Wishing For A Whole New World
By Casey Lee
Although arguably more popular than Dumbo, Aladdin did not receive the warmest reception since it was announced as it had big shoes to fill. While the second live-action remake of the year does rub off some of the expectations and influences from the 1992 animation, it still falls into another set of expectations by Disney fans.
Aladdin is an orphan street rat who grew up on the streets of fictional Agrabah, now envisioned as a melting pot city instead of a civilization in the desert. As Aladdin runs into a disguised Jasmine, the sheltered and silenced princess of the sultan, on the streets, he shows her the city from an impoverished perspective, informing her of the changes that she should bring if she one day become its ruler. Lovestruck, Aladdin sneaks into the palace to meet with her again, but is handily caught by Jaafar, the plotting vizier who realised he could use him. Forced to enter into the Cave of Wonders, Aladdin is to secure a magic lamp before he is betrayed and left to die in the cave, with his pet monkey, a magic carpet, and a wise-cracking genie inside the lamp.
Directed by Guy Ritchie, Aladdin does not run on the same energy from Ritchie's earlier works, with an uneven opening that provides an ineffective exposition and stunt sequences that run their course too quickly (and captured just as messily). Even with all the dazzling sets and bright colours of the well-crafted costumes, Ritchie's energy seems caged up in a constraining lamp, while having the inclusion of an out-of-nowhere music video and a forced slow-motion shot feels more of a compromise, rather than letting Ritchie work his magic on the material that is given.
The controversial choice of having Will Smith as the replacement to Robin Williams' rapid fire genie is not a terrible one in hindsight. Rather than trying to one-up or imitate the witty and improvisational nature of Williams, Smith cleverly utilises his own reassuring charm and comedic timing to make the genie as his own, resulting in a friend that is more of a motivational companion like Hitch, rather than a maniacal partner that steals every scene he appears in. While this may not quite please the purists, Smith still pulls off a different interpretation of the character and makes it his own.
The same can't be said for the casting of Mena Massoud and Marwan Kenzari, with the former lacking the confident charm of a self-made rogue, and the latter lacking the gravitas to be as compelling a villain as his newly added backstory suggests. But the real star, as Disney had probably banked the most hope on, was Naomi Scott who makes a sold-out performance as the only one with a singing voice in the cast. Given new updates to her character and struggles, Scott makes the best out of every opportunity to characterize her strengths, making her much more than the damsel in distress that she was in the original 1992 animation.
While Aladdin is able to distinguish itself as a new interpretation rather than a carbon copy of the animation, it doesn't quite manage to step out from being another disposable piece of entertainment. Hopefully with each iteration of live-action remakes, Disney would learn to take some risks with the kernel of potential that is within the talents they have chosen, so we could see a whole new world of live-action remakes that could live up to the fanfare of the Disney Renaissance.