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About Last Night: My Honest Take on Live Action Aladdin

Last night, the new live action Aladdin film was finally released in theaters. The initial trailers looked a little rough but as the film got closer they were piquing my interest more and more. So when the time finally came, we went ahead and caught it on the first night. And it’s taken me the last 12 or so hours (admittedly some of them asleep) to organize my thoughts about it – because I have a lot of them.

I’ll say going in that, while the film stays relatively close to the original, the following does include a few light spoilers. So between that and the fact that I’d love you to form your own opinion before you read mine, you might want to bookmark this and read it later if you haven’t seen it yet.

That being said, let’s jump in:

THE GOOD:

1. Godzilla: King of Monsters. Okay, I’m being a little tongue in cheek here. But damn does every preview for this movie get me more excited to see it. And it’s not just because that haunting overlay of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is creepy and amazing.

But that aside…

2. It’s Visually Stunning. Let’s just get this out of the way, because if someone with Disney’s budget couldn’t make live action Aladdin a feast for your eyes, something would be very, very wrong. The costumes (setting aside, perhaps, Prince Ali’s orignal makeover) are incredible. The backdrops are appropriately full of color. The grander scenes, like the introduction of Prince Ali with its classic song, are a feast for the eyes. It’s everything visually that a live action Disney film with the blessing of a Moroccan/Indian aesthetic should have been from a visual standpoint. Oh – and the final wedding dance scene is perhaps worth the price of admission alone. Setting aside the gorgeous costumes and set, fun music, and great moves, I felt like we were FINALLY getting to see the actors let loose and bring their own personalities unapologetically to the screen…but more on that later.

3. Genie’s Overarching Storyline. Setting aside Will Smith as a whole for a moment, because I have a lot to say there, the overarching storyline of Genie that begins and ends the film was incredibly touching. At that moment when you put two and two together at the end (and I won’t say more here) the entire audience audibly sighed happily. 

4. Jasmine’s Handmaid. I don’t even care about her bizarrely forced accent. She was hilarious. If they made an entire spinoff movie about just her and Genie I would be the first in line to see it. She was the reason for 90% of my laughs and the parts where she was on screen were by far the standout moments of the whole movie. She seemed like the only person in the film unshakingly unafraid of her part – and perhaps that’s because she was the only main character that didn’t exist in the orignial movie so she didn’t have anything to live up to or over-imitate – but still. She was hilarious and one of the few things about the movie that made it rise above a regurgitated and unnecessary retelling of the original for me.

5. A Whole New World. This performance is spectacular. It was the one vocal that blended seamlessly and (spoiler alert) made me glad that Naomi Scott got the part.

6. Will Smith. If you were going into this movie worried about Will Smith…well…you’re going to leave with bigger fish to fry. Don’t get me wrong – there are issues, and we’re going to talk about them, but when he hits his stride and plays Genie his way, it’s FANTASTIC. His performance during Prince Ali might not make my playlists at home – but I don’t think it was supposed to. These weren’t vocal remakes. They were performances. When he stops worrying about emulating Robin Williams’ character and just lets loose and plays Genie in his own way, it’s brilliant. I wanted so much more of this in the movie. It almost felt like half way through filming he embraced his version of the role and hit his stride and I kind of wish they’d gone back and refilmed the original stuff after that happened. (And as a lighter aside, I’m really happy that they found a way to make him not-blue for most of the movie.)

And that brings us to THE BAD:

1. Will Smith. Sigh.

Oh Will. I wanted so much more of YOU in this movie – especially after being teased with how great you could be in certain scenes. The scenes when you were just you – in Prince Ali, when you fabulized Aladdin, when you were excited to be at the party, and when you showed your genuine love for Aladdin – were so. damned. good. But I’ll be totally honest and say that your acting in that first scene had me HELLA worried about going into the rest of this movie. I get that you weren’t trying to remake the songs from a vocal point of view – but after seeing the bit of flavor that you added to the vocals in the final dance scene I wish I could have seen more of your style in other places. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the role. When he hits his stride it’s great stuff. His interactions with the Handmaid make the whole movie. But seeing how good he could be left me wishing we’d seen more of it.

2. The Sultan.What in the world happened here? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character on screen in a live action Disney movie fall so flat. This role could have been such a playful part of the movie, especially given the humor that he brought to the original. Instead we got a throwaway character that made me zone out every time he was on screen.

3. Jafar. What we saw of Jafar’s character in the previews had more than just me concerned and…yeah…those concerns panned out. At the most basic level, if you watch the original, Jafar is a BIG character. Everything about him, from his stature to his voice to his ambitions to his pure evil are larger than life. And in the end, Marwan Kenzari just falls flat in filling that role. But that’s not my real beef with the character. Nor is the fact that it makes NO sense that Aladdin was just a prince in image when Genie changed him but Jafar was apparently “really” sultan enough for their “most loyal soldier” to feel the need to recognize him. Because bad acting is something that I could have laughed about and not thought of again and storytelling license is always the stuff of Disney movies. My real beef with Jafar is that they teased us with what could have been SO much more. There are a couple of scenes – particularly the one where he convinces Aladdin to get the lamp and perhaps also when he offers to team up with Aladdin – where we get a glimpse into what could have been a powerful new storyline for him. A hint of explanatory background and depth. When he compares his roots to Aladdin’s, I was momentarily SO intrigued. Because the live action Disney movies that hit home for me are the ones that are more thoughtful than the originals. The ones that develop flat characters instead of regurgitating old storylines with bigger budgets. The live action version of Cinderella was a brilliant retelling of the original that gave depth to once simple characters. Maleficent gave backstory and immeasurable depth to a character that was previously just flat evil. These movies weren’t retellings – they were further depth into old stories. When Jafar briefly alluded to this background, I was so hopeful that we were getting more here. When he says “Steal an apple and you’re a thief. Steal a kingdom and you’re a statesman,” I’m pretty sure I audibly gasped. But then it’s just dropped and never revisited. And so in the end – like the bits of amazing from Will Smith that I mentioned above – I was just left realizing how this delightful-enough little live action flick could have been SO much more.

4. Jasmine. And speaking of a role that could have been more. I don’t even want to tiptoe into the territory of Naomi Scott’s ethnic background – though, seeing how it panned out on screen, I could. Instead I want to focus again on how aggravating the tease of MORE was with her character. Don’t get me wrong. She’s a beautiful woman. She has a gorgeous voice. And her acting was…fine enough. But again we have a character that teases a stray from her original storyline just enough to leave me aggravated. Spoiler alert, but the big change to the movie – aside from the new overarching storyline for Genie – is that Jasmine wants to be sultan herself and is finally awarded the role by her father. And then SHE is the one that changes the law so that she can marry her street rat. And don’t get me wrong. I dig that. But it’s forced into the movie so coarsely that it just feels like a bald nod to women’s rights in a movie that’s from 2019 instead of the original 1992. Like some man at the top was like, “Let’s shove some feminist stuff into this new one to make it unique and new!!” instead of actually developing Jasmine as a strong female character. Because I’ll be totally honest with you. 1992 Jasmine is a tougher chick than 2019 Jasmine. 1992 Jasmine owns her sexuality in a way that this 2019 flick seems scared to portray in a live action movie. 1992 Jasmine worked it. 1992 Jasmine seduced Jafar and worked a slave bikini and survived a slowly filling hourglass while 2019 Jasmine just hovered in midair in a dress. I’m sorry Naomi. I’m not going to bring your ethnicity into this because I don’t need to. All in all your character – like Jafar’s and, at times, Will Smith’s Genie, just hurt because you made me realize what a great movie this could have been if someone had taken the time to develop new ideas.

Also? Her song Speechless is beautiful but felt SO forced into the scene each time she sang it. My 6 year old actually looked over at me at one point and asked “Why does she keep randomly singing?” Which perhaps more succinctly sums up this movie than anything I’ve written myself here.

5. It’s Not Dark Enough. You guys. The original Aladdin is a DARK movie. It might be full of jokes and fun and songs – but it’s dark. A great retelling of this movie needed to embrace that and add levity – not just focus on costumes and Will Smith quips and bald feminist statements.

I didn’t care about leaving wanting to download a new soundtrack – but I did care about leaving feeling like the story had been retold for a reason. If all that Disney is going to do with these live action flicks is retell old stories with real people and bigger budgets, then fine I suppose. There will always be an audience at them and I’ll likely be in it. But if you want us to watch these movies again and again, then they’re going to need to be more than the originals. Because, am I glad that I saw this? Sure. It’s a lovely little flick even if the acting was at times strained and I did look at my watch a few too many times. But will I be buying it for home or otherwise watching it again and again? Sadly, no.

Because my biggest complaint about live action Aladdin isn’t that it wasn’t good. It was that it made me see – with glimpses into Will Smith owning his role and a tease of Jafar’s background and Jasmine’s desire to be sultan and so much more – how GREAT this movie could have been. But then failed to fully deliver on any of it. Which in the end left me so much more aggravated than just a bad movie would have.

So in the end: Do I think you should see it? Sure. It’s lovely and fun and the Handmaid alone makes it worthwhile. Do I think you’re going to love it and watch it again and again? Maybe? But I didn’t and, sadly, I won’t.

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