In 1992, a fantastic thing happened. A Disney cartoon was released and open many eyes into the world of Disney animation. This is true for me. I remember watching Disney cartoons from childhood, but never in my wildest dreams would I think a cartoon could move me and pull me into a journey full of emotion and laughter like Aladdin did. It opened my eyes to musicals in general. I had seen several plays at our local playhouse and I’d seen Phantom of the Opera a couple times in Nashville and Chicago by then, but hearing the music from Aladdin changed me. It was the first soundtrack to a movie I remember buying on CD. Now, you can’t even begin to think about Aladdin without the image of the late great Robin Williams popping into your mind. Robin is synonymous with the movie. He was the movie. He truly held all the power (of laughter) in the Universe with an itty bitty living space. Upon hearing that Disney had decided to do a live action film, my immediate reaction was, “That just can’t happen without Robin.” I was nervous that it would be cast to someone who would ruin the memory of the original and put a black mark on the shiny lamp where Aladdin resides in my brain.
Finally we got word that the genie had been cast. Will Smith??!?!? The Fresh Prince of Agrabah? Oh… this won’t end well. Time passed. Finally, a teaser was released. What was this? Excitement? I could feel the hairs on my arms standing on end, soon as I heard the music. Then BAM! There was Will in blue. Do you know what happened? I felt OK. I think I had a realization in the moment I heard him speak and witnessed Will standing there as the Genie. It was OK. He wasn’t Robin. He didn’t need to be Robin. He was his own Genie. This film needs to stand on its own and not be compared to the original. No one can replace a talent like Robin Williams. He was a light that shined so bright that the shadows it created are still left on the Earth today. Once again I found myself having to set aside any preconceived notions and walk into the film with eyes open and ready to see a whole new world, again… for the first time.
Opening night was finally upon us. I gathered up my family and dragged them to the 7pm show on the Friday before Memorial Day. This is something that I NEVER do. We usually hit a matinee on Saturday or Sunday, if we make it to opening weekend at all. Even when I was asked to write my opinions of Disney movies for this blog, I asked to be given a little grace in regard to when I would go see the movies. I asked for at least 2 weeks from opening. So with that in mind, the fact that I went opening night to a 7pm show should say something about the level of excitement I had for this movie. The main question is, did they deliver?
YEAH THEY DID! From the opening song to the closing credits musical dance.. The film was amazing. The live action cast did a fantastic job of bringing the cartoon to life while paying homage to the original and making Aladdin their own. As Disney does, they add new songs to their live action versions. This did not disappoint! The new song sung by Jasmine, was a beautiful song about not being silent, but letting your voice be heard. Disney is making a statement in female empowerment and they are doing it in a great way! Being the father of a little girl, it warmed my heart to know my daughter was sitting there listening to a song written for her. Jasmine (Naomi Scott) stole the show! She was amazing! Second was the Genie (Will Smith). He wasn’t Robin Williams, but he was a new genie. In the first Aladdin, the Genie was the star. This time he was second, but not because Will wasn’t as powerful as Robin, it’s just that Jasmine was that strong. Don’t get me wrong, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) was good and did a fine job, but he worked in the shadows of Naomi and Will. Frank Welker was back as the voice of the Cave of Wonders and loved hearing Alan Tudyk as Iago! If there was a negative, it would have to be Marawan Kenzari as Jafar. He did a great job as the character but, it’s his voice…. Jonathan Freeman had a voice that made you feel the evil inside Jafar. Marawan, just doesn’t have the voice to pull off that level of “evil”. It’s like getting Jim Carey to play the voice of Darth Vader… It’s just not going to be the same as James Earl Jones.
Can’t write a review of this movie without mentioning the biggest surprise… Guy Ritchie directed this movie. For those of you who may not know who Guy is… he is the man responsible for a lot of fantastic movies, Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films. Going from those movies to a Disney Aladdin…whoa, big jump! I have to say, this was the biggest surprise of all for me. I hadn’t noticed that he was at the helm till I saw his name pop up in the opening credits. Soon as I saw it, I actually said out loud, “Guy Ritchie directed this?!!!?” Everyone around me looked at me like my head was on fire. I’m guessing the main crowd for Aladdin aren’t big fans of movies like Snatch.
Over a year ago, I was nervous about Disney going live action with some of their animated films, but now… I’m blown away. How dare I question the Mouse?!?! Go see Aladdin and try not to sing too loud in the theater.
Trailer as presented by Will!