I'm a lifelong Disney nerd, and nothing makes me more nervous than the words "live-action remake." These are pieces of our childhoods, some of our favorite movies and characters, and letting anyone play with them on the silver screen seems wrong. I refuse to entertain hope for any of them until I am halfway through the film, and Aladdin was no exception; I ignored as much of the marketing and promos as I could, grabbed myself as early a ticket as I could find, and locked my expectations in the dungeon so they wouldn't shout down the movie I came to see.
And just like the ever-escapable dungeons of Agrabah, this new take on the Arabian Nights tale broke all of my expectations out and took me on a magic carpet ride that was awkward, amazing, and updated in almost all the right places.
To call this just another Disney live-action remake is a disservice to viewers as much as it is the actors, artisans, and filmmakers who had to pull off a goddamn miracle here — and actually did it! Will Smith perfectly lands a sly, suave, and slightly jaded Genie that drives home the heart and the moral, magic soul of the story. Naomi Scott's Jasmine is a tour de force that I can cheer as a princess that takes control of her narrative and Mena Massoud's adorkably awkward Prince Ali sells his insecure but ridiculously honest Aladdin.
One of the biggest changes this go around was Jafar, who is a young, ruthlessly driven villain with a single goal for power. I found this new version to actually be more relatable, especially when he sits down with a captured Aladdin and plainly explains his proposition: "You're nothing to her, but you could be. Get me the lamp and I will make you rich enough to impress her."
It also removes the creep factor that the original cartoon had, which I wholeheartedly welcomed.
This Arab-esque storybook can feel like it's pushing at the edges of the page at times. The Bollywood choreography style employed in most of the dance scenes can seem jarring to adult viewers who have never seen it before, but it works well, especially in the palace dances. Prince Ali's introduction to Jasmine feels a bit like an off-season Disneyland parade: there's a crowd around the floats and confetti cannons while the sidestreets and the rest of the city seems almost uninhabited. For a family fairytale adventure, though, it's more than entertaining enough that you can forget the details and embrace the fun.
That said, the best moments in Aladdin are the intimate ones: Aladdin sneaking into the palace to bring Jasmine a stolen bracelet and some tea, Genie awkwardly asking even more adorkable handmaiden Dahlia on an evening stroll, Genie telling Aladdin not to get in the way of his first party in a thousand years. There's phenomenal cosmic powers and daring power moves, but it's the little things that matter most, both to the story and to finding happiness within it.
The overall morals about honesty, compassion, and empowerment are still here, but this version manages to sneak in some more wisdom that the young and the young at heart could use about drinking from the cup of power and not being "that guy" (who knows what he wants and will destroy anyone who stands in his way). Jasmine's empowerment also has a much more satisfying arc here and I want every little girl to see it and be inspired.
This update to Aladdin may not have been needed, but I'm more than happy to accept it into my Disney-nerd heart and love it just as much as the original. Go see it and fly off on a magic carpet ride.
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