FILM REVIEW: Aladdin (2019)

Mummy is not a huge fan of films. She would swap the cinema for a stage show every time. Mrs Mummy, on the other hand, loves a film. And the munchkins are easily persuaded by popcorn. Mummy tends to make exceptions only for Disney films and musicals. So a musical Disney film would seem to fit the bill. Except that the classic 1992 animated Aladdin is one of Mummy’s childhood favourites. And everybody knows that you don’t mess with the classics. Except Disney, who recently seem to have made it their mission to do precisely that. Mummy wasn’t overly enamoured with the live action version Beauty and the Beast. On the other hand, she concedes that Mary Poppins Returns was practically perfect in every way. So what did she think of the latest Aladdin? One jump ahead of the original? Or a worthless street-rat pretending to be a prince?

Mummy decided it would be good to go in with low expectations. After all, pessimists are rarely disappointed. And in the first ten minutes, the film just about met those expectations. Unlike the original, it begins on a boat, with a seafaring father (Will Smith) telling the tale of Aladdin to his children. Mrs Mummy really liked this addition (especially as it comes full circle at the end). Mummy was less convinced by Will Smith’s rendition of ‘Arabian Nights‘ and was already bracing herself to dislike his genie. She most definitely didn’t buy Mena Massoud’s autotuned Aladdin.

Thankfully, things picked up with the introduction of Naomi Scott’s Princess Jasmine. Always a princess who knew her own mind, Jasmine’s character has been pulled further into the 21st Century with a feminist voice to match Scott’s strong singing. Not satisfied with just having a say in who she marries, this Jasmine has her sights set on becoming Sultan. And in ‘Speechless‘ she gets an original song befitting of this status. Reminiscent of recent movie musicals such as La La Land and The Greatest Showman (unsurprising since it is the production of Alan Menken’s collaboration with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), it is a proper belter with a memorable message. Quaver has been singing it at the top of her voice for the last week. And given that the song is about refusing to be suppressed by the patriarchy, it’s quite hard to tell her to stop!

The lack of female representation in the original (and the stage show) is further addressed by the inclusion of Jasmine’s handmaiden, Dalia, played by the scene-stealing Nasim Pedrad. Although she serves predominantly as a love interest for the genie, Dalia’s scenes with Jasmine also help this film pass the Bechdel test. In this version of Agrabah, not only do we see two women talking to each other without a man present, but they also discuss more than just men (with Jasmine keen to converse about ruling the kingdom).

As to those men, although Mena Massoud remained disappointing, Will Smith’s genie did not. The reason being that this is very much Smith’s genie, rather than a carbon copy of the inimitable Robin Williams. And while Smith’s singing skills may not be up to much in his first appearance, his other big songs (‘Friend Like Me’ and ‘Prince Ali‘) are delivered in trademark Big Willie style. Although there are some throwbacks to the original script, much of the dialogue has also been developed specifically for Smith, and is the better for it. Mummy also liked the spin put on the character of Jafar. Played by Marwan Kenzari, Jafar sees himself more as opportunistic anti-hero than the archetypal villain seen in the original and the stage show. His backstory as a common thief gives the character slightly more depth and allows him to realistically relate to Aladdin when trying to persuade him to enter the Cave of Wonders. Head of the Palace Guards, Hakim (played by Numan Acar) is also given a slightly more rounded role, who has a pivotal part to play in determining the fate of the kingdom of Agrabah. Meanwhile Navid Negahban’s Sultan is slightly less round than his cuddly cartoon equivalent, but eventually comes around to Jasmine’s point of view with just as much grace.

In some ways, this arguably unnecessary remake does a decent job of updating elements of a much loved but feministically* flawed film. The new material is probably more enjoyable than the scenes which are copied straight from the original (as they tend to compare unfavourably). The cast (with the unfortunate exception of the protagonist) do an excellent job of re-imagining some iconic roles. And the visual effects are impressive, especially the scenic city of Agrabah. Other than ‘Speechless‘ the soundtrack is as expected. It is disappointing that the beautiful ‘Proud of Your Boy‘ has again been omitted, although we wondered whether this may have been for the best given the casting choice for Aladdin.

*Mummy is aware that she has made up this word, but why not? The pen keyboard is mightier than the sword and all that.

Overall, Aladdin was entertaining enough but lacked either the charm of the animated original or the exuberance of the stage show. And for that Mummy awards it a rating of Raindrops, Whiskers and Kettles (aka 3 out of 5 of my favourite things).