WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
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.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
When the first trailer and character images for Aladdin came out, the whole internet was abuzz with what was perceived as lazy musical numbers and a weird-looking Will Smith genie. For me, Aladdin is one of my favourite Disney animations of all time, cementing a deep admiration for the humourous finesse of the late Robin Williams and songs I can sing in my sleep.
In the live-action version, Agrabah has been turned into a stage reminiscent of the Golden Hollywood movies of the East, barring the racism and yellow-face. But despite the gaudy colours and some auto-tuned flat notes, this Aladdin retained the fun, get-on-your-feet-and-dance spirit of the animation, with a few tweaks that turned Jasmine and Aladdin into stronger characters that are more than just a teenage romance.
But be prepared, however, for a very weak beginning. The words 'uh-oh' will definitely run through your mind as the film jumps just too quickly into Jasmine and Aladdin's meeting in the marketplace as if a whole scene was skipped leading up to it, and the One Jump Ahead song's parkour antics was incredibly underwhelming. You might even wonder how you will be able to sit through the rest of this high-school stage production of Aladdin…
… that is until the Genie shows up. Despite what your reservations might have been about the casting, Will Smith was by far the best choice they could have made. His career has been floundering a bit with some questionable role choices, but finally, he has dusted off his old Prince of Bel Air groove and repurposed it for the wisecracking, all-powerful being that has finally found a master he can call a friend. This groove helps get the whole film into gear, and his experienced wit prompts Aladdin's green actor Mena Massoud to blossom into a solid performance who will charm anyone with his thousand-watt smile. The Friend like Me performance in the Cave of Wonders sticks pretty close to the original, the CGI is at its best in this scene and will finally let the audience settle in comfortably for the rest of the ride.
Unfortunately, the film has many flaws that thankfully didn't overpower it, but you still feel like Disney could have done better. The costume design was incredibly tacky, the garish pink and orange colours looked like it came from the back of a 2000s off-Broadway musical wardrobe. The set design lacked authenticity, and certain dance performances were so white Bollywood choreographers would laugh and cry at the same time. There were certain moments where they sped it up to fit with the fast-paced music, but it just made everyone look clumsy and like they (or the audience) were on drugs.
As for the singing, they didn't use Smith's full music potential, sounding flat and auto-tuned in places, and even Massoud had a few off-key moments, though they were luckily few and far between. The best singer out of everyone by miles was Naomi Scott, playing a thankfully more modern take on Princess Jasmine. She has more interests outside of marrying a prince, and the chemistry between her and Massoud was endearing and sweet, a perfect match in the sandy deserts of a very ambiguous Eastern country.
Jafar, unfortunately, could not fully live up to his creeptastic animated predecessor, coming off as a tantrum-throwing crybaby about how he had to fight the world to get where he is. The actor's youthful look wasn't the real issue - instead, it was the lack of authority he should have commanded on the screen. The creep-factor should have been pushed to the max in scenes with Jasmine, as well as having a lot more shade in his arsenal to whip out at his enemies. His sidekick Iago also needed wittier lines that wouldn't have made Gilbert Gottfried shudder to say.
Despite these flaws, the star power of Aladdin makes the audience fly past them and enjoy a vibrant jaunt through Agrabah, falling in love with its charming young stars and laughing yourself silly at a genie that really doesn't look that terrible in blue.