladdin with little expectations (and a bit grumpy, honestly) because of said negativity and exit wearing with a huge grin. Films are, in their simplest form, escapism - and to put it simply this 90's kid absolutely enjoyed spending two hours with Will Smith 100% back in his element - surrounded by a gorgeous, joyous, non-cynical celebration of Middle-eastern culture - populated by actors of actual Middle-eastern, African, and Asian descent. This brings us to the best aspect of the film: the cast.
Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud play our familiar love-interests with their hearts on their sleeve.
Both have received their share of criticism for taking (and being cast in) said roles - especially Naomi Scott, as her British nationality has come under scrutiny once cast as Disney's only Middle-eastern princess. Scott's mother, however, is of Indian descent, and Scott herself has proudly displayed said heritage for years on social media before being cast. Massoud, our new Aladdin, too, is of Canadian nationality - but was born in Egypt - and neither of their ancestors' people would've been out of place in a Mediterranean metropolis of long ago - let alone a *fictional one named Agrabah that has never existed so has no set population*... but I digress. Where was I? Right, the cast.
Right from the get-go it becomes clear why these two were cast. Massoud is the spitting image (and voice) of his animated predecessor, and perfectly fine in the role of a young straight-man simply looking to broaden his horizons. His chemistry with Scott's Jasmine is palpable, too, and the duo make for a fun couple to follow through the trepidation of blossoming love.
But it is Scott's Jasmine and Marwan Kenzari's Jafar that prove to be absolute stand-outs, making excellent use of the two most updated characters within.
Scott has been in Hollywood for most of her young life, and you may know her as the new Pink Ranger in the 'meh'-received Power Rangers reboot - but it will be her turn in this remake that puts her on people's radar. She is gorgeous, obviously, but the young woman is absolutely, genuinely talented, and is able to showcase not only her range as an actor and vocalist (with very little auto-tune, thank the gods) but her Indian heritage through traditional (and impressive) classical Indian dance, as well.
Her performance, alongside Kenzari's Jafar both benefit from smartly-updated characters and plot that make for a better, far more well-rounded Jasmine and Jafar. This time around, our princess wishes to lead the people she cares for as Sultan, instead of simply pining to see the world outside her sheltered life. The dynamic here is strengthened by Jafar's dismissive attitude toward her as a woman - for no other reason but - and his own ambitions of rising above always being "the second most powerful person in the room" are doubled down upon to create a truly fun villain backed by an electric performance from Kenzari - er, excuse me - Hot Jafar (you're welcome, internet).
Though neither would work as well as they do if not for the quiet kindness radiating from the Sultan himself, Navid Negahban, as the Legion actor's soulful presence lends much gravitas to a role that was simply comic-relief in the classic cartoon.
What about Will Smith's Genie, though? He's the heart of this project, right? Yes, he is, and anyone doubting his casting as one of the most beloved Disney characters of all time should be beyond pleasantly surprised once the movie ends.
Smith was not only the right choice to take over this role, but honestly was the only choice. Robin Williams voice-over work for the original incarnation of Genie was/is nothing short of legendary and iconic - and anyone less than such words themselves would never be acceptable in the role. Truly, when it comes to globally-recognizable household names, after you're finished naming Oprah or Ellen or Beyonce you've got more fingers than you do individuals who fit with such company. Will Smith is such company.
Smith is a presence, an energy, and and icon of both stardom and positivity. Like Williams before him, he lights up any room he enters, and genuinely has no peer when it comes to being that full, legendary package you cannot quite define, but love regardless.
The star brings all this - and more - to our new Genie, and gives us the best of himself and both the character's legacies from cartoons and the smash-hit Broadway musical. He is unabashedly lovable in the role, and accomplishes the impossible simply by using the truth and charm that makes Will Smith Will Smith. It's a true return to form for the aging actor, one that any fellow kid of the 90's will be absolutely ecstatic to experience. Genuinely, it's a performance all should enjoy given Smith's restraint, his decisions not to overdo it nor phone-in an impression of William's brilliant work greatly paying off for the film and audiences alike.
Outside of the main cast, the most notably wonderful addition is Nasim Pedrad as the newly-created handmaiden Dalia. Her own comedic genius shines through in an excellent addition to Aladdin's iconic character roster. Ironically, to me, she looks far more like Disney's cartoon depiction of Jasmine than Naomi Scott - but her wit would've been wasted in the role. Every moment she's on screen is a highlight, and the BFF-brand of chemistry between Pedrad and Scott adds even more needed meat to Jasmine's story (And Genie's too, but I never spoil!).
Indeed, fans of the classic Disney cartoon will not be disappointed by what's in store. Guy Ritchie was an odd choice at first glance, but his penchant for fast-paced action and street-level blockbusters does shine through in Aladdin, and the film is (mostly) better for it. All your favorite songs are here, and perhaps the only true hiccup this adventure experiences is the addition of a new song for Jasmine that feels much more a "Let it Go" wannabe than a ballad for a beloved Arabian princess.
This aside, the absolutely gorgeous cast, sets, art and costume design brings a loving and desperately-needed blast of Middle-eastern fervor to American audiences, and does so with the respect to Disney's original(s) that fans have come to expect (for better or worse) within a solid, refined script. Coupled with surprisingly perfect casting, Disney's live-action #Aladdin debuts as their most colorful and heartwarming glam-up so far, and a great time at the movies, period.
Bravo and thanks for the smiles, Disney.
Disney's Aladdin opens in theaters this Friday, May 24th.