Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban and Nasim Pedrad
Reviving and modernizing a respected and timeless tradition can be a daunting task, but when driven by visionary leaders, the journey can be less daunting and more rewarding. That’s certainly the case for the characters and narrative, as well as the overall reimaging, of the new adventure comedy, ‘Aladdin,’ which is the live-action remake of the beloved, Oscar-winning 1992 Disney animated film of the same name.
‘Aladdin’s director, Guy Ritchie, who also co-wrote the musical’s script with screenwriter John August, a frequent collaborator of recent Disney alum, Tim Burton (the director of this spring’s live-action ‘Dumbo‘ remake), perfectly preserves and updates the resilience and integrity of the story’s versatile characters. From the title protagonist to Princess Jasmine and the Genie, the characters all dare to step outside of their comfort zones to obtain their dreams in a whole new world in the upcoming fantasy film, which Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures is set to release in theaters this Friday.
‘Aladdin’ is set in the fictional kingdom of Agrabah, where the streets are home to the title protagonist (Mena Massoud), who’s eager to leave his life of petty thievery behind, as he believes that he’s destined for greater things. Across town, the Sultan’s daughter, Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), harbors dreams of her own. She longs to experience life beyond the palace walls and use her title to better serve the people of Agrabah, but her father is overprotective and her handmaiden, Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), keeps close tabs on her. The Sultan (Navid Negahban) is preoccupied with finding a suitable husband for his daughter, while Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), his loyal and trusted advisor and a powerful sorcerer, is frustrated with the Sultan’s passive stance on Agrabah’s future, and is devising a plan to assume the throne himself.
Aladdin comes to Jasmine’s rescue when she visits the marketplace and is disguised as a commoner. He’s immediately struck by her beauty and fiery spirit, but has no clue about her true identity. After following her back to the palace, he eventually gets caught up in Jafar’s evil scheme, and comes into possession of a magic oil lamp intended for the sorcerer. In the process, Aladdin accidentally conjures up the Genie (Will Smith) inside. A colorful and larger-than-life presence, the Genie grants Aladdin’s wish to become someone worthy of Jasmine’s love and the Sultan’s respect, through the persona of the fictional Prince Ali. As Aladdin and the Genie become friends, Jasmine also succumbs to the protagonist’s charms. Together they embark on a dangerous and exciting adventure that will test their faith in themselves and their love for one another.
The family movie is engagingly driven by the charm and chemistry between two of its lead performers, Massoud and Scott, who effortlessly capture the wit and determination of Aladdin and Jasmine. The two characters, who come from vastly different worlds, are magically brought to the screen as kindred spirits. They learn to rely on each other to overcome their insecurities about not only their respective personal losses in their families, but also the fact that they feel as though they haven’t been given the right opportunities to grow.
The actor and actress perfectly highlight their characters’ mutual figurative journey around the world, as they learn to appreciate the opportunities they have in Agrabah to grow and help others. Aided by the alluring wit and persistence in Smith’s portrayal of the supportive Genie, Aladdin and Jasmine prove that they’re destined to be together as they strive to achieve their goals of helping their community. Their mutual explorations into their self-discovery emphasizes their universally endearing and good-hearted nature that’s extremely relatable and timely in today’s society.
The physicality and stunt work that help drive the buildup of the engaging new relationship between Aladdin and Jasmine also helps infuse comedic elements into the relatable story. From Massoud expertly jumping between rooftops and through windows, in order to escape his pursuers when he steals or breaks into the palace, to him whimsically dancing at the Agrabah palace when he first arrives in the kingdom to win Jasmine’s heart as Prince Ali, to the princess commandingly singing the intimate and personal song, ‘Speechless,’ as she makes her way through a crowd of Jafar’s men during one of his attempts to overtake the throne, the performers authoritatively take control of their environments.
Not only do the emotional arcs and physicalities of Aladdin, Jasmine and their fellow cohorts shine through during the comedy, due to the actors’ powerful performances, but so do the visuals and score. The talented creative team that supported Ritchie as he brought the cherished story to life was led by the exceptional cinematographer, Alan Stewart, who highlighted the Emmy Award-winning production design by Gemma Jackson and choreography by Jamal Sims.
Principal photography on ‘Aladdin’ took place on practical stages at Longcross Studios and Arborfield Studios in the U.K. and on location in Jordan, which highlights how Agrabah is a bustling trading city that stands in the trade crossroads between the East and the West. Jackson made Agrabah feel as though it’s a contemporary multicultural gateway to the Eastern world, and heavily influenced by the vibrant array of colors from Arabia and Arab culture.
Such elements as the Marrakesh pink walls of the courtyard and market stalls and the narrow alleys and cluttered rooftops also stunningly accommodated the filming of Sims’ choreography in such musical numbers as ‘One Jump Ahead’ and ‘Prince Ali.’ The palace interiors, including the massive Great Hall and the sumptuous throne room, are also spectacular, as they feature such notable pieces as magnificent marble floors, beautiful archways, ornate wooden carvings and massive tapestries.
Not only do the visuals help drive the thought-provoking and equally enjoyable and fun story, but so does the impressive score from composer Alan Menken. While Ritchie had never directed a musical before ‘Aladdin,’ Menken’s skilled talent as a composer helped balance the traditional and more contemporary elements of the lyrics and instrumentation, and guide the helmer’s vision for the timeless story. Menken’s new arrangements incorporate pop and hip-hop elements and showcase the musical talents of Smith and his co-stars. The composer understood Richie’s desire to take chances with the music, while also remaining respectful of the original songs.
The new ‘Aladdin’ is a thrilling and vibrant live-action adaptation of ‘Disney’s animated classic, as it highlights the exciting and charming nature of the title protagonist and the courageous and self-determined nature of Jasmine. Massoud and Scott effortlessly captured the wit and determination of their respective characters through their emotional arcs and physicalities, which are aided by the exquisite production design by Jackson and Menken’s thrilling score, all of which will surely leave audiences captivated by the stunning new world.