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!
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.
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.