The limitations of genies are “phenomenal cosmic powers; itty, bitty living space.” The limitations of Disney’s latest live-action remake are “rich visuals; patchy character development.”
However, Will Smith, filling Robin William’s shoes as the Genie, (surprisingly well, at that) laments his accommodations and choreographs princess-impressing dances with fresh, snarky energy.
The story is the same. Aladdin (Mena Massoud), a thief, falls for the princess, Jasmine (Naomi Scott), shortly before being pressed into a scheme to find a magic lamp by the sultan’s evil vizier, Jafar. Aladdin rubs the lamp, summoning the genie, who grants him three wishes.
The original Aladdin portrayed the Middle Eastern setting in a negative light and contained some uncomfortable themes (for example, Jasmine’s overt sexualization). Despite its problematic song lyrics, it has captured imaginations and endured as a family classic. The new version strives to correct those mistakes with a diverse cast and revised script.
Disappointingly, the new Aladdin is neither particularly creative nor memorable.
The visuals are stunning, however. Saturated colors and detailed sets create a feeling of luxury and vacation sunlight, a true delight to watch. Overall, the film strikes a lighter tone, helped by a healthy balance of visual comedy, slapstick mishaps, and character interaction (whereas the original principally depended on Robin Williams’ speed-of-light audio for laughs). This may make the movie more accessible to younger children. Additionally, Jafar is more egotistical and bluntly mean than slimy and sinister, and thus, less frightening.
Parents may feel more comfortable with the lighter tone and Jasmine’s notable wardrobe alterations. Forgoing the crop top of the original, Jasmine’s radiant ensembles are influenced by a variety of cultures and eras in the Middle East, offering perhaps a more representative reflection of the soil in which the story grew and certainly a more realistic and less-sexualized Jasmine.
While characters like Hakim, a new character whose whole story takes place in five minutes, are not developed to their full potential, the portrayal of Jasmine reaches for greater character depths than the original as the princess strives to become sultan in a world that has been ruled by men. In an obvious attempt to repeat the wild success of “Let it Go,” Jasmine's anthem, “Speechless,” throws off fear and insists on being heard and valued. Admittedly, the empowering message feels a little forced and Jasmine’s climactic stance makes no difference in the end. However, as Scheherazade told the Tales of Arabian Nights to survive, illustrating the transformative power of a woman’s words, the nod specifically to Jasmine’s voice is a nice update. (But ironically for a movie about contentment, it left me wanting more.)
One of the charms of the film is how it builds on the original’s theme: challenge reveals character. Aladdin and Jasmine’s stories appear to intertwine by chance, but their arcs run parallel. Each is tested with great power and responsibility.
Aladdin inhabits a more complex world than most classic fairy tales where good and evil are clearly demarcated. Thieves feed hungry children, and sometimes it takes a little trickery to beat the bad guy. The right thing to do is not always obvious to Jasmine and Aladdin. Still, good does win, but only as a result of giving up selfish desires. Jasmine is at her strongest when she speaks for her people. Aladdin is at his most powerful when he uses his last wish to help another. It is only then that he defeats Jafar.
Humans fell from grace because they wanted more, and we’ve been wanting ever since. But in Agrabah, love builds up the humble and rewards the selfless. It’s a truth that bears repeating with or without cinematic perfection.
As my friend noted, “It was what it claimed to be.” A fun, frolicking spin on the animated classic, perhaps it is the best example of its own motto: be honest, be yourself. (Walt Disney Pictures)