I wanted to hate this movie so much.
Disney’s original animated movie from 1992 is, most likely, my favorite animated movie of those days of the Disney renaissance, and the main reason was because of the love I had for Robin Williams. Robin Williams absolutely destroyed the role of the Genie, creating one of the most iconic and brilliant animated characters in movie history. Just the thought of someone else trying to play the role of the Genie was not a positive thought for me.
Then, I did not hate the announcement that Will Smith was cast in the role, because I enjoy him enough, but the images we got from promotional materials of Smith in his blue makeup look so bad that it felt as if this were a train wreck waiting to happen.
Robin Williams is one of my favorite people in movies and TV history. I went way back to Mork & Mindy with him (heck, even before when Mork was on Happy Days). Williams made the Genie role special with his unbelievable brand of improvisation and chaotic energy. The film was literally changed to fit in some of the stuff Robin was coming up with off the top of his head. I remember where I was when the news of Robin Williams’ suicide broke and that was a punch in the gut for me.
So there was already lots of negative feelings working against the new live-action version of Aladdin for me. As I said, I was ready to hate this.
I enjoyed myself quite a bit.
Let’s start with the blue elephant in the room: Will Smith as Genie. I started out not liking what I saw right away. I did not like this version of “Friend Like Me” and I was worried that was going to be what we got the remainder of the movie. However, it picked up dramatically after this and the version of “Prince Ali”, which had been panned on the internet after the scene was released early, I thought was great (I had not watched it early, so the film was the first time I saw the song).
As the film progressed, Will Smith’s Genie felt like it became more and more its own character to the point where I stopped thinking about this being Will Smith’s Genie and just started thinking about it as the Genie. In fact, Will Smith was one of the best parts of the second half of the movie.
I also really enjoyed Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud as Princess Jasmine and Aladdin. They had great chemistry with each other and they both fit the roles well. And Naomi Scott could sing. Her song “Speechless” was amazingly powerful and beautifully rendered. Now, I am not sure it fit in the film where they placed it, but the song is gorgeous without a doubt.
In the trailers, I was not a fan of Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, because of the voice. However, in the movie, Kenzari worked extremely well for me. I thought this version of Jafar was very solid and was, actually, quite sinister. Unfortunately, I did not think that the film’s version of Iago the parrot (voiced in the original by Gilbert Gottfried and here by Alan Tudyk) worked at all. Iago is a major character int he animated movie and seems like an after thought here. I am not even sure they ever actually call him Iago in the movie.
The first act of the movie felt very rushed as the film jumped right into the story, brushing past several defining character moments. Perhaps the film believed that everyone knew the story already and could breeze past it, but it did take the movie some time to recover the momentum after this. Once it did though, Aladdin was a good time.
The dance numbers here were all good to great. Most of the songs were well done, once again with anything that was sung by Naomi Scott being standouts. Magic Carpet was done flawlessly. Some of the CGI was not great, including the blue Genie. It always felt better when the Genie was not blue and just looked like Will Smith.
The live action film may have been a touch too long, as it clocked in at around 2 hours and 8 minutes. It could have benefited from shaving maybe 10 minutes from the run time.
In the end, I was ready to hate this version of Aladdin, but I liked it. There are things that I did not think worked as well as other parts, but none of it made me angry or disappointed. I think Robin Williams would have appreciated the work of Will Smith.