Like any true 90's kid, I grew up watching the Aladdin movie on repeat. I was six when the movie came out and I still remember watching it in the theaters. From then on I was obsessed. I had enough Princess Jasmine dolls to form a small army. I had the Aladdin soundtrack and listened to it over and over again. I dressed up as Jasmine all the time. You get the idea.
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With all that in mind, I had mixed expectations about this new live action Aladdin movie. So did many of us. After all, how could we ever replace the iconic voice of Robin Williams as the Genie? How could we possibly remake such a Disney classic? Could live action actors and actresses ever replicate the faces of Aladdin and Jasmine?
For better or worse, here are my thoughts on the new Aladdin film as a die hard 90's Disney movie fan!
Same Soundtrack with an Empowering Addition for Jasmine
The first question most folks probably want to know is: did they change the music? The new live action film stayed pretty loyal to the original soundtrack. All the original songs are still there with few alterations. I was happy with this because the soundtracks are a central part to these movies. I personally loved the Prince Ali song, I found myself wanting to stand on my seat and sing along in the middle of the theater. Much to my son's relief, I kept myself under control. Mena Massoud (Aladdin) and Naomi Scott (Princess Jasmine) took my breath away during their rendition of A Whole New World. You won't be disappointed by the music.
One key difference with this soundtrack is the addition of a song just for Princess Jasmine titled Speechless. At first, I was resistant when she started singing as my nostalgia bells started ringing as I realized this wasn't in the original. But Naomi Scott delivers such an empowering musical number that by the end I was completely on board. She gave a louder voice to Princess Jasmine, a princess that inspired me as a child as she declared ‘I am not a prize to be won!' and left a lasting impression on all of us. I was happy to see more of this side of her as she declares her frustration of being silenced and challenges the power structure that dictates her life. I didn't even originally notice Princess Jasmine doesn't have her own solo song in the original and she definitely deserves one. In fact, in the original the only song that Jasmine sings in is A Whole New World. So I can see the logic behind this choice as they worked to give Jasmine an equally prominent role.
The Plot: Slight Adjustments to the Original Aladdin
The story line, like the soundtrack, stayed pretty close to the original. To the point I found myself, like I do when I watch the original Aladdin, remembering those hard to beat parts of the Super Nintendo game. (The Cave of Wonders level, anyone?) All those major plot points and characters are there but with a few differences. We do see less emphasis on the animal characters than we do in the cartoon version. This is likely due to the unfortunate win or lose effect of CGI technology. But I do wish we would have heard more from Iago. I was really disappointed by the lack of sass which is a central part to the villainy of Jafar. In fact, that's my main compliant if I were to have a big one to make.
Aladdin and Jasmine's characters were fairly true to the source. Mena Massoud delivers a wonderful performance of Aladdin from the perfect musical numbers to that mischievous street rat smile. Naomi Scott's interpretation of Jasmine will make any girl that grew up inspired by Disney princesses proud. I loved how they emphasized her assertive nature and willpower in this film. It's a character trait that was always present but it just got more airplay this time around. In this movie, we see Jasmine question why she can't rule Agrabah instead when her father's reign is over and be a true champion of her people rather than letting a stranger of marriage rule as Sultan. She's got a point there! We feel these power structures more heavily in this film as Disney tries to bring this 90's flick closer to the conversations of our time.
I found the largest differences in the character of Jafar along with more conversation surrounding the role of the Sultan. It did make sense to add those higher stakes and put a more realistic emphasis on what impact a change of power would have over Agrabah. While Marwan Kenzari (Jafar) does a fine job acting the part, the image of Jafar I got from this movie wasn't necessarily shrewd and calculating but leaning more towards angry and deranged. This fits the Disney villain profile though so I can see how the change still works within this story. We do see those deranged moments from Jafar in the original yet I think it felt different in this rendition. Not necessarily wrong, but changed.
There are some added scenes that offer additional sparks of humor and personal insight into the relationships of the major characters. These scenes, even if their purpose was humor or character development, didn't feel out of the ordinary in the context of the story that was told. I wasn't bothered by this change at all, it made sense to give these live action characters a chance to highlight their humanistic qualities.
Will Smith as the Genie
I saved the best for last. Most of the critiques I saw about this movie before it was released all surrounded Will Smith's role of playing the Genie. And I get it, I had similar reservations. But I went into this with an open mind and to be honest, Will Smith is also a 90's icon in his own right just as Robin Williams was.
Will Smith blew me away with his performance. While the CGI effects could be a bit off putting, as we all saw in the trailers, it doesn't matter one bit once you see Smith get to work. I don't think this movie would be the success it was, in my humble opinion, without him. His renditions of our favorite Genie songs like Prince Ali and Never Had A Friend Like Me were so spot on that it made me feel like a kid again. He stayed loyal to the iconic personality and lines that we came in expecting and delivered them like a pro.
What Will Smith brought to the role was his own touch of humor that built upon the hilarity we love from Genie and Robin Williams himself. He added his own twist, a street smart humor we associate with Smith, while still staying in the character of the Genie. We see Genie receive a humanized story arc and Will Smith does a masterful job of filling in the blanks with these additions.
We all have high expectations when our favorite films are remade. These are films that many of us grew up with, that live in our memories as children, and helped shape the Disney company that we all love today. But from this 90's kid to the rest of you, I give Aladdin five stars. I can't wait to see it again! You will notice the differences, as there are a few, but the overall story and soundtrack stays loyal to the original. It's a wonderful tribute to the Aladdin we all love.
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