Aladdin Review: Game Cast, Passable Retelling

A Banner for Disney's Aladdin. It features actors Mena Massoud (Aladdin), Naomi Scott (Jasmine), Will Smith (Genie), and Nasim Pedrad (Dalia)
Image courtesy of Disney

Disney has lately been obsessed with remaking many of their animated classics into live-action spectacles. This meant that a new retelling of Aladdin was inevitable. Upon its release, the 1992 classic earned praise for its animation, music and characters, most notably the brilliant performance of Robin Williams as the Genie. It also grossed more than $504 million worldwide, making it the highest grossing film of 1992. So, with Disney eager to take their brands and generate millions from families and nostalgic adults, why not repackage an already massive brand?

This retelling, directed by Guy Ritchie, certainly has its flaws. But there is plenty here that’s surprisingly well-done. Ritchie takes advantage of a likable cast and a few new story directions, and creates a fun enough fantasy flick. This new Aladdin certainly does not hold a candle to the 1992 movie, but it does find its own groove and personality. 

Wish 1: A Great Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie

The standout element of 1992’s Aladdin was the Genie. The lively voice of Williams and the stunning character animation from Eric Goldberg were revolutionary in the field of both voice acting and animation. And in 2019’s Aladdin, Genie’s still the standout. Smith’s vibrant and energetic performance manages to retain some of Williams’ personality, while still making the role his own. He’s easy-going, a wisecracker, and hilarious all in one. In many ways, he’s like a magical Hitch. He even has a sweet subplot where he falls in love with a handmaiden in the palace, played by Nasim Pedrad.

As for its two stars, Aladdin and Jasmine, both actors really pull off their characters. Mena Massoud has plenty of charm as the titular thief, and is easy to root for. It’s almost as if he was born to play the role. And while Massoud is great as Aladdin, Naomi Scott is even better as Jasmine. Not only does she pack an incredible singing voice, the script, penned by Ritchie and John August, gives her good material to work with. She has a stronger urge to become a Sultan and fight for her people compared to the original movie. And while not every moment works, it gives a solid amount of depth, and Scott sells many of these moments. Scott and Massoud also have wonderful chemistry that makes them a lovely couple to watch and root for.

Genie (Will Smith) talks to Aladdin (Mena Massoud) about how to talk to Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Image courtesy of Disney
Image courtesy of Disney

Wish 2: A Script that Tries Unique Directions

One of the more interesting elements is how screenwriter John August, alongside Ritchie, took the famous story in unique directions. It is still more or less the original movie, but with a few added character moments and depth. And while not all of these elements work, there’s a lot to enjoy. Jasmine cares less about marriage, and more about having stronger political power to support her people. The Genie emphasizes the greed people have when given three wishes. Jafar is a former thief with a lust for imperialism. They don’t reinvent the narrative, but they all bring interesting dynamics and elements to the story.

Wish 3: A…Passable Execution

Of course any good script can fall apart due to poor direction. And while Aladdin is still entertaining, there are plenty of rocky moments that bring down the film. This is especially true when it comes to Jafar, the villain. His backstory is compelling, and his relationship with Aladdin is interesting. But Jafar’s actor, Marwan Kenzari, is dull, without a hint of menace or threat in his performance. A severe downgrade from the 1992 film.

The first half hour is also mediocre. The film rushes to introduce each main character, and it leads to a lukewarm beginning. Somehow, the 128 minute movie feels more rushed than the 90 minute classic. It does pick up once Will Smith enters the picture. But it does lead to a mediocre start that hurts the overall entertainment value.

But perhaps the biggest issue is how restrained Aladdin feels in terms of direction. As a director, Guy Ritchie is famous for his madcap style. However, none of that is here. It’s a rather watered down version of Ritchie’s usual direction. One can consider this a benefit for people not into Ritchie’s style. But a lot of the fun of the 1992 Aladdin was its madcap aesthetic. With it being so watered down, what makes this This is especially apparent in some of the musical numbers. While some do work, especially Genie’s solo number Friend Like Me, they never seem to take advantage of the scope and scale that these numbers truly deserve. And while said numbers would likely have never held a candle to the 1992 Aladdin, due to the downgrade in medium, it definitely could have been better.

Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Jasmine (Naomi Scott) walk through the streets of Agrabah. Image courtesy of Disney
Image courtesy of Disney

In Conclusion…

Aladdin is a bit frustrating. Here is a film on the verge of greatness, but some sloppy execution holds it back. However, the likable cast and a few fun sequences help it stay afloat, making it a fun enough family blockbuster. It will be interesting to see how this compares to the future retelling of The Lion King this July.

Read my reviews for Christopher Robin and Mary Poppins Returns