One day, on a homey boat sailing across what is most likely the Indian Ocean, someone played by Will Smith is asked by his daughter and son how he and their mother met. He first goes into a song of the Arabian nights and Arabian days, how hot and full of magic the glow of the artifacts and lamps were clashed with the sun. Enter a young scavenger rat Aladdin (played by Mena Massoud), stealing what he needs and stealing an extra bit on the side to eat. He comes across a girl sneaking a bit of bread from a platter to some kids who clearly need it way more than the muscular vendor ever will. Aladdin manages to rescue this girl with the tune of a street rat, and takes her to his hideaway where he sees the entire city and kingdom. When he walks her back to the castle, where she (that is Princess Jasmine, of course, played by Naomi Scott) says she works instead of lives, as the princess’ maidservant, she asks back a bracelet Aladdin had to borrow to trick the guards. But a misunderstanding when Aladdin realizes it’s not with him at the moment makes Jasmine believe he’s playing dumb to keep it, and she walks off, furious. Determined to set things right, he gets it back from his pal and monkey Abu, and sets off. Meanwhile, Jasmine is being pestered by suitors, her father and the kingdom practically begging for her to get married to help the country and her home. The thing is, she wouldn’t have any say in any matters; she’d just be a stamp, a proof of allegiance to some other place. With that, yeah, was there anything in that description you were actually surprised about? Aladdin’s such a famous story now, after all.
When it comes to the world this movie has made, I can’t think of anything I would change. It has that perfect combination of exquisite history and irreplaceable architectural creations yet still feels like there’s poverty and corruption in the king’s palace and within the desperate vendors.
The songs are all fine. They’re pretty intricately made to match the original as much as possible, with one or two new ones in there to show us they’re willing to make a bit of stretches. But sometimes the songs feel either forced, or badly timed. For instance, in my opinion this Jasmine is a little more self-defensive and careful, and so when A Whole New World is sung, considering the incredibly romantic lyrics, it doesn’t seem like enough romance had yet been warranted. The Street Rat song and the Arabian Night song are both beautifully choreographed, the movie doing everything in its power to make it pretty.
We get a scene where Aladdin’s new fame gets to him, he goes through some selfish thoughts, which would be fine if Massoud’s delivery didn’t sound and look like he was just reading off lines. He and Smith both felt like they were supposed to be saying much more conventionally boring lines with the attitude they gave them. Some of these performers seem to secretly find the Aladdin story a little ludicrous, performing it for real. Mena Massoud sounds and looks a lot like the original Aladdin, though the original was more expressive. Same for Naomi Scott as Jasmine. Thankfully they both can really sing. I’ll address the elephant in the room right now: Will Smith as the genie. Want my opinion? Here it is. Robin Williams is forever the true Genie. And we now live in an age where it’s no longer acceptable to cast someone white in a humongous production about an often belittled culture. The climate is just too giant. And the Genie would also have to be someone with history of being funny and over the top, so all things considered, Will Smith was, in my view, a decent role for the Genie. A few of his verses in “You’ve Never Had a Friend Like Me” don’t feel that committed.
Still, I can’t ignore how this movie is about 2 hours, and doesn’t feel that long. There are a few things that make it feel a lot more like a C+ movie, with a bit of stiff acting and a sense it is too afraid to differ, but I enjoyed a fair amount of it, enough that I think while East Asians may not feel entirely embraced into Hollywood the way the recent movie with “Crazy Rich” in the title was, it definitely embraces how pretty their sense of style and renovation is.