ALADDIN, the latest film from director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes), is a live-action adaptation of the beloved 1992 animated Disney film. The film stars Will Smith (Men In Black) as the Genie, Mena Massoud (Jack Ryan) as Aladdin, Naomi Scott (Power Rangers) as Jasmine, Marwan Kenzari (What Happened to Monday) as Jafar, Navid Negahban (TV’s Homeland) as the Sultan, Nasim Pedrad (Despicable Me 2) as Dalia, Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods) as Prince Anders and Numan Acar as Hakim (TV’s Homeland).
ALADDIN is the exciting tale of the charming street rat Aladdin, the courageous and self-determined Princess Jasmine and the Genie who may be the key to their future. When the power-hungry Grand Vizier, otherwise known as Jafar, sees the potential in Aladdin, a lowly street urchin, he brings him to the Cave of Wonders to retrieve a magical lamp that has the power to make Jafar’s deepest wishes come true and the possibility to change Aladdin’s life forever. However, unbeknownst to Aladdin, and the fun-loving Genie that he releases, are the sinister plans that Jafar, the Sultan’s advisor, has for both Aladdin and the lamp.
Let me start off by saying that the 1992 film is in my trifecta of favorite animated films of all time. When it was announced that there would be a live-action adaptation I was naturally hesitant because of my love for the original. However, even though there seemed to have been a consensus that this movie wasn’t going to be good, I put those thoughts behind me and went forward with the notion that I would watch this adaptation with a clear mind. That said, I was shocked at how fantastic ALADDIN was. I would even go so far as to say that this is one of, if not the best, live-action adaptation that Disney has released thus far.
What I loved most about this film is that watching it is an experience in and of itself. From the music to the costumes to the set design and everything in-between. Furthermore, the diverse cast was top-notch which gave the film a genuine feel to it and allowed for an almost seamless execution from director Guy Ritchie. Films like ALADDIN are important because it’s a reminder for studios and film execs that representation matters and should be respected which is why I’m glad that Ritchie and Disney took the time to find a diverse cast that featured people of color, most notably from the Middle East and India. I know a lot of people were worried about Will Smith’s portrayal of the Genie, which Robin Williams made famous, but what needs to be understood is that no one is ever going to replace Robin Williams or his portrayal of the characters he’s played. Will Smith took on the iconic character and not only paid homage to Williams but made the character his own using his personality strengths. I absolutely loved Smith’s interpretation because it was far enough away from Williams that we, as fans, can appreciate both.
When it comes to the breakout stars of the film that landed on Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, who played Aladdin and Jasmine. Their chemistry was palpable and, just like Will Smith, made the characters their own. Also, their musical performances were off the chart, especially when Naomi sang a brand new song, not in the original film, titled Speechless. Without getting too serious or political, the song is definitely relevant in regards to what a lot of women are facing in this current political climate which only added to the immensely powerful lyrics as well as Naomi’s performance. It’s a reminder that women don’t have to stay silent, that we have a voice, and we are just as strong as our male counterparts. Speaking of male characters, our villain Jafar also didn’t disappoint. Though some may not find him as nefarious as the animated version, I absolutely loved his character as it was the perfect mixture of slimy oil salesman mixed with entitled anger. I always love a good villain and I think Disney encapsulated that particularly well with Jafar. Lastly, I can’t end this review without giving a mention to Nasim Pedrad, who plays Dalia, a brand-new character in this adaptation of ALADDIN. She ends up being one of the funniest, most relatable characters in the whole film and I instantly wanted to become her best friend.
Lastly, I need to talk about the production design, which was helmed by Gemma Jackson. Mixing Middle-Eastern designs with Bollywood-like performances resulted in some of the best imagery I’ve seen all year. This is shown most notably in the musical number for Prince Ali, which ends up being a beautiful and mesmerizing spectacular in and of itself. Even the costumes were iconic and I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of time it took to make all of Jasmine’s elegant gowns (also, I wish to own them all). I think it goes without saying there’s never a dull moment in ALADDIN and it honestly looks like all those involved had a blast making the film. I’m sure Disney purist will have a lot to say about the film, but it’s important to remember that this adaptation is for a new generation and at the end of the day, it delivers on all fronts. With that said, I suggest spending Memorial Day weekend traveling to the far-away land of Agrabah for an experience like none other when ALADDIN arrives in theaters everywhere May 24th.