Review – Finally! A Remake Diamond in the Rough (“Aladdin”)

If you’ve seen the brilliant classic animated 1992 Aladdin, with the equally brilliant Robin Williams voicing the shape-shifting Genie, then you’ll be pleased to hear that THIS animated-to-live action movie doesn’t go dark & dismal (like the recent Dumbo remake) or sideways weird (like Beauty & the Beast).

As told as a 1001 Arabian Nights tale by a simple fisherman to his kids, this story begins like the animated film: handsome street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud), who’s a thief and parkour expert (and has a CGI monkey named Abu), accidentally meets a disguised Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) in the marketplace and, after they get chased by the palace guards for some petty theft, fall for each other. But Jasmine has to return to the palace to meet another wedding suitor as per her father, the Sultan (Navid Negahban), who is anything but an old fuddy-duddy.

Meanwhile, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the rather young Grand Vizier–who looks like he went to Agrabah College with Aladdin–plans on usurping the throne by getting his claws on that magic lamp inside the Cave of Wonders, but he needs an aforementioned ‘diamond in the rough’. That’s where Aladdin comes in. Seizing the opportunity, Jafar grabs Aladdin and gets him to steal the lamp, but loses his chance. Aladdin finds the lamp, rubs it, and BOOM! The blue Genie (Will Smith) pops out and the rest is by the book. . .sorta. The Genie (blue and smoke-bottomed with Aladdin, but human looking with others) makes his way in town with Aladdin’s new fresh “Prince Ali” to impress Jasmine, one of the funniest scenes of the movie.

But Jasmine, who wants to be the next Sultan, still likes the brash, young hoodlum and that cool flying, magical carpet he’s got. Kookier still is Jasmine’s wacky handmaiden, Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), who has the hots for the Genie; a new comic-relief character who is hilarious. The rest of the movie pretty much follows the animated version, except for the ending which throws in an alternate ending that fits in with the new 2019 agenda. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. It actually works quite well here and isn’t forced like other movies tend to do these days.

Let’s face it, the original is the gold standard and a much beloved film, so making a new one was a tricky thing to do. Some say, “Why do it at all?” I agree. I have seen the utter disaster in it all. That being said, this one is a rare exception. Screenwriter & director Guy Ritchie (the Sherlock Holmes franchise) and John August (the Charlie’s Angels franchise) have praised the original, added more comedy, and upped the action, thrill, wonder, and scope. They even toned down that obnoxious Iago with a regular parrot voice instead of Gilbert Gottfried’s grating words. Thank you!

But you want to know about Will Smith’s Genie, right? Right! First off, no one is better than the late, great Robin Williams. Period. Smith knew this going in and decided to do “his own thing”, giving his Genie both a refreshing human side with some added goofiness when needed, balancing the two with aplomb and hilarity without copycatting Williams. I couldn’t hate this guy if I wanted to. He’s fun, lovable and, like the song implies, your best friend. Then there’s Massoud: a ying to Smith’s yang; a comedy team in the making with their natural chemistry.

Kenzari, although dripping with evil, is way too young for the Jafar role, but does a nice job anyway. Another great pairing is Scott and Pedrad, who are just exceptional in their roles. Capping it all off is Guy Ritchie’s outstanding direction and added flair for the outrageous. If you’ve seen his Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey, Jr., you know what I’m talkin’ about.

This adaptation does a clever two-step copycat shuffle: emulating the original while carefully weaving in an alternate plot… and yes, it’s still a musical, but with many of the lyrics changes to spice things up for fun. All in all, I was genuinely surprised and happy to finally see a remake/re-imagining that I didn’t want to run out of theater screaming. BUT! Lion King, Pinocchio, Mulan, The Little Mermaid, Sword in the Stone, and (*OMG!*) Lilo & Stitch are being remade too, so…

Aladdin (1992)

Starting in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, Disney cranked out some of THE best animated films ever made! Aladdin was #3 in that glorious line and was an instant blockbuster smash hit, both with kids and adults. This, largely in part, by the unforgettable performance of the late, great Robin Williams as the big, blue Genie.

The story was simple enough with an orphaned street rat in the ancient Arabian city of Agrabah named Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weinger). He steals to live with the help of his pet monkey, Abu (Frank Welker). One day he meets the disguised Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) in the marketplace and sparks fly. . .plus he saves her life, which doesn’t hurt, either! Looks like the bored princess wants more than her provincial life, as does Aladdin. Time to cue the bad guy, and that’s evil, wicked Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), the Sultan’s Royal Vizier, and his trusty motor-mouthed parrot, Iago (Gilbert Gottfried).

Jafar, apart from wanting to usurp the throne from the senile old Sultan (Douglas Seale), wants the princess for his own. BUT! To do this he needs the magical lamp hidden inside the Cave of Wonders and the only one who can enter is on who is a “diamond in the rough”… like Aladdin. Jafar, tricking Aladdin, gets him to grab the lamp, but the cave closes up. (Thanks alot, Abu!!) However, Aladdin discovers the crazy, shape-shifting Genie (Williams) and gets his famous three wishes.

Aladdin, hell-bent on winning the Princess’ hand as a Prince (instead of himself), goes to extremes with the Genie’s help to woo her, even taking her on a magic carpet ride. The lamp gets stolen by Iago, Jafar has Aladdin almost killed by the Genie, and there’s a happy ending right around the corner right after a spectacular ending. One thing was for sure, this movie rocked!

The music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman was phenomenal; toe-tapping and instantly a hit. Everything about this movie was enjoyable, from the storyline to the terrific animation, to the LOL voice-over work of one of the funniest comedians ever. It’s no secret that Williams ad-libbed SO much of his character, that writers Ron Clements and John Musker had to re-write the Genie’s character to fit Williams’ lines!

Along with Beauty & the Beast, The Lion King, Hercules, Tarzan, Mulan, and The Little Mermaid, you are talking some of the BEST years of Disney animation that, sadly, some airhead over at the House of Mouse decided that each one MUST be remade into live-action feature films because… reasons. Weep, if the tears will come.

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