‘Aladdin’ (2019) review: Charming in its own right

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'Aladdin' (2019) review: Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Will Smith as Genie in Aladdin (2019)
Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Will Smith as Genie in Aladdin (2019)

Movie synopsis

Kind-hearted street urchin Aladdin’s life changes when a power-hungry Grand Vizier tasks him to retrieve a magic lamp that holds a powerful genie able to grant their wishes.

Aladdin (2019) review in a nutshell

There’re a few tweaks to the original animated movie, especially ones that give more agency to Jasmine instead of her being powerless in her own fate. But the changes are good, and the end result is charming in its own right.

Would I recommend you watch it?

If you’re a Disney fan, it’s a no-brainer. If you’re not, I doubt anything I say will convince you to want to watch this if you don’t like other Disney films. (Though I’ll also wonder why you’re reading this review.)

Click here to jump to the bottom for where you can watch Aladdin (2019).

Otherwise, continue reading for a full, spoiler-filled review.

Full review of Aladdin (with little to no spoilers)

The 1992 Aladdin animated movie is one of my favourite Disney movies — because of Robin Williams’ hilarious Genie, and “A Whole New World” — and I’m happy to say that this live-action remake is charming in its own right. Will Smith is as funny as I thought he would be. I don’t know why people had qualms about him being too big and too blue or whatever it was they hated — I mean, have they SEEN Genie?

Robin Williams as Genie in Aladdin (1992)
Robin Williams as Genie in Aladdin (1992)

Since Robin Williams is dead, I don’t know any other comedian that could have done as great a job showcasing Genie’s exuberance, while played by a star famous enough to help sell the movie. Maybe Jim Carrey (I’m remembering him in The Mask), but Hollywood’s trying not to whitewash characters in these more enlightened times. Will Smith is the perfect choice. (Yes, I know he’s not of Arabic origin, but notice what I said about a star famous enough to help sell the movie? Let’s take our wins where we can get them.)

The other main characters aren’t bad either. Mena Massoud’s Aladdin looks as wide-eyed, goodhearted and bewildered with Genie’s antics as his cartoon version was. Naomi Scott is gorgeous as Jasmine, and they empowered her way more than her animated version.

Naomi Scott as Jasmine and Mena Massoud as Aladdin in Aladdin (2019)
Naomi Scott as Jasmine and Mena Massoud as Aladdin in Aladdin (2019)

Jafar is a little one-note — but as far as I can remember, he’s the same in the animated movie. It’s hard to make villains who want to invade countries and rule the world, in movies or real life, more in-depth when all they want is power. Honestly, I don’t care even if they were bullied when they were young or whatever villain origin story that is cooked up — greed for power is the same all over, no matter how you get to that stage of dictatorship, and the consequences remain the same too.

Marwan Kenzari as Jafar in Aladdin (2019)
Marwan Kenzari as Jafar in Aladdin (2019)

I haven’t watched the animated Aladdin in the longest time, so my memory’s a bit spotty, but the live-action version doesn’t seem to stray too much from its origins — which is exactly how I like my remakes. Both Abu and the magic carpet are as playful as they are in the animation. In fact, did you notice in the scene right after Genie transports them out of the cave into the desert, the carpet was building a sandcastle exactly like the Disney castle that always appears in Disney movie opening credits? ? That was cute!

See the first 15s for the carpet building the Disney castle!

They changed a bit here and there of course, and added in some new characters — namely Nasim Pedrad as Jasmine’s handmaiden and Genie’s crush, but she was so funny, and a wonderful addition!

Nasim Pedrad as Dalia and Will Smith as Genie in Aladdin (2019)

A lot of the songs sounded kinda familiar while being unfamiliar at the same time, because of my dusty recollection, so I’m just in for the ride. Jasmine’s “Speechless” sounds new, but it also blends in well enough that you can’t really tell it’s new if you haven’t watch Aladdin before.

They got original composer Alan Menken to write the new songs, with lyrics by La La Land and The Greatest Showman songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, so that helped.

The most important song to get right was “A Whole New World”. It’s not difficult to sing though, so no childhood memories were ruined in this making.

The movie is so Disney-fied that I bet you wouldn’t have guessed Guy Ritchie directed it. It’s miles away from his other movies like Snatch, Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. However, you can see his trademark high-speed photography in the bazaar chase scene, when Aladdin and Jasmine occasionally moved much faster than looked natural. (It was a little jarring actually.)

Naomi Scott, Mena Massoud and director Guy Ritchie behind the scenes of Aladdin (2019)

But I liked this live-action retelling better than Beauty and the Beast (2017). I thought that movie was enchanting, but lacking, because Emma Watson and Dan Stevens didn’t have chemistry. Also, Emma Watson’s acting is perfectly average, which would be fine if she was a supporting character, but not when she’s the lead. Not that Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott should win Oscars, but they inject more life into their characters.

Still, Cinderella remains my favourite of all the Disney princess live-action retellings, because it is just so magical. (I rewatched it last night to see if I feel the same four years on, and I do, even more so now.) I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon.

Where to watch Aladdin (2019)

Streaming services: Aladdin is on Disney+ only. It’s not on Netflix Singapore or US, Amazon Prime Video, or Hulu.

Rent/Buy: Get it on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Microsoft, FandangoNOW, Redbox

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