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This image released by Disney shows Mena Massoud as Aladdin, left, and Will Smith as Genie in Disney’s live-action adaptation of the 1992 animated classic Aladdin. (Disney via AP)
Naomi Scott as Jasmine and Mena Massoud as Aladdin.
Will Smith attends the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Rich Fury/Getty Images)
Marwan Kenzari as Jafar.
Mena Massoud as the street rat with a heart of gold, Aladdin, and Will Smith as the larger-than-life Genie in Disney’s ALADDIN, directed by Guy Ritchie.
Will Smith and Mena Massoud in Aladdin (2019). Courtesy, Disney Pictures
A third of the way through Aladdin (1992), the “streetrat”-turned-faux-Prince-Ali sneaks his way onto Princess Jasmine’s balcony. Perturbed by what she assumes to be yet another male suitor, she tells him to leave her alone, she’s no “prize to be won.” And so he does, jumping off the edge of the balcony. When Jasmine gasps, he floats back up on his magic carpet, capturing her attention. He asks her if she wants to leave the palace and “see the world.” When she asks if it’s safe, he responds with the same line he used when he first met her in the marketplace: “Do you trust me?” A wisp of recognition floats past her eyes as she takes his hand and the two go for a magic carpet ride, singing “A Whole New World.”
They fly past oceans, through gardens and between clouds, “over, sideways and under,” with “no one to tell us no or where to go or say we’re only dreaming.” When Aladdin brings Jasmine back to her balcony, she says, “Goodnight, my handsome prince.” In turn, the carpet gives Aladdin a nudge, jutting forward until his lips are against hers and the pair share their first kiss.
My sister and I would play it on repeat for years
I first saw the movie when I was five. My sister and I would play it on repeat for years, but it was that scene we endlessly rewound on our family VCR. Sometimes, when it was late or no one was home, I’d pull out the tape and fast-forward to it, sitting as close as I could to the television set. There was probably a smile on my face, my eyes the size of saucers as I quietly whispered the lyrics and wished Aladdin a “goodnight, my handsome prince.” Again and again, I’d watch it until that section of the video-tape was worn out and you couldn’t get through the film without it getting stuck there, the pair forever frozen in a kiss.
In the three decades since Aladdin came out, I can’t name one other western romance featuring a South Asian or Middle Eastern cast that doesn’t position a brown protagonist as an outsider (that includes Bend It Like Beckham, Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or really any film starring Dev Patel – sorry, Dev Patel). It made Aladdin incredibly important to me, my friends and my family.
Based on an Arabic folktale from One Thousand and One Nights , Aladdin follows an orphan growing up on the streets of Agrabah, a fictional Arabian town. He’s discovered by Jafar, the Royal Vizier bent on overthrowing the king, who is in search of a “diamond in the rough,” someone who can enter the Cave of Wonders, wherein lies a magic lamp. After capturing Aladdin, the boy finds a magic carpet, the lamp and a genie inside who grants him three wishes. He uses them to turn himself into a prince in order to evade Jafar and woo Jasmine.
There was plenty of cause for concern entering in to this one
A tale as old as time, sure, but live-action adaptations of Disney animated films rarely represent improvements on their source material (ex. Dumbo, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast ). And with the remake’s biggest selling points being Will Smith as the genie and Guy Ritchie in the director’s chair, there was plenty of cause for concern entering in to this one.
While it does take half the film’s duration to accept that Will! Smith! Is! The! Genie!, his clownish portrayal and struggle to choose an accent become surprisingly endearing by the end. (Minus his rap over the credits featuring DJ Khaled. You read that correctly.) He makes you miss Robin Williams all over again, but this is a different character – this genie has a love interest, that of Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), a new and welcome addition to the story.
For the most part, the movie stays impressively honest to the original. The opening scene alone, in which Aladdin steals his way through a bazaar to the tune of “One Jump Ahead” is almost a frame-for-frame reenactment of the animated version, and has actor Mena Massoud pole-vaulting over houses and between alleys. The colours (lavenders, teals, oranges), the hand gestures (ex. a classic turning-the-lightbulb action), the costumes, the dancing is all true to its heritage. If you could take a bite out of this feast, it would taste like pistachio, almond and rosewater.
The leads, Naomi Scott (Jasmine) and Massoud (Aladdin), have a sweet chemistry, and ooze the charm of their Disney counterparts. But it’s Scott whose singing stands out, particularly during the film’s new title “Speechless,” written by La La Land ‘s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul in collaboration with original Aladdin composer Alan Menken. While it’s the kind of power balled Kelly Clarkson might belt out, and a little jarring amidst the film’s original songs, it adds empowerment to Jasmine’s struggle. In this version, her character expands; she’s upset because she wants to be able to rule herself – without a husband.
So how is Guy Ritchie the man behind all this? Aladdin has many glimmers of the adventure Ritchie brings to his Sherlock Holmes movies; swap Holmes for Aladdin and Watson for Jasmine, and you’re not far off. Ritchie also wisely focuses on his trademark aesthetically-pleasing action, placing an emphasis on the story’s nostalgia (any Disney remake’s selling point), and then plopping in a few minor, more digestible diversions. That means you’ll see Iago, but he won’t be talking because, in real life, parrots aren’t quite so verbose.
Aladdin (2019) is no improvement on Aladdin (1992). It has the misfortune of coming later, of being restricted by live-action, and of being far beyond Disney’s golden years. But it’s fun and feels like a heart-warming ode to its predecessor.
I recently played the film’s new version of “A Whole New World,” performed by Zayn, for my mom. The moment he began to sing the words we’d first listened to 25 years ago, everything rushed back and tears came to her eyes and mine. Because there’s a power in stories where you recognize yourself; perhaps it’s leant me a rose(water)-coloured filter. But that’s exactly why it’s so important that it exists, and why even a version that’s not quite perfect somehow feels as though it is.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019