A Live Action Remake Fit For A Prince

Here we go again!  Another live action Disney adaptation.  It is tough going into these new films, especially for those of us who grew up with the originals.  The Disney classics are undoubtedly difficult to re-create (they are classics, after all); fans are going into these live action remakes expecting them to do justice to the original.  That can surely lead to disappointment.  And I think we all know, deep down, that none of these remakes will ever come close to the magic of the original animated classics.  I have seen a fair amount of these remakes since they started coming out (although I have not seen all of them yet) and I have to say that despite its weaknesses, Aladdin is probably one of the stronger live action remakes so far.

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As far as an adaptation of the original film, director Guy Ritchie’s take on it is actually fairly faithful to the original.  Stylistically, it also reminded me a little of the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast in that the sets and costumes – although matching the style and colour of the originals – have been updated in a way that is more regionally appropriate for the setting of the film.  Like Beauty and the Beast it also modernizes the plot so that the female lead becomes a more empowering role model.  Although Jasmine (Naomi Scott) is already a fairly strong woman in the original film with her insistence that she is not a prize to be won, the live action version of Jasmine is even better.  In the original, Jasmine must marry before her sixteenth birthday simply because that is the law.  In this film, her marriage is of peripheral importance.  The issue is not that she must marry because of the law; she must marry because a woman cannot become sultan.  Jasmine’s goal in the remake is not to marry for love, it is to prove that she is capable of ruling the people of Agrabah.  And it makes her story that much more amazing when she is able to prove that she is worthy of the title of sultan.

Despite the more empowering messages within the plot and the faithfulness to the source material, this film had a rough start.  Although the music was decent, the opening numbers were pretty bad.  Personally, I feel like it was the camera work and editing in those scenes that contributed to the unpolished feel of the movie early on.  Luckily, however, once Aladdin (Mena Massoud) ventured into the Cave of Wonders (Frank Welker) things started to pick up.  The introduction of the Genie (Will Smith) really helped to improve the film, and by the time we got to the elaborate musical number for “Prince Ali” the film was fantastic.

Whereas the original film score was more along the lines of a classic Disney musical, this version had more of a hip hop/middle eastern flair.  Additionally, new songs were added and certain lyrics had been updated in existing songs.  This helped to modernize the music and I felt that this made the soundtrack much more appropriate for a contemporary audience.  The addition of the new songs was especially useful in the characterization of Jasmine as it gave her more of a voice within this film compared to the original and added more towards making her a stronger character.

Jasmine wasn’t the only character who was updated.  Many of the characters in the film were both the same as their animated counter parts on a basic level, and yet new and improved.  Background characters like the guard Hakim (Numan Acar) were more fleshed out and multifaceted.  There were reasons behind his actions and it made him more likable as a character.  And although I originally had an issue with the casting of a younger actor in the role of Jafar (since the animated film constantly draws attention to how old he is) I found that I agreed with the casting choice once I watched the movie.  Live action Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) was set up as a direct parallel to Aladdin.  They both started as thieves on the street looking to improve their situations, but Jafar is an example of what can go wrong in that scenario.  When Aladdin realizes he needs to retain the Genie in order to keep up the pretense of nobility, he experiences a brief shift in character in which he is in danger of becoming the kind of man Jafar is.

And, of course, the Genie also receives an overhaul.  No one can come close to re-creating what Robin Williams did in the original animated film, so although I was hoping for a Genie that would pay homage to the original, I also wanted to see something new.  Since Will Smith was taking over in this iconic role, I was expecting to see a more hip hop kind of Genie.  I was not disappointed.  Although the fact that blue version of the Genie was more “CG” than “live action” was a little disappointing for me, overall I didn’t really have that much of a problem with him.  Honestly, based on what I had seen in the trailers, I was expecting him to look worse.

Visually, this has probably been my favourite live action Disney remake so far.  And in terms of the story line, I really appreciated the way they made Jasmine an even stronger character than she was before.  Apart from that less than perfect start, this film was really wonderful and I would absolutely watch it again.

(P.S. Is anyone else disappointed that the Genie didn’t make a joke about turning Aladdin into a “fresh” prince”?)

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