Will Smith, left, and Mena Massoud star in "Aladdin," which will be previewed at Disney's Hollywood Studios and aboard the Disney Cruise Line. (Walt Disney Pictures)
California School of the Arts

Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ — a nostalgic, vibrant live-action remake of the original classic

The classic Disney film “Aladdin,” from the folk tale book “The Arabian Nights” comes to life in the live-action remake of the same name, directed by Guy Ritchie. The storyline follows a kind-hearted thief and street urchin, Aladdin (Mena Massoud), who steals to survive in the streets of Agrabah.

In an unusual series of events, he falls in love the princess of Agrabah, Jasmine (Naomi Scott), and comes upon a lamp that possesses a powerful genie (Will Smith). However, standing in his way between him and the princess is Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), an evil Grand Vizier hoping to manipulate his way to becoming the Sultan. Aladdin’s mischievous monkey Abu and a flying carpet accompany our hero along his journey to help Jasmine save the land of Agrabah.

This movie isn’t exactly a shot-for-shot remake of the original and instead develops a slightly new take on the ending as well as the story’s origin. It confirms that the story is in fact being told by the genie, as many people speculated from the original animated version, and gives Jasmine a new sense of power, especially with her solo number “Speechless,” written by Alan Menken, known for his scores for a plethora of Disney films and “The Greatest Showman’s” Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Will Smith playing the role of Genie, bring his own style and flair to the film while still paying homage to Robin Williams’ performance in the original film. His eccentric, comedic, and sympathetic side shines through as Genie develops a strong friendship with Aladdin. The thrilling action with Aladdin’s parkour stunts and dazzling performances with the help of Genie bring the music and vibrancy of the film to life.

Recreating songs like “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” showcase a circus-like performance of magic, animals, and dance that audiences are sure to enjoy. There has been some backlash against rap remixes by Will Smith on some of the classic Disney songs, but we must remember that this film isn’t just meant for the generation that grew up with Aladdin, but the new one as well. A changing culture means a changing media and in all honesty, as a fan of rap and hip-hop myself, Smith’s rapping throughout the credits strongly showcases his flow, lyricism, and rapping ability.

Marian Kenzari’s portrayal of Jafar doesn’t come off as threatening as the original film’s villain, but he still does the character justice as an antagonist who can and will destroy anybody in his way to rule Agrabah and gain power. Naomi Scott, who previously portrayed the Pink Ranger in the 2017 Power Rangers film as well as Mohini “Mo” Banjaree in the well-loved Disney Channel original film “Lemonade Mouth,” takes on a completely different persona in this film, continuing her streak of taking on iconic roles especially for the younger generation.

Accompanying Jasmine is a new character, Dalia, played by Nasim Pedrad, known for her five seasons as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. These additions to the classic story do not take away from its original story, but instead show more of the life and the people of Agrabah. Dalia’s character also acts to humanize Genie and gives the movie further perspective of Agrabah.

Through it all, “Aladdin” never loses its core message of courage and self-identity, but more importantly, shows young girls around the world that they have the power to show their own voice. Aladdin experiences the same internal conflict where he struggles to be himself while embodying the role as a prince. In fact, many of our main characters experience change in their trials and tribulations, ending the film with a new sense of courage, power, and sense of self, especially Jasmine, and even her father, the Sultan of Agrabah.

Although I’ve seen and heard the tale of Aladdin many, many times throughout my life, this remake was still as captivating and interesting as my first experience watching the animated film, almost even more so. The new, modern twists on each character captured my attention while radiating a strong sense of nostalgia and enchantment.

“Aladdin” comes out on May 24.

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