Saturday, 15 June 2019

Movie Review - Aladdin (2019)

Arguably one of the most controversial Disney adaptations from the moment marketing began, Aladdin treads on thin ice simply because the animated original is one of the studios most treasured classics; and one crucial contributor to this is of course the late Robin Williams' iconic performance as the Genie, now one of Disney's most memorable characters. But what was initially hatred from audiences now seems to have become widespread praise, and this certainly doesn't go undeserved.

After rescuing and befriending Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) within the bustling, frequently dangerous streets of Agrabah, the penniless street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud) soon attempts to win her over through the assistance of the scheming Royal Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who initiates a plan for Aladdin to retrieve a magical lamp within the mysterious Cave of Wonders in return for untold riches and royalty. When Aladdin eventually finds the lamp in his own hands, he discovers what lies within: an all powerful Genie (Will Smith), whose ability to grant Aladdin three wishes further progresses his own endeavours to seek Prince Jasmine's hand as he originally aspired.

What's tricky with these live action Disney adaptations is simply retelling the story. Changes are essential to surprise audiences a second time, but too many changes can end up disowning the source material everyone has loved for many years. Aladdin thankfully retells the classic tale in a unique and engaging way, keeping the core premise identical with the same loveable characters (and some new ones to boot), but largely changing the overall structure, and so you'll never feel like you're watching a replica of the original. The musical numbers also have the same impact; the original's most iconic songs are present, but all updated with a fresh modern twist, down to genre influences and even smart alterations of the lyrics themselves. There's also some new songs mixed in, and while they sometimes feel a bit segue amongst the scenarios occurring around them, they remain well performed and suitably memorable.

Will Smith's performance as the Genie deserves praise simply for his unique take on the character, which is never a forced attempt to mimic the comedic charm Robin Williams boasted. Indeed, Smith's effort in the role, while equally zany, fast paced, and funny, is more casual and down to Earth, not referencing pop culture in the same hilarious way, but with his comedic charm instead stemming a lot more from strong, witty dialogue, all delivered with perfect timing, as well as the awkward yet charming chemistry between himself and Aladdin, who also finds himself perfectly performed by a suitably cast Mena Massoud. The cast in general is relatively solid; Naomi Scott plays Jasmine well enough, even if the character is somewhat forgettable this time round, and the same goes for Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, whose casting also stirred up much controversy. He's better than the trailers made him out to be, unique in his own way instead of a lazy replica, but he's also not quite as memorable at the end of the day, and arguably rather bland in scenes that demand more emotion.

Visually, Aladdin certainly delivers any expectations reasonable audiences would have, adding its own surprisingly dark twists and so making scenes that were perhaps more comedic in the original now quite intimidating but still equally stylistic. The CGI effects used to craft key characters including Abu, Carpet, and, of course, the Genie himself are all fantastic through and through; the motion capture technology to turn Smith into a blue magical being is surprisingly effective, and whilst many were reluctant upon seeing it debut in the initial trailers, it's certainly nothing to remain hostile towards. At the end of the day, Aladdin is what a good live action Disney adaptation should be: loyal to the classic premise, yet still adding in its own fresh ideas to take audiences on a new adventure in a whole new world.