A Diamond In The Rough: A Review of 2019’s Aladdin
By Kailyn Walters
I’ll admit, I was intrigued from the first trailer for the live action Disney adaptation of Aladdin. Aladdin is one of my top 5 favorite Disney movies. As a kid, I loved the bright colors, the songs, everything. Naturally when Disney announced their live action remakes and Aladdin made this list, I was skeptical. With all the hoopla surrounding the casting and concerns of whitewashing the cast, I hoped Disney would stay true to their roots in casting the right individuals, as well as get the “feel” of the world of Agrabah correct.
I ventured to theatres when the live action remake of Beauty and The Beast came out and was so excited to see one of my favourite heroines translated from animation to live action. I had faith in Emma Watson, and her feminist views- that she would do Belle justice. While I can’t say I was disappointed with her performance, I can say this: Beauty and The Beast wasn’t the remake I was hoping for. It was good, and enjoyable but something was missing. The songs were good, the costumes were lovely, the provincial world and haunting antiquities all good- but for me it lacked the “magic” that the original animated classic had. It was not an exact shot-for-shot remake, close enough to the original in comparisons all across YouTube of the two. When the trailer for Beauty and the Beast came out, it was a shot-for-shot remake of the animated trailer from the 1991. The trailer for Aladdin was also almost an exact shot-for-shot as well. I walked into the theater again with excitement and this time I walked away with the feeling that the movie was everything I’d hoped it would be and more.
I am aware there is a plethora of review critics out there who are slamming this movie. If you are hoping for such a review, I am not your girl. It’s very easy to pick apart movies, especially if you have experience making films, or consider yourself a cinema snob. However I do think part of the negativity coming from these critics may have less to do with the movie itself (although I’m sure there are things to nitpick or get aggravated about) and more to do with the fact that Disney is exhausting people with their never-ending onslaught of productions. It is not an understatement to say that Disney is absolutely killing the box office right now. The top 3 highest grossing openings of Avatar, Avengers End Game, and The Force Awakens are all Disney owned properties. This year alone, since March we have had Captain Marvel, Avengers End Game, Aladdin, and before the year is over we will have Toy Story 4, The Lion King, Spider-Man Far From Home, Frozen 2, Maleficent 2, and the final instalment of the Star Wars franchise, Episode IX The Rise Of Sky-walker. I get it. It’s a lot.
My husband was stoked to see this movie. He’s not a huge Dis Nerd like me, and he rarely sees a movie on opening weekend. Even at the late showing, I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of people we had in our theatre. The movie opens with Will Smith’s character telling two children the story of Aladdin. He sings the opening song of Arabian Nights, at you may notice there is a slight update to the original song. It’s small, but as a Dis Nerd I caught it. Apparently, parents were salty after the original lyrics in the 1992 opening of “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, it’s barbaric; but hey it’s home” and the VHS release did have a slight change of lyrics- but most people remember the “barbaric” verse. In the live action movie, the lyric is changed to “Where you wander among, every culture and tongue, it’s chaotic but hey it’s home”. Still I wasn’t upset- if anything I understood the update to be more palatable to a wider audience and play it safe from coming off as offensive.
I felt that stylistically the world of Agrabah was so strong and vibrant. The animated version of Aladdin was bright and saturated and had wonderful colour and the live action transitioned this to film really well. The setting feels authentic. During the beginning scenes in which Aladdin (Mena Massoud) sings “One Jump”, we get Aladdin channelling Spider-Man for a of swinging through windows, jumping over walls, and thoroughly introducing us to his portrayal of Aladdin. These acrobatic nuances are very cartoonish in nature and played out on a live action display it felt very true to its original source. We are introduced to the Princess in disguise, and the explanation for her disguise, as well as explaining why she’s essentially Clark Kent with a hood. Apparently, the princess doesn’t get out much since her mother passed away and the Sultan has issues letting her outside. No one’s seen her since her mother died. Ouch.
The movie does not take its time building up Aladdin and Jasmine’s immediate chemistry but does it in a slightly more authentic way other than just straight insta-love at first sight. The two connect over sentiments and a mutual understanding of being more than you appear to be, of being more than who others think you are. With Jasmine we also meet a new character, Dahlia. Dahlia is the handmaid to the princess, as well as a confident and friend. She isn’t just an extra though. She has her own personality, and her own subplot with Will Smith’s Genie.
When the first look at Will Smith’s Genie flooded the internet, people had mixed feelings. True, no one will ever be the Genie Robin Williams created, but they don’t have to be. Will Smith does a great job of paying homage to the wonderful, late Robin Williams while also establishing himself as his own interpretation of our magical blue friend. Smith ‘s Genie is fast talking, endearing, humorous, but also has dreams of his own beyond his lamp. I felt that this layer of wanting, the genie who can never wish but dares to- this really added a depth to the character that I appreciated. Still, the movie does not forget where it came from, and “Friend Like Me” delivers the perfect amount of nostalgia blended with a modern twist. The scene pulls from its source material with the genie marionette and Aladdin on strings, and sandwiches it with some quint essential Will Smith flavor. One of the best musical numbers in the movie.
The movie also takes some liberties and adds new music, such as the empowered ballad “Speechless” which is sung by Princess Jasmine. Jasmine’s character is fleshed out more in this adaptation than the original. Here, we see her Jasmine as a woman who is educated (as princesses and queens were), clever, and ambitious. She wants to be Sultan, when the time for ruling comes. She does not want to be seen and not heard. She will not be silenced. Both numbers in which she commands the screen with this song, will tear at your heart strings. For some, it may feel a little but forced or smell too strongly of feminism- but for me, I appreciate Disney going back and adding more to the character. She has her own ambitions and doesn’t need anyone’s approval emotionally but is stunted by the traditions of her time. Glass Ceilings have been around a long time.
If I had to pick something, I loved most about the movie though, despite all my praise for the music, the source material, the newly added things- I think the costumes take the cake. The musical numbers are enhanced by the absolute beauty of the setting and the costumes. Vibrant, bold colours accentuated with gold and jewels, and rich tones. Watching Jasmine cascade the stairs in beautiful fuchsia, teal and gold or Prince Ali make his entrance amidst the sand’s dust with a myriad of chartreuse and ochre would not be as power packed if it were not for the absolutely wonderful costumes that set the tone just as much as the setting and the music.
Aladdin is a captivating remake that expands on the beauty and heart of the original. While others may see a quick cash grab, or unnecessary tweaks to something that didn’t need changing, in contrast with the mass of Disney properties coming out this year, I see a diamond in the rough.
“There’s a lot of fish in the sea, but I’m a mermaid”
I’m a geek, a cosplayer, a photographer, a coffee addict, a travel enthusiast, a fashionista, a wife, an artist, and a big kid at heart.
I graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in digital art & photography and operate my own photography business part time.
I love to read, write, play video games and board games, and I love to cook as much as I love to dine out and try new things.
I reside in the Steel City (Pittsburgh, PA), living my best life with my gamer husband.
If you’d like to contact Kailyn regarding a possible project, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.