Aladdin is a childhood classic of mine. I’ve watched that film so many times and you know what, I actually re-watched it in preparation for seeing this film and it’s still really dammed good! If you want testament for its quality, you have to remember this was for the longest time Disney’s most successful film. It wasn’t until the Lion King came out that its record smashed. It also seems kind of interesting that this is coming out the same year as a Lion King remake.
Now Aladdin’s remake has been on the cards for quite a bit, along with these other Disney live action remakes and I was kind of on board with it when I heard Guy Ritchie was directing though my hopes have kind of soured with my recent reviews of Disney remakes. Especially with films like the terrible Beauty and the Beast remake and the most recent Tim Burton movie Dumbo. Both received scathing reviews from myself. I was really dreading Aladdin was going to have the same treatment so let’s just get to the point and discuss it.
I feel like discussing the plot of Aladdin is a bit of a misnomer. It’s virtually the same plot as the original. In fact, there’s very few differences. The biggest one to note is that Aladdin and Jasmine (played by Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott respectively), meet each other in a slightly different way with slightly different encounters and a few of the sequences are slightly different.
The biggest difference this time round is the film length. The original 1992 film Aladdin came in at a total of an hour and half, a nice brisk pace for a Disney animated film. That film uses its time quality to it best extent. The remake is 30 minutes longer and that’s very much this films detriment since the screen writers clearly had no idea what they were doing.
This film has achieved something outstanding for me. It somehow managed to be both way too condensed in many of the plot points repeating and very drawn out at the same time. Early portions of the film feel like it’s trying to get through as much of the film as possible without really taking the time to really let those moments breath. And yet somehow, it’s also trying to draw out the film.
Prime example early on about this is the sequence for ‘One Jump Ahead’ which not only adds Jasmine into the mix of the sequence but also adds tons of parkour moments which break up the song. In fact, I actually watched a YouTube video in the process of writing this review which showed the original animated sequence being played along with audio from the remake’s songs dubbed over. (In case you’re wondering as to where I’m going to come in on the sound track, we’ll get to that later).
It quite frankly has a similar problem to Beauty and the Beast which it hasn’t actually changed all that much up. But here’s where I think it’s a better film than Beauty and the Beast 2017. For a start it’s not trying so hard to be a one for one remake with a bunch of pointless adaptational changes. They don’t try to add too many elements from the original story back into it unnecessarily. It doesn’t feel like it’s adding loads of pointless crap without making unnecessary changes to accommodate it.
I feel like I should be a bit positive about this film so let’s talk about a few of the things I liked.
What else does it succeed in? Some of the changes actually kind of work but then there’s been quite a few that don’t. For example, there’s actually a hinted back story about Jafar being potentially very similar to Aladdin in his past. However, it doesn’t work, but it’s actually one of the more interesting aspect of his character. The unfortunate fact is that they never go all out with this.
If I want to talk about vanilla things well start with Jasmine. Jasmines role has attempted to be really expanded for this film. They do this whole thing about her wanting to govern and to have her own voice be heard. Now I find this a nice expansion to the character, it’s something new. I don’t have a problem with the fact that they’re trying to expand the character, my problem is it feels like it’s from a completely different film and almost seems to have been crowbarred into the plot. I’m also hoping this was not done by some inherent belief that Jasmine was a bad character. I like Jasmine’s character in the original and I think she has a decent arc. Naomi Scott though really puts her whole into this, and it actually, for the most part, does work. The only down side is that it kind of takes the focus away from some of the other portions of the film. Most particularly Aladdin’s biggest failing in the first film, when he rejects his responsibility.
See in the original film Aladdin rejects his responsibility to everyone after he caves under the weight of pressure that marrying Jasmine means he’ll be put in a position to be Sultan of Agrabah. By having Jasmine now wanting to govern and it now seems like there’s no real reason for Aladdin to reject that responsibility. In fact, if anything he kind of comes off as more of a jerk by doing it. That’s what this film is for me.
It’s a lot of decent ideas not executed properly. Expanding Jasmine’s character, good idea, not executed properly. Giving Jafar a bit more of a back story, good idea, not executed properly. It’s very similar to what was in Beauty and the Beast but whereas those choices where insulting, these ones feel more misguided. For example, Dalia’s been added as Jasmine’s hand maid, the problem is, she takes away from what Jasmine had in the original and what she really probably should have had in this version, which is her sense of isolation. By giving her a friend, it takes away from her character more than it adds since it robs her of one of the majour attractions she as to Aladdin which is the sense of compionship and adventure she’s been longing for. No offence to Nasim Pedrad she’s doing her best in her role. But as was pointed out in one review, she basically is playing the best friend in a romantic comedy character.
The other major issue is it lost a ton in translation to live action. Now I’m not saying a live action Aladdin couldn’t have worked, it easily could of. The special effects artists do an excellent job with Will Smith’s character for example. But as I pointed out in my Beauty and the Beast review, there’s a bunch of points, especially the musical moments which you realise are inherently way more ridiculous the second you translate them to live action.
I was feeling this most during the Prince Ali sequence which is not nearly as interesting as the sequence in the original version. If we want to talk about mis-casting however, I’m not the first person to state the Marwan Kenzari is kind of miscast in the role of Jafar. I think he’s trying to do a good job, but he doesn’t have the same presence that Jafar has. They at least actually fixed a problem I thought was in the original which was Jafar’s second wish. Which I won’t spoilt that moment.
The rest of the cast itself is doing a decent job all round though I feel Navid Negahban who you might recognise from ‘Homeland’ is doing a good job for his character but his character feels a bit toned down especially since they’ve gotten rid of the whole Sultan being a massive man child. That also brings up another issue with the film. The films try to be more authentic to the region which is fair enough and an interesting idea. Its works on the whole. The set designs are actually really damn good, and the location shots are really good. But it’s also lacking in personality. The original went for an idea of an Arabia meets Las Vegas. As a result, it kind of feels like something is missing this time round. I’m glad they went for their own distinct idea, but it hasn’t quite worked since a lot of the wonder is gone when half the sets would fit into a Scorpion king movie. But the biggest issue I have with the film is Iago. What was the point in hiring Alan Tudyk for this role when they really can’t give him anything to do this time except squawk and repeat back lines. Man, I have never missed Gilbert Gottfried more in one film. This is one of the changes I wish they hadn’t made and just stuck with the original film. I can’t imagine it would have been hard to call up Gilbert Godfrey and get him to reprise his role.
Okay let’s talk soundtrack. Aladdin’s soundtrack is iconic. The composer Alan Menken who returns to work on his score yet again earned himself an Oscar for best original song for a ‘Whole New World’. Not to mention that ‘Friend Like Me’ also received a nomination in that same category. The fact he managed to achieve this though is amazing given during the process of writing these songs he was close to retirement, in grief for long time musical partner Howard Ashman. Alan’s once again working on this one, he’s not partnered up with Tim Rice this time round. He doesn’t have to really do much again since most the score is just reused from the original film but man these guys are not working with your songs. Auto tuning is definitely a factor once again but again the songs don’t work as a whole. Jafar’s song is entirely absent which is a shame because this actor really could have used a few moments to try and ham up this role. But amazingly ‘A Friend Like Me’ turned out alright though.
Some of the other sets of problems with the film is a lot of subtle changes which actually end up taking away from the original, more than they add. This is from simple things like way too much use of the drums in ‘A Whole New World’ which actually add way too much to the song. The only major change soundtrack wise is Jasmine is given a new song called ‘Speechless’ which is actually one of the better songs in the film since it’s actually something new and works for the character. The problem is, the sequences they go with, don’t work entirely. They have their moments but, there’s some misguided ideas. And this is where another point comes up.
Guy Ritchie really does not know how to direct a musical! He really doesn’t know how to do the set direction or how the shots work. I’m not saying I’d do much better in his position but it’s actually something I was expecting him to do a bit better given that he actually does a good job at shooting film and bringing his distinctive style to it. You can see that in films like his Sherlock Holmes movies. The problem is, I was expecting more something along the lines of like how Baz Luhrmann directs his films. Similar to Mulan Rouge and the Great Gatsby. But man, once again it feels like something is missing.
It feels like with some of the big-name directors that have been brought to do these films, they haven’t been trusted to bring their own style to the film in a similar fashion to how they trusted Kenneth Branner to bring his own style to Cinderella. Jon Favreau got to bring his own style to the Jungle Book and despite how badly it turned out you can still tell that Dumbo is a Tim Burton film. The fact is, Guy Ritchie is the director of the screen, but his presence is really not felt in this film. I actually forgot half way through that it was him directing. And I know that once again Film Brain has beaten me at making that point so you can go ahead and call me a massive rip off of him.
Aladdin 2019 is a film that is not as bad as the god-awful Beauty and the Beast remake or the terrible Dumbo remake but man it could have been so much better! As it stands the film is okay, despite the fact I’ve been rather negative in this review, I’d actually describe the film as O.K. But that’s just it. It’s just O.K. It’s nothing ground breaking and it’s not something in which you can compare the two versions. This is hardly Cinderella or the Jungle Book where comparisons would be genuinely rather interesting. It’s just “O.K, that’s fine”. I’m personally glad the film came out because it gave me a good excuse to go back and watch the 1992 film but this 2019 version, I suspect is not a version I’ll be revisiting. But, this Is not a Disney remake I actively hate, but again, if these films are only going to make minor changes that really don’t add much to the films in the first place, I once again have to ask, what is the point?
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