Unless you own a copy of a special edition on Blu-ray or DVD (or VHS for that matter), your best chance of finding a copy of the original Aladdin from 1992 would be to go to Family Video (or better yet, the library) and try your luck there. The new Disney streaming service, Disney +, won’t be available til November 12th, which is supposed to have all the original classics for viewers to witness. I mention these for one simple reason: you are far better doing all you can to see the original than the newest live action Aladdin remake, which is more than a let down.
Directed by Guy Ritchie (a somewhat peculiar choice, despite his talent), the film is mostly faithful to the original story, with some adjustments. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is still a “street rat”, able to get by with his faithful monkey Abu by stealing (though he does still have a good heart, as he shows again by giving food to those worse off than him). He makes a quick connection with a local girl, who we know is Jasmine in hiding (played by Naomi Scott). Unlike the original, this film does not show her trying to escape her palace life. That life, of course, is not the most glamourous, as she is told by her Sultan father (Navid Negahban) that the best way for her to live life is to get married to a prince and keep her mouth shut when it comes to (for lack of a better word) political matters. Behind the scenes of the Sultan is Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) and his mischievous parrot Iago. He manages to get Aladdin to (you know) go into the cave of wonders and fetch a lamp, containing the genie (Will Smith, for those who did not know).
At this point in the review, it is time to know whether Will Smith works as the genie. The answer is (for the most part) a sad, “No.” Let us first state the obvious: what Robin Williams did in the original animated film was a landmark performance for film animation (and film in general), resulting in what is arguably the best performance in animation history, never to be topped. Smith himself has said that he was nervous in trying to play the role. To his credit, he does not (for the most part) try to duplicate all of the Williams performance, but try to make it his own. When he is not in his blue form, it is just under par. In his blue form, it is cringeworthy. Will Smith is undoubtably talented and one of the most charming actors alive, but when it came to universality (which is what the Genie should really be all about), Robin Williams will always be number one.
It should be noted that the Genie is not always in his blue form. This is so he can be somewhat of an advisor to Aladdin when he is pretending to be Prince Ali in order to impress the princess. This leads to something that I never expected for the Genie (spoiler): He finds a love interest. This interest is the Princess’s handmaiden (more like best friend) Dahlia (former SNL alum Nasim Pedrad). Am I the only kid from the 90s who thinks the Genie having a love interest is just … off?
This is not to say that the film doesn’t have positive attributes. Most of those come from the lead roles (who, I am happy to say, do some form of justice to “A Whole New World”). Massound’s Aladdin is like a kid friendly version of the characters from the Assassin’s Creed video games (he does do a lot of building hopping). The stand out, however, is Scott’s Jasmine. There is one new song (supplied by the legendary Alan Menken who worked on the original) called “Speechless”. This is sung (twice) by Jasmine in order to show female empowerment. I guess I should not be too surprised at this, but I am still not sure if it was needed for the story. One thing is for sure: Naomi Scott can sing rather well (I admit I got some moments that almost reminded me of Idina Menzel from Frozen). It is a breakthrough performance, and then some.
There are one or two added scares to the film (though there is no giant snake, there is a giant bird), but I would think the film would be okay for kids eight and up (as always, I urge parents to have their kids see the original first).
Aladdin also has some value in teaching us how to be ourselves as God intended (something we all struggle with). It also reminds us (with the idea of wishing) that what we wish for is not always what we wanted. The Genie (regardless of who plays the role) can also be seen as somewhat of a Christ like figure. Someone who inspires confidence, giving us opportunities we could not adhere ourselves, realizing our inner strength, pushing us to do the right thing. After all, we never will have a friend like Christ, right? (Not that it has to be stated, but of course I don’t think God is like a genie who grants wishes.)
I am not denying any of these lessons, or saying they are unimportant. What I am saying is simple: They were in the original, so why not just watch that?
I close by saying that the only reason Aladdin was not the most painful part of my day was because it was followed by a scheduled root canal. Then again, that did have Novacaine.