Disney has become focused on recreating the magic of the Disney Renaissance through live action remakes of their animated classics. Aladdin, is the latest reimagining from the Mouse House. The plot hasn’t changed much from the original with the exception of a few new additions. Aladdin is a street rat who has become captivated by a girl who turns out to be Princess Jasmine of Agrabah. Jasmine longs to be the Sultan of Agrabah, but law states she must marry a prince and he will rule. In a more feminist 2019, this will not stand and Jasmine fights her marriage with the villainous Jafar to convince her father she is worthy of the throne. Aladdin plays second fiddle to Jasmine’s story as his wish to be a prince for her affection feels archaic next to her modern reimagining.
A New Jasmine
A key difference from the original is the new, more feminist Jasmine. Much has been made over the decades of the qualities of Disney princesses. Although they are a large part of the Disney landscape, critics feel the princesses present male character to be heroes while the princesses are getting saved. I disagree as a longtime fan of 1991’s Beauty and the Beast. The princess story has been reexamined and reinterpreted by the millennial generation as a point of pride and a symbol of childhood, not an example of an ideal relationship.
Jasmine is now a women of her own agency seeking the throne of the country she is born to lead. In 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, Belle also has more agency and stronger sense of self than her original version. Also, like in the retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this film explores the missing mother story line more than the original film. In this, Jasmine’s mother passed away, but in marrying her father they united their neighboring land, so no conflict can ensue between them. Jasmine’s plight for power is motivated by Jafar wanting to start a war with her mother’s city.
A new song is sure to join the modern Disney playlist called, “Speechless”. The song is well performed by star, Naomi Scott. This may be a bid from Disney to get an Original Song Oscar nomination out of a remake, but the song does live up the the vision of Jasmine in the film. Jasmine’s drive to be a leader is shown as she fights to avoid being silenced. In this moment, it becomes clear the movie may be called Aladdin, but this modern story is about Jasmine.
The Color and Style of Agrabah
The film’s best asset is production design leaving little space of blandness. The brightness of the costumes and the concepts of the city pull heavily from Indian and Middle Eastern culture to build the fictional Agrabah. Because the film is so colorful it feels more similar to its animated sibling. The palace feels grand while the surrounding city is paler in comparison. Only when a new prince comes to town to court Princess Jasmine does the city move to its most elaborate as the parade marches through the seaside city. The landmark song “Prince Ali” is the showstopping number it needs to be, but doesn’t lose the films realism.
Only in one sequence do we see Jasmine in her signature look as she takes to the sky with Aladdin for the iconic “A Whole New World” song. Her costume, detailed with beads and gold accents, has a more realistic cut than the original drawing. The style of the film allows for each character to resemble their animated counterparts without looking like exact replicas. Jafar has embellished shoulders in the 1992 film, but this comes from a militaristic shoulder mantle in the new film. Aladdin’s wears a worn-in vest calling back to the original, but he is wearing a shirt this time around.
Another question mark going into this film was how well can Will Smith capture Genie, iconically played by Robin Williams. His performance does seek to be as big and humorous as the original, but Smith’s style is all his own. There would be danger in trying to recreate Williams’ performance exactly, if not only because so much of it needs to be animated to be believable. Smith’s Genie is still blue, sometimes, and longs to be free (and human). This Genie falls in love with Jasmine’s handmaid creating a new secondary romantic story line. Because we see more of him as a person, he is more sympathetic in his search for freedom. This isn’t Robin Williams, but this is Will Smith at his most theatrical and it works.
New, But Not Better
Like 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, which made 1.2 billion at the worldwide box office, this film charts a similar plot as the original film. The film does do a good job of reminding us why we love the first one. The songs are still just as good and the actors are spot-on choices for these roles. Naomi Scott looks to be the break-out star from this film and deserves to be. The film doesn’t break barriers or move the needle, but it is a fun and engaging family film showing the new face of the Disney Princess.
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