Covideodrome: Aladdin (2019)

Better than the original

A temporary replacement for TMINE’s Orange Thursday feature in which I review a readily available movie you’ve probably already seen

Streaming services, but particularly Disney+ have been among the biggest beneficiaries of lockdown. I guess someone has to be, I guess?

Trouble is, they’re struggling a bit to add new stuff. That means you’re basically restricted to whatever they had in the pipeline pre-Covid and their back catalogue. And in Disney+’s case, that pipeline is basically zilch, so we’ve been working our way through the archive.

I’ve already documented our journey so far through all those old Disney movies we’ve somehow missed. Since then, we’ve not watch that much more, but having watched the original cartoon Aladdin (1992), we decided to watch the live action Aladdin (2019), which saw Will Smith take over the role of the genie from Robin Williams.

Now, I have to say, we were braced for the worst. Disney’s live-action remakes have generally been sub-standard. They’ve been okay, just not that great, particularly when compared to the originals.

And here we were presented with something that not only didn’t feature Robin Williams and featured Will “bit of a career slump” Smith, not only didn’t have any big names or cast, not only was live action, but it was directed by none other than Guy Ritchie.

Yes, him. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels himself. I mean, this was going to be bland at best.

But you know what? We actually really enjoyed it. Not only was it in some ways an improvement on the original and the best of the many live action remakes we’ve now seen, Aladdin (2019) it’s enjoyable as almost any of the classic Disney cartoons we’ve seen, too.

Blimey, guv’nor.

Aladdin (2019)

Available on Disney+

Plot

Aladdin, a kind thief, woos Jasmine, the princess of Agrabah, with the help of Genie. When Jafar, the grand vizier, tries to usurp the king, Jasmine, Aladdin and Genie must stop him from succeeding.

Stars: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen and Numan Acar

Will Smith in Aladdin

TMINE verdict

For the most part, if you’ve seen Aladdin (1992), you’ll know how Aladdin (2019) goes. Largely, it’s a relatively faithful remake of the cartoon, with virtually all the main plot points the same, all the songs the same, the characters the same and the dialogue the same.

But as we saw in TMINE’s previous round-up of classic Disney movies, as time has progressed, so has Disney’s politics. And while 1992’s Disney output might not have seemed politically incorrect at the time, 30 years’ perspective and distance can reveal a few things that were maybe a little ill-judged.

And we’re not talking about the almost entirely white cast of the original, here. Princess Jasmine pretending to be mentally ill to escape from a problematic situation? Hmm. That’s going to get complaints. Princess Jasmine finding salvation in marriage? Have they not seen Brave?

So colour me staggered if it’s not Guy “Snatch” Ritchie who actually updates Aladdin for modern sensibilities. We’ve got a largely Middle Eastern cast. Jasmine (spoiler alert) gets to be ruler at the end . There’s even a touch of female gaze in Aladdin’s attempts to woo Jasmine, thanks to some fun interactions between her and her handmaiden Nasim Pedrad (Mulaney, Scream Queens).

The Fresh Prince of Agrabah

And between Pedrad and Smith. Because while clearly this isn’t a piece of Robin Williams improv, it is a script tailored to Smith, who gets to be far more of a character in the action than Williams did. This is a genie who helps Aladdin with the ladies, joins in with the song and dance, and tries to woo Pedrad himself. He (or at least someone who looks a lot like him) adds a new narrative framing to the movie as well, which when explained adds more depth to the script.

There’s also naturally a fascinating, but understated subtext to Smith’s character, who after all is an enslaved black man, and his constant desire for freedom that resonates today with Black Lives Matter (and #blackAF).

But the script doesn’t stop with Smith, and adds depth to almost all the supporting characters. Marwan Kenzari’s evil Jafar now gets to be ‘evil Aladdin’, with a fleshed out, class-based back story and extra skills. Similarly, the Sultan is no longer simply a dotty old man, but is a reasonably smart ruler who’s simply under the effects of magic.

There are some great set-pieces, some actual comedy, and Smith’s presence enhances things and updates the story.

If I had to quibble, it’s that Jasmine’s maybe a bit poe-faced and too much like a driven career women, rather than a princess. But otherwise, this is great and well worth a rewatch, even if you’ve seen the original.

TMINE rating

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.