★★★★½ | Zach Hester
Just like almost everyone else, I had somewhat of a hesitation heading into 2019’s Aladdin, the latest in a string of live-action remakes from Disney. I had apprehension about blue Will Smith and I got into one of my random “should these remakes even be happening” phases…but all that changed when I actually sat down in the theater to watch this gorgeous film.
Aladdin (mostly) follows the same story that the 1992 animated classic does. It follows street urchin and title character, Aladdin (Mena Massoud), who falls in love with the kept-away Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) after a chance encounter in the streets of Agrabah. However, after finding a magic lamp and befriending the wish-granting Genie (Will Smith), he sets out to get the girl of his dreams and stop the conniving grand vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari).
I was surprised by how much I loved the musical numbers, especially the big budget ones led by Will Smith. “Prince Ali” was easily my favorite that he led, but it’s easy to understand why this new version of “A Whole New World” will be the standout of the film…more on that later. Smith’s take on this legendary role turned out well, even if it didn’t match up to the power of Robin Williams, though I’m not sure anyone would’ve been able to do that.
The visual effects deserve a mention. Each and every scene, from the ones inside the Cave of Wonders to the aerial shots of Agrabah, is beautiful. The CGI characters (magic carpet, Abu, etc.) also played an important role. Both of the two characters I mentioned were well-crafted and provided great moments of comic relief that offset some of the more serious moments.
More than anything else in the movie, the chemistry between Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott is outstanding. As I stated, “A Whole New World” is just fantastic, not only because of the great voices behind the microphones, but because of the loving bond these two display. These two pull off the characters that have been cemented in our brains for years so well. Scott portrays Jasmine as more than a damsel waiting to be rescued from a forced marriage and instead longs to replace her father as Sultan (and become a kinder, Agrabah version of Daenerys Targaryen). Massoud’s charm is undeniable. You really root for him right from the start. His scrappy portrayal of Aladdin will definitely be a highlight as you walk out of the theater.
I think it’s safe to say that this movie came out of nowhere for me. It’s great to see an entire cast made of people who actually look like the characters they’re meant to be playing, which is just proof that on-screen representation matters. The movie is charming and heartwarming in the same breath and perfectly represents its message, “be true to yourself.” Critical consensus be damned, Aladdin is just delightful.