In 1992, Disney released “Aladdin”, a 90 minute animated feature telling the story of a young man who by chance finds a magic lamp holding a genie inside that would grant him three wishes. A magical rendition of the classic story of “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” from “One Thousand and One Nights”, the film captured the hearts and imaginations of millions worldwide, becoming the 2nd highest grossing film of the Disney Renaissance World Wide (only being beaten out by “The Lion King” – source).
Having found success with remaking their beloved classic animated films starting in 2010, Disney soon began to announce and start production on a string of live action remakes. As hot as it was back in 1992, it’s no wonder that “Aladdin” made it onto that list during an announcement in October of 2016. However, “Aladdin” was clearly different than anything ever done before.
The 2019 “Aladdin” faced a whole slew of difficulties that it would need to overcome that no other Disney live action remake had needed to overcome before primarily due to its unique legacy. Most notably, the “Aladdin” of 1992 featured Robin Williams as the Genie, a performance that to this day is not only just as beloved as it was 25+ years ago, but also was so uniquely perfect that the idea of ever ‘redoing’ the Genie just didn’t seem possible in the minds of most fans. Additionally, the 1992 story of “Aladdin” wasn’t originally just about one basic plot the way many other original Disney classics were which allowed their respective remakes to easily expand upon the originals. “Aladdin” (1992) instead featured a wide variety of issues such as trust, freedom, honesty, social class, love, danger, and good vs. evil – in other words, it was designed to be an adventure with many layers. Perhaps most notably, the 1992 film featured Aladdin as a much more down to earth kind of character, someone almost anyone could relate to – just your average guy. He wasn’t a reader of great literature, an evil fairy, nor a slave to an evil step mother. He was just a guy down and out on luck and that was, and still is, relatable. With so much going for the original, most people weren’t even sure if a remake was even necessary.
So imagine my absolute amazement as I walked out of the theater feeling like I had experienced something so refreshingly splendid stunning that I turned to my roommate and said “Can we see that again?”
And I don’t say that. Ever.
It wasn’t until the last few previews that I actually got really interested in seeing “Aladdin”. There was so much being said (or not said) about it online that seemed to designate it as not even worth seeing in the first place. There seemed a general consensus that no one cared to see “Aladdin” without Robin Williams and thus, no one really cared to talk about it, even with the acclaimed Will Smith taking on the role. Then it came out and critics were blasé about it: “It was nothing original.” “Boring.” “A pointless remake”.
If I could have ripped apart the articles on my computer I would have. I felt that strongly about it and was almost angry that articles were dissuading people from seeing what felt like a magical masterpiece to me. But even as I left the theater, I kept wondering: Why?
“Why did I enjoy that movie so much?”
The night before, I had watched the original, deciding to be perfectly up front and ready to compare the two. I had had “two wishes” for the remake: that it would fix plot holes and that Jasmine wouldn’t overshadow Aladdin (Yes, an odd wish, I’ll admit, but the story is called “Aladdin” and it is his story. As much as I adored Jasmine’s costumes and her new song – which by the way, was and is incredible and I listen to it regularly in the car – I really did want the film to be about him). Well, it achieved both of those. But simply achieving that couldn’t just be it, right? I went home and listened to the soundtrack, thinking about it.
Director Guy Ritchie hit all the marks. He had teams build beautiful sets of a “far away place”. Seamstresses and make up artists brought to life a princess, a pauper to “Prince Ali”, and “a friend like” the genie (which all by the way, were so gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous, oh my gosh gorgeous). Alan Menken came back and bring to life with trumpets, drums, violins, pianos, and all manners of contemporary and classical instruments the sounds that would bring the magic to the story again as we watched fantastic action sequences of mystery and adventure unfold. Meanwhile, Ritchie worked with a team to create some genuinely original and good humor that fit in line naturally with the story, even in a way, updating the story for how many young people awkwardly approach ‘dating’ today.
Furthermore, he worked with Will Smith to bring the character of Genie to life, making the character Will’s own, while amazingly paying wonderful tribute to Robin Williams. During magical moments, Ritchie made sure to pay homage to the original animated story. Jasmine’s desire for freedom became more about being seen, and loved, as a person – capable and much more than just “being a princess”.
Even Jafar, played by Marwan Kenzari, was made to be an even more interesting foil to Aladdin’s own character as another former thief, in other words, what Aladdin could have become. And finally, Ritchie had Mena Massoud as Aladdin ask Naomi Scott as Jasmine the nostalgic, romantic, and iconic question “Do you trust me?”, embodying the whole message of the film. He hit all the marks and there was so much praise I could give this film. But no, none of that was quite it….
And then it hit me why I enjoyed it so much.
“Aladdin” was a film that told a fantastical, magical story about relatable, well-rounded, and good people, attempting to do build firm, good, and genuine relationships with one another. In a word, for all of the fantasy, it felt real and the relationships seen exemplified the goals of what good relationships should be. It touched upon relationships with friends, soul-mates, and even one’s own self with a message that honesty, kindness, love, and righteous desires would lead to the greatest happiness one could have.
Aladdin as a character became much richer in depth in this film. He was more well-rounded – clearly knowing stealing was wrong, that he didn’t want to do it – that he only did it to survive, but also feeling very stuck in his position within society. And this position clearly clouded his own vision of his own self-worth, ironically so, as he clearly sees the innate self-worth in others.
Furthermore, as the story progresses, Aladdin battles with feelings of selfishness and self-doubt – not wanting to give everything up that he now has, being afraid of being revealed as what he really was, leading him to lying and hiding the truth. Mena’s portrayal of him made him endearing – you wanted to root for him and not just because he gave some food to children as in the original, but because we subconsciously just start wanting the best for him – wanting him to realize that he’s already worth so much more than mere genie wishes will grant him, as he recognizes and fights for what’s right without hesitation, something most of us desire ourselves to do when faced with difficult decisions.
The Bro-mance between Genie and Aladdin builds on this. In many ways, Will Smith embodied not only “Genie” in the traditional way that Robin Williams’ did, but also enhanced for the live action the true notion that Aladdin and the Genie became tight friends and came to trust one another. They become one another’s wingman, encouraging the other to go for the girls they were interested in respectively, even despite awkward talk of various types of jams (tell me I was not the only one chuckling at that, I dare you). And all of that, all of that trust and building of their relationship, just hits us all so hard and makes it all the worse when we, along with Genie, watch Aladdin fall victim to fear and tell Genie that he couldn’t free him.
Will Smith’s genie, unlike the original, also had a far more human quality and style of expression (an advantage of live action remakes generally) – near the end, it just hurt watching him serve Jafar – which, though it’s never said, Aladdin knows it would never have happened if he had just wished Genie free. In many ways, it exemplifies how not trusting yourself, or even further – not liking yourself, can lead to you not only hurting yourself, but those around you – Ultimately, with the potential ending of being alone. It places a heavy message on the importance of finding ways to overcome self-doubt and trusting your abilities – in other words, finding the courage to accept and love yourself just as much as you love and see the good in others. Genie in particular seems to understand this and is constantly encouraging Aladdin the best he can to do so, pointing out, as all of us can to our friends and loved ones that they DO have that courageous capability to overcome hard things.
On the other end of the spectrum, my favorite relationship in the film of Jasmine and Aladdin displayed perhaps the most beautiful balance of what a genuine relationship of love SHOULD be. This is so rare in movies and films today – which are filled with cheating, cat calling, hook ups, and general behavior that has people degrading their romantic interests, even at times, their very own innate and beautiful self-value. These relationships tend to make critics go wild with praise – but with so much of it out there, this relationship in “Aladdin” was refreshing. It beautifully showed exactly how a relationship should be built over the course of the film – teaching both Aladdin, but in a way, more so us as an audience core values, qualities, and the respect needed to make a relationship work.
Beautifully and simply, these values embody the concept of the balance of giving on the part of both parties to the other in order to bring out the best in each other. The only one to believe in Jasmine is Aladdin – he sees her as completely capable and qualified to be the Sultan, without any hesitation – he doesn’t even wish it for himself. Meanwhile, Jasmine’s trust in Aladdin makes him want to be a better person – she makes him want to change and see that he is much more than his social class. No, she doesn’t care if he’s a prince or a pauper – she simply cares that he knows that she sees his strength and ability to do what is right. By the end, he simply wants to do what’s right primarily because she believes in him – and it allows him to take that leap of faith needed (as she did) to overcome Jafar’s threats.
Perhaps the best scene is the end, when together, Aladdin and Jasmine work to fly Carpet through the streets of Agrabah to attempt to overcome the threats coming their way. They both fly Carpet, trusting in the other implicitly. Jasmine jumps off a balcony, trusting Aladdin will catch her. Aladdin gives Jasmine the reigns to take over Carpet as he and Abu navigate the streets. And when finally, they’re taken down and Aladdin alone is faced with overcoming Jafar’s menacing desires for absolute power, with Genie’s regretful reminder that he’s on his own here, Aladdin is finally able to look inside and see that deep down, he knows and has the knowledge that will not only take down Jafar, but bring himself and those around him the greatest happiness through honesty and truth.
These beautiful messages of building one another up through trust and love, finding the courage to trust yourself, confiding in others, and facing your fears is a long missed element of many of Hollywood’s latest films that focus on cashing in on the latest trends. Sure, these are all good movies and hold some of these elements. And yes, “Aladdin” is part of a bandwagon effect. But the beauty and refreshingly splendid side of “Aladdin” comes in the fact that all of these messages are layered in a love that we can have for one another – it’s a love that is not expressed much anymore. We tend to feel these days that we are alone, ironically so, in a digital age when more than ever, we have access to easy communication. But perhaps the staleness of it all, of a digital hollow existence of communicating via screens and not through face to face interaction is what allows this beautiful message to be so poignant. We NEED one another, if not for any other reason to remind one another that we have value, that we are worth every breath we take, and that trust is possible, in a world seemingly so chaotic and lonely.
“Aladdin” stunningly captures the imagination, a true diamond in the rough. It shows us “A Whole New World” where through these gorgeous exemplifications of love and trust we can take on new leaps, bounds, and adventures in our lives. For really, it’s what matters on the inside and together, we can build each other up to see that we all have that inner power to make even the fantastical a reality. And, with a splash of color, like its 1992 counterpart, “Aladdin” brings these messages to today’s day and age with a grandeur adventure, modern music, multicultural dance, emotionally refreshing splendor, and yes, even a hint, of that classic Disney magic.
To Listen to some of the best from Guy Ritchie’s 2019 “Aladdin”, be sure to enjoy the below!