By Jason Delgado
Aladdin is a tale as old as time, or 1992 if you’re a Disney fan. The character of Aladdin is a “street rat,” parkouring, stealing from the rich, giving to the poor (which includes himself) who has a thieving monkey for a best friend. He falls in love with the princess Jasmine, who also has a penchant to help the poor, and is strong-willed, far from the typical damsel in distress. Aladdin happens upon a magical lamp with a charismatic Genie inside of it, who grants Aladdin three wishes. Aladdin uses his newfound power to become a prince in order to be able to marry Princess Jasmine, all while fending off the evil sorcerer Jafar, who wants the lamp for his own nefarious purposes.
The question for many coming into Aladdin was: could Will Smith fill the humongous shoes of Robin Williams as the Genie? In a word: Yes. People forget what a skilled comedic actor Will was in his early days. There’s a reason that reruns of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air are still playing, and it’s not because of DJ Jazzy Jeff.
I’m not someone who holds up the original Aladdin as being sacred, because I’ve never been a huge Disney movie fan in general. I do know that Robin Williams was a force of nature in the animated Aladdin, a role perfectly suited for him because it allowed his stream-of-consciousness type of humor to be rattled off at a rapid fire pace. Williams was one of a kind, while Will Smith brings his own charmingly magnetic personality and deft comedic timing to the character.
“Big Willie Style” hasn’t been this fun since he was “getting jiggy with it” back in the 90’s, when Smith ruled the 4th of July weekend at the box office with hits like Independence Day and Men in Black. Will Smith needed to get back to his grand basics, and what better way to do that than with the larger than life Genie character? It allows Smith to do what he does best, by cracking well-timed jokes and being over the top, something that he has strangely shied away from for years until now.
While the Genie is clearly the star of the show, newcomer Naomi Scott radiates off the screen as Jasmine. She has that certain “it” likeability factor to make it as a movie star, while also displaying talented song and dance skills, proving that like her character, she’s more than just a pretty face. Mena Massoud is also quite entertaining as Aladdin, even though he hams it up at times, presumably to play up to the kid demographic. They both shine in Bollywood-type dance sequences, although Mena goes full Michael Jackson solo act from the group in a dance number where the Genie is gleefully controlling Aladdin’s movements, in order to help him show off for Jasmine.
This spectacle is too much for the Princess Jasmine character to take, and at times the film may feel that way for the audience too. The movie is meant to be extra cheesy though, so viewers are either along for the magic carpet ride, or they are not. Director Guy Ritchie, known for more violent fare such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, is able to successfully make the switch to family-friendly entertainment, using big set pieces, along with CGI, to create a lavish world that pops in 3D. The look of the film is sometimes cartoon-like, but with this kind of material, and the fact that the beloved original is animated, it seems like a natural fit to me.
I’ve noticed that some critics and fans are panning the performance of Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, and maybe that’s because they hold a special place in their heart for the villain in the original. It seems as if fans expected something more grandiose, like a Spinal Tap speaker turned up to 11, but instead they only got a 6. His character reminds me a bit of Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy, because they both have word triggers which cause them to fly off of the handle. Try telling Marty that he’s chicken, or Jafar that he’s only the second most powerful person around, and you’re going to deal with the consequences!
Some of the songs in Aladdin are familiar classics from the animated version, such as A Whole New World but there is also a new song sung by Naomi Scott called Speechless that is generating buzz. Scott’s powerful vocals, along with a strong female empowerment message, make it a great anthem for a new generation. I love that Disney is changing with the times, so that their princesses can sing about being a leader of their own, without the help of a man. It is a whole new world indeed.
I give Aladdin three and a half hot sauce packets out of five. There’s a lot of cheese mixed in, but it makes for some spicy good nachos!