Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Aladdin (2019)


Teaming up with his pet monkey Abu, street urchin Aladdin (Mena Massoud) relies on petty theft to survive from day to day. He runs into Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) who is roaming the streets of Agrabah in disguise to check on her people incognito. The two get in trouble but have a good time anyway, until it is time for her to go back to her sheltered life at the palace. One-time street rat Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), now vizier to the Sultan, has lofty ambitions and thinks that getting his hands on a magical lamp from the Cave of Wonders will do the trick. Noticing Aladdin as the “Diamond in the Rough” referred to in the prophecy, he tricks him into going inside the cave to retrieve the lamp for him. Luckily, the Genie (Will Smith) recognizes his true master and grants Aladdin three wishes, one of which is to become Prince Ali from the fictional land of Ababwa so he can be deemed deserving of Jasmine’s love.

It all started with Cinderella but it wasn’t until Beauty and the Beast that Disney realized the full potential of their live action reimagining of their classic animated features as far as box office returns are concerned. That’s why expectations were high for Aladdin, being the second high-profile remake that has always been a staple in the childhood memories of every 90’s kid. Early criticisms have not been favorable, but Guy Ritchie offers a modernized yet faithful onscreen rendition worthy of nostalgia-driven kudos.

The production design is top-notch, and the interplay of vivid colors is such a visual treat. It should not come off as otherworldly because such dash of colorful hues can be seen live in any North African or Middle Eastern souq. Still, it’s a whole new world given the magical element, but the warm colors really make sure that your eyes will always be glued to the screen. If they filmed this on location, then visiting the actual place might just end up in every die-hard fan’s bucket list. So did they or was that green screen?

A lot has already been said regarding the casting choices. Kenzari has been the subject of many thirst tweets and posts during pre-production, but his Jafar just doesn’t come off as sinister as his counterpart in the animated version. Scott has been criticized for being half-Indian, but then again Agrabah has always been fictional and their justification of the place being an amalgamation of various cultures in the Middle East and South Asia is enough. Massoud is okay and gives justice to the titular role.

It is perhaps Will Smith who has received the brunt of the casting controversy. After all, how do you top someone as iconic as Robin Williams? He does not completely nail the role but he does not disappoint either. Over all, his genie is a decent rendition that gives enough flair to the character, even lending a bit of hip-hop vibe to his song and dance numbers responsible for that modernized feel. He also shares good rapport with Jasmine’s handmaiden who steals a lot of scenes with her funny one-liners.

What sets Aladdin apart is its choreography, the seamless convergence between the parkour-inspired chase scenes and the vivid production design as well as all that dancing that takes inspiration from street dance and Bollywood. It’s just so fun to watch. This version of the classic tale is not perfect, and I am not a fan of Guy Ritchie, but I have to thank him for putting a smile on this 90’s kid’s face. I entered the cinema with low expectations and left with a feeling of nostalgic bliss. Disney is on a roll. Next stop, Lion King!

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