When we first caught a glimpse of Disney’s double take at Aladdin, I would have thought only wishes out of a magic lamp would have lead us here. Since the movie was released, many Disney fans have expressed their love for the House of Mouse’s latest live-action remake. As someone who has grown quite weary of Mouse House's attempts to revisit its animated classics, I found it to be a nice surprise how much I enjoyed it!
There are quite a few aspects to the new Aladdin that make it a win for the studio besides all the money it’s already making. Hear me out ‘die hards’: parts of the 2019 film actually tell the story better than the classic animated movie we’ve loved and cherished over the past 27 years… even though this movie is clearly borrowing from the animated version. Time to break them down:
Jasmine Is An Empowering Princess
Disney Princesses have always served as role models for the young girls they are catered to, and Jasmine was certainly a ‘90s icon. From her fashion sense to her badass tiger pet Rajah, and her “screw the system” mentality, she was one high quality princesses at the time. When you compare her company, of course, which includes a mermaid trading in her life for a man she met yesterday and a bookworm who fell in love with her captor.
No offense cartoon Jaz, but Naomi Scott’s Jasmine left me speechless. Not only does she finally get her own song (that was kept in the movie this time), but it’s a powerful one. It’s the best part of the movie. The new Aladdin uses the original story to benefit a more modern and improved take on the character. Instead of feeling helpless about her suitors because she’s looking for true love - her central problem is that she is the perfect person to rule Agrabah. The trouble is misogyny is stopping her from achieving her dreams.
How crazy relatable is this to women!?!?! To feel society’s grasp on your place in the world and to actively push against it. I assure you, just about every woman in the world has dealt with this. 2019’s Aladdin updates Jasmine in the best way and heightens her character for the better. That by itself makes it a worthy remake. But let’s keep going!
The Music Better Reflects The Aladdin Story
Aladdin’s original soundtrack and score definitely still hold up, and the new album won’t replace Alan Menken’s first version. However, the new film does do something interesting with the music: it really goes for it when expressing the flavor of the cultures being depicted on screen. Even if it may look like a slight alteration to some, it makes a world of difference for those with personal roots in the region.
The music does go back and forth between borrowing from Indian and Arab influences, but this choice is apparently a deliberate choice to make the fictional city of Agrabah be a meeting point of Asian cultures as it’s an important trading port. Disney’s many animated classics have pulled from famous folktales from all around the world for decades. It's when they delve into the identities of the cultures that they really work the best (think Moana and Coco) and this Aladdin is no exception.
The use of traditional instruments like oud and doumbeks, such as in the scene-setting "Arabian Nights" opening, shows a attention to detail and greater celebration of culture that was original lacked. The music sequences also benefits from the live-action too! Seeing "Prince Ali" is effectively grand and watching Aladdin and Jasmine's thrilling ride on the magic carpet ride is captivating to see the actors express.
It’s Not Just The Genie Show
When we think back to the original Aladdin, it’s all about Robin Williams’ performance. That’s not to say there aren’t some other great ones to go around from the cast. But it doesn’t end up coming off as an “ensemble” musical or comedy, because Robin’s Genie is just so memorably good. This movie is an ensemble musical comedy!
There’s a balanced role for all the key characters to play, and Aladdin and Jasmine (which the story is really supposed to be about) have a story arc that’s just as interesting as Will Smith’s Genie performance is. The cast compliment one another and feed off one another in this version, and the movie is better for it. If Guy Ritchie had gone into it leaning on Will Smith to run the show, it would not have worked and it’s great that they didn’t try that approach.
This Aladdin offers some funny improv moments between the actors. These live-action remakes can feel stuffy and by the book, but the addition of this loosens up the audience. There’s also a real chemistry and energy between the cast that the original didn't have (mainly because of the animation). These elements make the new Aladdin a crowd pleaser! It stops being about the legacy of these characters and more about living in each scene with this approach.
The Message Shimmers Brighter
The original Aladdin’s message can be found in a key scene that’s stuck with me since childhood. It’s right before Aladdin is going to show Jasmine a whole new world and is struggling with how to talk to her. Genie gives him two pieces of advice “tell her the truth” and “bee yourself” (yes, as he’s disguised as a bee).
The new Aladdin really shows us this message and it has a better payoff. We get to see Aladdin and Jasmine’s chemistry as a couple more before he turns into Aladdin, so seeing how off his game he is as the Prince really hits home. The awkwardness Aladdin faces as he tries to woo her as a prince is more painfully obvious through the new scenes and has viewers rooting for them more intently. It makes many of us want to scream these mantras at the screen.
Genie is also a bit wiser this time around and Aladdin has more responsibility for his actions. In the original, he has his sights set on Jasmine and then once he gets her he has to somehow figure out how to be Sultan… that’s concerning! In the new version, he’s the reason and supporter that leads to Jasmine and her father coming to the decision that she should rule. This ending matters a lot more and makes the titular character earn his top billing!
I’m not saying one Aladdin movie is better than the other. The animated version will always have a special place in many of our hearts and is a monumental achievement for the studio. This remake did make some good choices that improved upon what we’ve seen already from the story and it was a satisfying take on a classic that has seldom been done.