Aladdin (2019) Review

I bet you all have at least one movie that af­fect­ed you in one way or an­oth­er in your life­time. For me, this was the 1992 re­lease of Disney’s Aladdin that I first watched when I was about 11 years old. The char­ac­ters, the themes, the an­i­ma­tion, and the songs, they left such a great im­pact on me that even to­day it re­al­ly ef­fects me.

When I first heard about the live-action re­make of this movie years ago, I was both ex­cit­ed and scep­ti­cal. Excited to see what they will bring this to live-action and what changes they may bring, and I was scep­ti­cal be­cause the orig­i­nal movie was al­ready a clas­sic and even if it had small­er is­sues, the over­all movie just worked bril­liant­ly. Either way, I still promised my­self that this is go­ing to be the movie I will watch in cin­e­mas ASAP and do my best to be fair to.

Welp, I kept this promise, saw it re­cent­ly and now that I’m out of the cin­e­ma my heart is sure­ly not the same as it was.

A heads up, this re­view is spoil­er heavy. I know this is weird for a re­view, but trust me, the things I want to talk about rely on the de­tails which might be mi­nor to many, but they im­pact the over­all sto­ry and char­ac­ters heav­i­ly, de­spite the movie hav­ing more or less the same story-line as the 1992 version.

As much as I will try to be ob­jec­tive, I’m still a hu­man be­ing and there might be some stuff that are pure­ly sub­jec­tive opinions.

Now that is clear, let’s start this review!

“Aladdin and Jasmine have chem­istry that works”

The eas­i­est way for me to ex­plain how the movie is with­out many spoil­ers is that they took the orig­i­nal movie, set some key el­e­ments in that must be in no mat­ter what while also chang­ing oth­er things, such as char­ac­ter per­son­al­i­ties and how things hap­pen. This re­sults in hav­ing the same ba­sic sto­ry­line, but when you zoom in, the de­tails are quite dif­fer­ent from what we had. For the bet­ter or worse. The most no­tice­able changes are with the char­ac­ters and that’s where the main is­sues are for me.

It’s clear­ly no­tice­able they tried to tell more or less the same sto­ry with same char­ac­ter arcs for every­one, ex­cept for Jasmine. However, the char­ac­ters feel un­nat­ur­al and forced with how they were al­tered in this adaptation.

For ex­am­ple, Aladdin went from the guy who only steals food to sur­vive, street smart and with a heart of gold to ba­si­cal­ly a real thief. He got way dumb­er and just out­right un­lik­able at one point in the new ver­sion, to the point I couldn’t even sym­pa­thise with him, de­spite how hard they tried to make the au­di­ence feel bad for him.

Remember when in the an­i­mat­ed ver­sion, Aladdin got cold feet about be­com­ing sul­tan de­spite him be­ing just a street rat who want­ed love, and be­ing un­sure of his abil­i­ty to pull it off he broke his promise with Genie? Welp, that’s thrown out of the win­dow be­cause now he breaks the promise be­cause it’s bet­ter be­ing a prince… Oh and even af­ter this scene he acts like Genie should just be his lit­tle ser­vant be­cause he’s the mas­ter. And then the movie has the nerve to act like Aladdin changes for the bet­ter de­spite giv­ing next to no rea­son oth­er than just him singing a tune. Not only did this change make him less lik­able over­all, and not a true “Diamond in the Rough”, he gets even more dis­like­able as the movie progresses.

Now I do ad­mit that ear­ly on he did seem to be the Diamond in the Rough he was in the car­toon, de­spite him steal­ing for­tunes. He tried to give back the bracelet to Jasmine, to the point of stag­ing a break-in, and that was a nice touch, at least show­ing that de­spite be­ing an ac­tu­al thief, he has a good heart still. I re­al­ly liked that and had hoped for more bits like it.

Now onto Jasmine. It’s clear that the peo­ple be­hind this movie fo­cused on her the most. Not only does she get a very clear arc, but that arc also makes her more like what Aladdin should be as the movie pro­gress­es. Despite me lik­ing her char­ac­ter here per­son­al­ly, and I think she’s prob­a­bly a bet­ter el­e­ment of the movie, I can’t help but feel like they went a bit too far with her.

I get that feel­ing be­cause of all the books and oth­er source ma­te­r­i­al she’s sup­posed to be the best ruler for the peo­ple of Agrabah. Admittedly she does try to get to know her peo­ple here (al­though I found it fun­ny she did­n’t know that she needs to pay when she gave two loaves of bread to kids from a ven­dor), but I feel like her ide­olo­gies and prin­ci­ples are nev­er re­al­ly chal­lenged, not even by her fa­ther. This tells me that the cre­ators thought that Jasmine is al­ready fine as she is and only the peo­ple around are is­sues as they si­lence her.

They don’t even re­al­ly si­lence her, only Jafar does that, while every­one else lis­tens to her. Heck, even when Jafar be­comes Sultan, af­ter a speech from Jasmine every­one in the palace fol­lows her and calls her Sultana. I’m mixed on her, as part of me liked her and saw the orig­i­nal Jasmine in her, but I can’t help but feel like her ac­tu­al arc was not ex­e­cut­ed prop­er­ly and didn’t re­al­ly have her grow or learn, de­spite clear­ly get­ting from A to B in the sto­ry. The points are there, but the jour­ney from one point to an­oth­er is miss­ing. The movie is try­ing to tell me that there is a jour­ney there for her, but that mes­sage is hol­low be­cause she does not evolve.

I do have to say the ac­tors por­tray­ing Aladdin and Jasmine have chem­istry that works, es­pe­cial­ly in the first 30 min­utes. It was nice see­ing them in­ter­act­ing nat­u­ral­ly, even if this time it’s Jasmine who lies about her­self. Even in the sec­ond half where it’s weak­er, the “A Whole New World” scene is still very nice, and I would have loved more scenes like that.

Jafar is a shad­ow of him­self in this ver­sion, to the point where I couldn’t take him se­ri­ous­ly. His charis­ma and ma­nip­u­lat­ing na­ture are gone. Instead, we get a non­stop rag­ing kid who just wants to con­quer every­thing be­cause… he was a thief and was in prison for five years. Ehm… Just no. It’s down­right un­be­liev­able how he has be­came the roy­al ad­vi­sor when Iago (who is re­al­ly just a reg­u­lar par­rot here) is smarter than him. I guess the staff helped, but I just can’t see how he thinks he could rule any­thing, es­pe­cial­ly with­out the lamp.

Sorry Jafar fans, your man is gone, and in his place we got a gener­ic evil guy who is evil just be­cause peo­ple said so. No depth, no like­abil­i­ty. Nothing. Sure, they made him a bit dark­er (killed some­one and tor­tured a few peo­ple with his mag­ic), but with­out any real char­ac­ter­is­tics, it’s just hol­low and there for shock value.

Iago looks mean­er here…

The last char­ac­ter I want to ad­dress in de­tail is the Genie him­self, a ge­nie who has been trapped in the lamp for one thou­sand years be­fore Aladdin re­leas­es him. Where should I even be­gin with him? Throw every­thing that you knew about Genie be­fore this movie out the win­dow be­cause this ver­sion is noth­ing like that.

Now I did ex­pect that be­cause it’s Will Smith, and Disney clear­ly stat­ing they do not want to copy Robin Williams, was go­ing to be quite dif­fer­ent in the role, but I didn’t ex­pect them to change the very core of the char­ac­ter. Legit, he’s quite self­ish and most­ly cares about him­self and about his stuff, to the point where he tells Aladdin to stop both­er­ing him as he tries to have fun in the par­ty and even gets of­fend­ed for Aladdin touch­ing him. Heck, even in “Friend Like Me” the song was more about him and how he’s the best thing ever while not even know­ing Aladdin’s name (he even says Aladdin can’t be his real mas­ter). He’s a down­right jerk ex­cept on those key points in the sto­ry where he has to help Aladdin and fol­low the orig­i­nal movie. It sim­ply does not work and it feels like the most forced friend­ship ever.

I straight up dis­like this Genie.

I couldn’t care whether he be­came free or not be­cause he gave me no rea­son to care about him. Why should I care about a per­son who’d rather care about him­self non­stop, be­cause how dare a ge­nie not do what­ev­er the hell he wants? The fact that they had the gull to do a 180-degree turn in this ver­sion and act like Aladdin and Genie are the best bud­dies ever de­spite giv­ing us no rea­son for that till the drown­ing scene is in­fu­ri­at­ing! There’s also one more el­e­ment I want to talk re­lat­ed to this “Genie”, but lat­er as it’s mi­nor, but quite an­ger­ing to me still.

I know many will think this Genie is fine be­cause ba­si­cal­ly, it’s Will Smith there­fore it’s in­stant­ly good. However, for some­one like me who loved the Genie that we got from the orig­i­nal an­i­mat­ed fea­ture, this is just in­sult­ing. Genie was one of the most car­ing and kind­est souls I have ever seen in life or fic­tion. Despite him be­ing a slave and long­ing for free­dom, he still does his best to help peo­ple and be kind to them ei­ther by cheer­ing for them, en­ter­tain­ing them with his jokes, or sim­ply by show­ing kind­ness and car­ing. He’s a self­less sad clown that would do every­thing for his friends, even if it means giv­ing up his chance for free­dom. He sees the good in peo­ple fore­most and gives every­one a chance. His friend­ship with Aladdin to this day still touch­es my heart. How in the ac­tu­al Earth did we get from this to the al­most com­plete op­po­site? Even in the end­ing that is sup­posed to be hap­py and Genie fi­nal­ly gets free­dom in­stead of cry­ing in hap­pi­ness as I would when watch­ing the orig­i­nal I cried in see­ing how they made Genie such a jerk. Even now my heart is bleed­ing see­ing that my very favourite Disney char­ac­ter turned into this.

As for the oth­er char­ac­ters, there’s re­al­ly not much to talk about. Iago and the Sultan be­came one-note char­ac­ters and re­al­ly are just for­get­table, while the Prince and Dalia are just there… The prince is very dumb and even the char­ac­ters them­selves for­get about him while Dalia… I get what they were try­ing to go for with her. The fun­ny best friend of Jasmine who falls in love with Genie. If it sounds like some­thing you would see in fanfics, well, you are right. This is a straight OC sto­ry you find in Aladdin fanfics and not even a good one. The whole ro­mance not only is un­der­de­vel­oped with them only hav­ing one scene where they even in­ter­act with each oth­er (they don’t even know each other’s name!), but be­fore that scene they are al­ready all for the oth­er. What was the point of this whole plot­line oth­er than giv­ing a rea­son why Genie is a hu­man with kids in the open­ing scene?

A just over two-hour long movie and they couldn’t be both­ered to give any depth to this sub­plot? I can’t be­lieve fan fic­tion writ­ers did a bet­ter job at such a sto­ry­line than ac­tu­al pro­fes­sion­al writers!

To round out this part about the sto­ry and char­ac­ters, we have some changes such as re­mov­ing the no killing rule (no idea why be­cause they couldn’t even both­ered to ac­tu­al­ly do any­thing with it) and they kept up the whole bit where the king­dom of Ababwa is a run­ning gag. I guess they tried to fill this in as this was ques­tioned a bit in the orig­i­nal movie as well, but it not only was not fun­ny here, it brought up many cringy mo­ments and made Aladdin look dumb. Oh, and now they made sure peo­ple don’t think Genie owes a wish to Aladdin, as he made a con­tract with an un­con­scious Aladdin that he saves his life from drown­ing. Nothing too big, but it’s clear why they did it that way.

Now that we are fin­ished with the sto­ry and char­ac­ters, let’s talk about the sec­ond biggest part of the movie, the mu­sic, and the songs. Since I watched the movie in Hungarian, I did lis­ten to the sound­track in ad­vance just to get a pic­ture of what might be dif­fer­ent from the English ver­sions. For the most part, the tracks work, and Alan Menken is still good for mak­ing nice melodies by mix­ing old and new mu­sic tracks in.

The songs, how­ev­er, that’s a very mixed bag to say the least. Some def­i­nite­ly work, while some suf­fer from poor singing (songs with Will Smith are a prime ex­am­ple of this). Some are just a plain down­grade from the orig­i­nal ones like “Prince Ali”. It’s clear they tried to make them big­ger, with much more back­ground mu­sic in, while also try­ing to ad­just as to ac­com­mo­date Will Smith, but they end­ed up be­com­ing way too busy and noisy to the point where it’s hard to en­joy. Even “A Whole New World” los­es its charm a bit with those heavy drums in the back­ground. The only songs that re­al­ly worked for me were “One Jump Ahead”, “Arabian Nights” first half and “Speechless Part One”.

For some rea­son, most of the songs got some lyrics changes. They don’t ex­act­ly take you out the ex­pe­ri­ence, out­side in “Arabian Nights”, but they are quite no­tice­able and some­times baf­fling. I read an ar­ti­cle ear­li­er this week where Alan Menken said he changed the lyrics to be more cor­rect as the world has changed since. Alright, I get that, es­pe­cial­ly with “Arabian Nights”, but please tell me Mr. Menken, what was not cor­rect in “You are my only friend Abu” that need­ed to be changed to “I could use a friend or two”? (I ad­mit that maybe in the scene where Aladdin sang this Abu wasn’t there, but hon­est­ly for­got if that is so). It’s just a bit off-putting es­pe­cial­ly if you know the orig­i­nal songs. There was also a part in “Speechless Part Two” which is very weird. Basically, this song hap­pens af­ter Jafar takes over and is about to take Jasmine into the dun­geons. The song ba­si­cal­ly stops the movie and has Jasmine walk­ing around fu­ri­ous­ly while the peo­ple around her dis­ap­pear slow­ly but sure­ly. I get why was this put in, but the ex­e­cu­tion was quite confusing.

(Good news to Hungarian fans. The lyrics are most­ly how they were in the orig­i­nal movie and thank­ful­ly sung much bet­ter. I end­ed up singing “Arabian Nights”, “One Jump Ahead” and “A Whole New World” while watch­ing the movie. I know, most­ly nos­tal­gia fac­tor that I en­joyed that part, but hey, a good thing is good).

The spe­cial ef­fects were weird. Sometimes they looked great (Agrabah looks quite fan­tas­tic ac­tu­al­ly and the “A Whole New World” scene worked for me), while oth­er times it’s just down­right bad look­ing. Genie in his nor­mal form and in “Friend Like Me” looks no­tice­ably fake from the sub­par CGI, and Jafar in his Genie form is laughable.

The cos­tumes were a bit too Bollywood-ish some­times, but for the world they were with­in they worked enough, and I’d even ad­mit some of them looked re­al­ly nice.

The hu­mour is just bad. Really bad. Genie’s jokes are un­fun­ny and cringy, es­pe­cial­ly the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween him and Aladdin that are sup­posed to be fun­ny. Don’t even ex­pect any clever or adult-oriented jokes, be­cause you will be dis­ap­point­ed. The best ones were from the par­rot, who just kept say­ing ran­dom stuff that it just heard and that’s just em­bar­rass­ing (an­oth­er point for Hungarian dub is that they got the orig­i­nal VA of Iago for this movie. Not a big thing, but it was a pleas­ant surprise).

Honestly, as much as I tried to re­main fair with it, and even en­joyed some parts of it (es­pe­cial­ly the songs in the be­gin­ning, nos­tal­gia was too strong), I can­not for­give what they have done to beloved char­ac­ters and how the new char­ac­ters and el­e­ments not only are un­nec­es­sary and un­der­used, but also add a ma­jor plot­line for a new char­ac­ter, only to not give the min­i­mal ef­fort need­ed into flesh­ing it out, and it makes me fu­ri­ous! Sure, Aladdin 2019 on its own kind of works (though if you watch with ac­tu­al at­ten­tion you can see the is­sues in it clear­ly), but know­ing the orig­i­nal movie is out there to watch in­stead? This is in­sult­ing! I le­git stormed out of the cin­e­ma right as the cred­its start­ed to roll in (first time I did some­thing like that), fum­ing with anger. If this is what is sup­posed to be an im­prove­ment over the “flawed” orig­i­nal, I rather stick to old values.

If you are very ca­su­al about Aladdin and just take the whole movie as a stu­pid movie for kids, you can prob­a­bly watch it fine. But if you are a huge fan of the orig­i­nal movie like me, or of any char­ac­ters in it, or en­joy ac­tu­al good movies with well-thought-out char­ac­ters, just save your time and skip this mess. Go watch the orig­i­nal an­i­mat­ed movie. At least that’s a clas­sic for a very good rea­son, and it is­n’t go­ing anywhere.

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Just a girl who tries to be a de­cent per­son while try­ing to achieve her goals and dreams

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