One of the most popular films of the Disney Renaissance gets the live action treatment in “Aladdin.” This 2019 film takes the story from the 1992 animated classic and makes a few tweaks while still busting out the popular music from Howard Ashman, Alan Menken and Tim Rice. In the end, my favorite Disney animated film produces what I think is one of the better live action versions of a film.
The live action remakes have been a mixed bag over the years. Some like “Dumbo” have had to completely add new storylines to even be made. Others like “Maleficent” had to take the story of “Sleeping Beauty” and shift the focus to the villain because the main story is less than compelling in a live action format. And others like “The Lion King,” “The Jungle Book,” and “Aladdin” have mostly kept to the original stories with maybe one or two smaller storylines sprinkled in. I actually enjoyed the added romance between the genie and the handmaiden, but I also understand while Disney’s animation division wasn’t looking to add that in the original.
Coming into this viewing, “The Jungle Book” was my favorite live action remake I had seen while “The Lion King” was my least favorite. Both are two of my favorite animated films, so it’s not like I had higher expectations for one over the other. That is part of what made my views on this film so conflicting. But, after viewing it, I find “Aladdin” to be more on par with “The Jungle Book” rather than “The Lion King,” at least when it comes to my enjoyment of it.
There was also a lot of controversy surrounding Will Smith’s portrayal of the genie at the time of release. When he’s big and blue, it can be quite frightening. I understand the callback to the original, but it’s good that Smith spent a lot of time as himself in this film instead of just a giant, blue genie.
Besides the CGI, there’s also the question of trying to live up to the legendary Robin Williams. When someone is as beloved as Williams was, it can be hard for some to accept anyone else taking on one of his roles. I understand that, but the truth is, no one’s work is untouchable. Many of the most loved performances are remakes of someone else’s performance. As long as the new performance is respectful of the original, it’s acceptable for me. I think Will Smith’s performance is respectful to Robin Williams’ performance. It will never be able to compare, but I think he did the best he could under the circumstances.
It’s been four years, as of this writing, since this film was released, and I have been very wary about watching it because of how much I love the animated version of “Aladdin.” When you really love a film, it can be hard to watch a remake of it, even if the remake is well done. There was much trepidation on my part before I sat down to watch it because I wanted to make sure I could remove my feelings about the original and give it a fair review. Once I reached that point, I was able to truly appreciate how good this live action version is.