In terms of what you might be expecting, Disney’s live-action adaptation of their own animated take on Aladdin is much more than a diamond in the rough. Against the odds, and certainly expectations, Guy Ritchie and his likeable and talented cast have managed to deliver a cave of wonders which honours the original classic and yet still manages to find enough new angles to make the story feel new again.
Trapped in a cave after being tricked into going by the ambitious Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), Aladdin (Mena Massoud) finds himself in possession of an old lamp – and an all-powerful genie (Will Smith) with whose help he sets out to win the heart of Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott).
In the early scenes, it sticks fairly close to the story beats of the originals but gradually it reveals that it has more on its mind than just polishing up Aladdin’s rough diamond. In this subtly updated version, not only does the genie get a more cohesive story arc, but so too does Jasmine. Although the original Jasmine was no fragile blossom, there’s more than just sassy feistiness to Naomi Scott’s heroine. Determined and defiant, there’s an agency to Jasmine in this that results in a much richer and more satisfying conclusion to the whole affair.
While director Guy Ritchie remains a puzzling choice, and never seems entirely comfortable with the musical numbers, he brings enough spectacle and vibrant, colourful action to the screen to keep things moving along nicely. The musical numbers themselves are transformed on the big screen, lively and toe-tappingly familiar even when given a fresh coat of hip-hop, courtesy of Will Smith – arguably the film’s biggest gamble and biggest win.
Smith absolutely nails the role – respecting Williams’ footsteps yet unafraid to add a little fancy footwork of his own – creating something wonderful. This is vintage Will Smith like we haven’t seen in an age and reminds us, in case we’d forgotten, just why he was such a bankable box office star in his 1990s heyday.
Alas, not every day’s a red letter and as Naomi Scott’s Jasmine rises and Smith lights up the screen, Massoud’s more sensitive and sympathetic Aladdin fades into the background slightly although he’s still fun to watch. Unfortunately, the internet’s ‘Hot Jafar’ turns out to be decidedly tepid and Kenzari just doesn’t have the gravitas or menace to really pull off the role, hampered by a script which doesn’t seem to know how to write its villain and criminally wastes the voice talents of Alan Tudyk as the unnamed and desperately underwritten Iago.
It really could have been anyone voicing the parrot and, in some ways, it really could have been anyone directing this. It never once feels like a Guy Ritchie film, but what it does feel like is a polished, family friendly and crowd-pleasing musical fairy tale and, surprisingly, one of Disney’s stronger live-action adaptations to date.