It would be understandable if you’re feeling cynical at the prospect of this release, the latest in an ever-increasing line of Disney’s live action remakes. You’re probably contemplating two big questions. 1) Who needs a remake of 90s classic Aladdin? 2) Why even try to replace Robin Williams as the genie? In answer to your hypothetical first question, we might not ‘need’ it or believe we ‘want’ it, but this is a film that will mean a lot to a lot of children. And, in answer to question two, I was deeply suspicious of Will Smith’s casting – needlessly so. There’s touches of Williams schtick, but Will Smith puts a fun spin on proceedings. He brings his ‘A’ game, which we haven’t seen in some of his recent outings.
The plot plays out closely to the 1992 version, with the same plot points and recognisable characters. Mena Massoud plays Aladdin, our kind-hearted street urchin of a lead character who unknowingly meets and charms Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Before anything can happen he is ensnared into the scheming of ambitious tyrant-in-the-making Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), finding a magic lamp that releases a Genie (Will Smith) that is equipped with three wishes.
What makes this a solid into good adaptation is a few well chosen adjustments. There’s a frame narrative that ends up being rather lovely. Jasmine is given more to do, her wanting to be treated as an equal and be trusted with becoming her father’s successor is compelling and given a good amount of screen-time. She’s even given her own song, ‘Speechless’, which has the potential to be a new Disney modern classic. She’s given a friend and companion in the form of a handmaiden called Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), whom share a sweet friendship that also allows for further character expansion. There’s also an excellent gag rate, a scene involving ‘jams’ and ‘tiny spoons’ is a stand-out for all the right reasons.
That’s not to say it’s flawless. Whilst Kenzari’s Jafar manages the evil side of things, it’s served without the charm that the voice of Johnathon Freeman captured in the animation. His parrot sidekick Iago is also given less to do here than his 1992 counterpart. The rapport between the two of them helped make the film iconic, securing Jafar’s place in the Disney villain hall of fame. It’s a real shame that side of things is absent here.
But there’s more than enough good stuff to compensate for this. The performance scenes are bright, colourful and truly fun. The film’s jam-packed with comedy, for both kids and parents alike. Released just in time for Half Term, there’s a strong chance this version will become as important as the 1992 version was for the previous generation.
Aladdin is in UK cinemas from May 22nd.