More than 25 years after the original and beloved animated film premiered in theaters, Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie and Abu return to the big screen in Disney’s second live-action adaptation of the year. Out today, “Aladdin” features the classic songs and hi-jinks from 1992, plus an expanded role and explosive new song for Princess Jasmine.
Very few alterations were made for the premise of the live-action adaptation. Aladdin (Mena Massoud), a thief and street rat, meets Jasmine (Naomi Scott) during a brief escape from the palace, but is arrested before he can return to woo her. Sent into the Cave of Wonders by Jafar, Aladdin retrieves the lamp only to discover that he is now master to an all powerful Genie (Will Smith). This film contains slightly more politicking and warfare than the first rendition, but the brightest new addition is Jasmine’s handmaiden, Dahlia (Nasim Pedrad).
After an exceptionally slow start, “Aladdin” really picks up and turns into a real summer movie romp. Someone in editing needed to hit the brakes when the final cut of this movie landed at over two hours. The first 25 minutes did not inspire much hope, inching along without many jokes and with a lot of meaningful gazes over the horizon. As expected, Genie is the catalyst of the film and once his character arrives the movie jolts into action.
The last 90 minutes of the film are colorful, invigorating and downright fun. The staging of musical numbers in the film is transformative from the original. “Prince Ali” is transformed into a citywide hip hop parade, and “Friend Like Me” arrives as a Broadway epic. Jasmine’s new song of the movie, “Speechless” is staged in a very risky manner, that could come off as unbelievably cheesy and weird, if not for the impact of lyrics and the power of performer Naomi Scott.
My favorite part of the film was the character of Dahlia, played by Nasim Pedrad. Pedrad is so funny and charming in this role. As a handmaiden she could easily play a subservient advice machine to Jasmine, but Dahlia instead is insightful, hilarious and nervous. Pedrad plays Dahlia as just the right balance of sweetly docile and snarky, and her interactions with Genie shine from their first introduction.
There is some critical thinking to be done about the aesthetic of the film. When “Aladdin” first came to screen in the 90s, the all white cast, harem chic wardrobe and pan-Arabian visual mush more acceptable and less scrutinized. But, it’s been 25 years. The diverse cast is at least regionally appropriate, a fact crowed by promotion of the film (though it seems like a requirement at this point, not a bonus). However, there is still a harem of women, belly dancing and some mysterious Bollywood influences. These factors do not necessarily take away from the film in the moment, but are issues that should have been explored more in the year 2019.
Overall, “Aladdin” is a blast. Plan to be underwhelmed by the first act, but overwhelmed by the rest of the film. And be sure that you have the soundtrack downloaded and ready to sing along to on the car ride home, because this movie is non-stop ear worms.