When I first learned that Aladdin was getting a live-action remake, I was apprehensive.
The 1992 animated film had too many fantastical elements – a carpet gliding through the night sky, a cave filled with treasures as far as the eye can see, and of course, a genie slipping in and out of a lamp. Simply put, the chances of it looking ridiculous in the flesh are pretty high.
But I was proven wrong. To my surprise, the live-action remake is filled with, as the film’s popular theme song goes, unbelievable sights, indescribable feelings.
From start to finish, the new Aladdin is a feast for the eyes. The opening scene alone – which sees the skilled yet compassionate thief Aladdin zipping through Agrabah trying to run away from the consequences of his latest act of thievery – serves as a tour of sorts for viewers to the fictional Middle Eastern city, where the story is set.
Colourful, intricate decors on sand-coloured buildings made for a rich, vivid cinematic experience. What’s interesting is Agrabah is a practical set the production crew built from scratch!
Another impressive scene is a lavish song and dance sequence midway through the film. The costume and set designers might as well be genies because they worked their magic alright.
Speaking of magic, the film mostly delivers on bringing to life its fantastical elements. Two young adults coursing through the Agrabah skyline on a flying carpet while singing A Whole New World surprisingly doesn’t look tacky!
While the film nails it visually, the script could’ve been stronger.
The remake’s storyline pretty much stays faithful to the original – street urchin Aladdin who is in love with Princess Jasmine, is forced to do the evil Jafar’s bidding: find a lamp that unleashes a wish-granting genie. The royal vizier’s intentions are nefarious and it is up to Aladdin to stop him.
Unfortunately, the 2019 edition – over two hours long – comes off as draggy. To be fair, there are a couple of additions to the film that are warranted, and important, even.
The spunky Jasmine is a lot more ambitious and intentional about challenging the status quo this time around – a step in the right direction when it comes to telling female stories.
Jafar has a bit more backstory which shows what his motivations for evil are and Genie gets a storyline that goes beyond simply serving Aladdin.
There are new characters like Dalia, the princess’s handmaiden, in particular, who liven up the film.
But those aren’t the problem. What makes the film feel long is simply the dialogues. They feel loose and meandering at times, which eats into the general pace of the film.
The dialogues also don’t always succeed in delivering the laughs. There are moments when its writers try to convey a silly, irreverent brand of humour but it just isn’t as funny as they intended it to be.
Genie, responsible for most of the film’s humour, manages to churn out a solid amount of genuinely funny moments yet they’re still missing the lightning-fast wit the 1992 character embodied.
Though the film lacks humour, it never lacks heart. Its writers triumphed in this regard.
Fuelled by new story developments, the remake is a powerful vehicle when it comes to instilling important messages to children and adults alike. Some of the messages include that one must know his or her own worth; that what lies on the inside is always more important that what lies on the outside, and that a heart of gold and a heart for gold are two different things.
I’m torn about how I feel about the remake, which, interestingly, gives the second part of the aforementioned phrase – unbelievable sights, indescribable feelings – a whole new meaning.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Mena Massoud, Will Smith, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen