Disney threw people off when they announced that Guy Ritchie would direct the live-action reboot of 'Aladdin' this year. Ritchie is a filmmaker best known for his R-rated crime romps that move at breakneck speed ('Snatch', 'RocknRolla') and this was one of the most beloved children’s movies of all time. How does it make sense?
The answer: It just does. 'Aladdin', much like the 1992 original animation that it is remaking — and much like Ritchie’s body of work — is flashy, stylised and loud. Under Ritchie’s hand, it’s a fast-moving narrative interspersed with delicately sped up — and slightly choppy — dance routines and foot chases. No, Ritchie doesn’t leave his mark explicitly on the film, but you will feel him in the vibrancy, the volume and the action.
Visually, the movie looks like it just lost a game of paintball. Which is not a bad thing. There’s colour everywhere. Pinks, yellows and blues burst through in every frame, in a similar vein to the original animation, which took us — and let us just get this one off our chest — to a whole new world. The world of Agrabah.
Agrabah is a fictional land in the Middle East, located somewhere along The Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes. The film features several dance sequences that look straight out of Bollywood — and there was an off-screen suggestion that Scott’s Jasmine is only from Agrabah on her father’s side, not her mother’s.
In an interview, Ritchie calls Agrabah a “sort of multicultural fantasia.” Whether fans will be able to appreciate it for what it is, remains to be seen. But Disney have taken strides to include the Arabic language in subtle moments. You will hear Arabic being spoken in the background of scenes at the market, and you will see some Arabic written in books and across scrolls. Even the pronunciation of certain words will sound, in some small way, more authentic.
Thematically, the film deals with a lot of adult stuff. Aladdin is a mischievous street thief who steals out of necessity, and whose only family is a monkey named Abu. Princess Jasmine, meanwhile, is kept away from the public because of her father’s worry over her life. When the two meet, they must figure out how to make their different worlds overlap. Throw in a wish-granting Genie who’s been stuck in the confines of a brass lamp for too long, and the vilanous Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) who cares only for himself. Murderous greed, conditional love and lifelong servitude are met head-on with revelations of self-sacrifice, friendship and freedom — the last of which is communicated in a moment where Genie is, literally, freed from his shackles.
Robin Williams voiced the Genie in the 1992 animation and became, indubitably, the heart and soul of the film. His energy was unforgettable — and his performances stuck with generations of viewers. So, Will Smith had a big act to follow. But Smith — known for his larger-than-life personality and infectious joy — did not hesitate to make the Genie his own. It’s hard to make comparisons between Williams and Smith — and you won’t really feel the need to.
Mena Massoud ('Open Heart', 'Jack Ryan') as Aladdin and Naomi Scott ('Lemonade Mouth', 'Life Bites') as Jasmine — both relative newcomers — knocked it out of the park nonetheless. The pair is young and, for the brief time we’re watching them gallivanting around the world on a magic carpet, totally in love.
Nostalgia runs rampant in the film’s stellar soundtrack. 'Speechless', a new song written just for Naomi Scott’s Jasmine, was truly her 'Let It Go' moment; the track brims with emotion thanks to Scott’s dedicated performance. But it’s the tried and true classics — 'Arabian Nights', 'Prince Ali', 'A Whole New World' — that will stick themselves to your brain cells and refuse to let up for weeks after. You’ve been warned.
The film does try to update the 1992 version which was not without its flaws. But the changes are most apparent when it comes to Jasmine. Outside of having Raja, a tiger companion, the writers added a female friend in Jasmine’s handmaid, Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), and focused on the Princess’ ambitions as a politician and as a leader, as well as her close relationship with her father, the Sultan (Navid Negahban). Ultimately, Aladdin is a story of young romance that brings people from two different worlds together. But it’s also the story of friendship, family and the bonds that keep us human in the face of corruption. It’s an ode to standing strong in your own light, rather than trying to manufacture a flashier version of you in the noble pursuit of happiness — and in the hopes of being loved back.
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'Aladdin' is out in the UAE on May 23.