Warning: Spoilers from the new live-action Aladdin are ahead.
It’s almost summer which means it is time for Disney to start rolling out its predicted box office Blockbusters. First up on the list is the live-action remake of the treasured 1992 animated film Aladdin. This version, directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie, stars Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as one of the favourite Disney princesses, Jasmine, and Will Smith as the Genie, stepping into the role that Robin Williams made so unforgettable.
Well, 2019’s Aladdin has been plagued by doubts since the casting was announced, but it is apparent that that didn’t stop the leads from fully committing to their roles and making them their own. It is also didn’t scare Guy Ritchie into playing it safe. With a running time of two hours and eight minutes, the film sees Ritchie and John August add plenty of extra material to the original 90-minute long story based on One Thousand and One Nights. They filled the additional time with a better foundation for Aladdin and Jasmine’s relationship, empowering moments for the leading lady, and a new portrayal of the Genie. Here's how this new take on Aladdin and his magical lamp changed things up from the 1992 movie we all know so well.
Aladdin & Jasmine’s First Encounter Got A Much-Needed Update
In case you haven’t seen the original Aladdin in quite a while, here’s a quick refresher about why and how Jasmine and Aladdin first meet: Early on in the film, the Sultan introduces Jasmine to a potential suitor for her to marry before her next birthday. Upset that she can’t marry for love, Jasmine puts on regular clothes the people of Agrabah wear and runs away. Aladdin spots her (and it's love at first sight, of course) and saves her when she doesn’t have money to pay for an apple by pretending she's his "crazy" relative. The palace guards, sent by Jafar, arrive at Aladdin’s home to capture him and that is when Jasmine reveals herself to be the princess.
The live-action movie sets up things slightly differently, but it significantly impact messages in the film (and gets rid of the problematic depiction of mental health). In this version, the audience is first introduced to Jasmine already in disguise and using the name of her handmaiden Dalia (actually played by Nasim Pedrad). She meets Aladdin when he rescues her from the shopkeeper who's furious at her for stealing. Rather than pretending she is "crazy," Aladdin uses his pickpocketing skills to "give" the merchant Jasmine's bracelet, while actually pocketing it and giving it back to her.
And instead of the guards interrupting them and Jasmine revealing her identity to save Aladdin, Jasmine chooses to leave Aladdin after it appears that he stole her mother’s bracelet (it was Abu, for the record).
The important change here is that Aladdin doesn’t learn that Jasmine is a princess until later in the film, which matters because by having Jasmine keep the lie about her true identity alive, it balances the original film's major issue — letting the hero spend a majority of the movie lying to Jasmine until she instantly forgives him when he saves her life.
Of course, it would be better if neither romantic lead lied to the other, but at least in this reimagining the offenses are a bit more balanced, so it makes it more understandable that they forgive each other in the end.
Jasmine Has Agency, Motivation, & A Real Plot (Finally!)
The biggest issue with 1992 Aladdin (while I still love it) is that Jasmine lacks agency, and everything else that comes with a full character, for the entire film. In the original, when her father denies her request to choose her own future husband, she runs and cries at her fountain. Later, Aladdin has to save her from Jafar and the Sultan is the one who changes the law to allow her to marry Aladdin, who's set to become Sultan, despite having no reason to take such a title. She does help trick Jafar by pretending to be under his spell (and making herself a sexual object in the process), but ultimately it is Aladdin who is needed to truly defeat the villain.
Scott’s Jasmine is more vocal, powerful, and well, an actual character. In Ritchie’s film, Jasmine explains to Aladdin that her mother would be disappointed to see how Agrabah treats its people if she were still alive and expresses to her father, repeatedly, that she should not need to marry a man and let him be Sultan — she can take the role herself and rule alone. It’s all very reminiscent of The Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement, as is the line in Aladdin about someone not being able to rule the people if they do not know the people (a total Mia Thermopolis move).
Essentially, the conflict is that Jasmine wants the Sultan to change the marriage law so she can become Sultan, rather than her goal in the original: change the law so she can marry Aladdin. Instead of the film ending with Jasmine's father changing the law, at the end of the new film, the Sultan changes the law so he can give the throne to Jasmine and she is the one who rewrites the law to allow her to marry Aladdin. Thank goodness the 2019 version changed Jasmine’s main goal in life to help her people and carry out her mother’s legacy, and left the part about marrying the film's hero as a cherry on top.
Jasmine’s gets her own song called “Speechless” (a snippet, courtesy of the official Twitter page, below) And after 25 years of accepting a narrative in which her only song was a duet, this is pretty exciting. Jasmine finally has her own song! And after she sings a few bars at the start of the film, all about how she wants to have a voice in Agrabah, she gets a reprisal in the third act. (Just like Aladdin does in Act 1.)
After getting control of the lamp, Jafar becomes Sultan and has his guards take Jasmine away. As they escort her out, she sings about not being silenced anymore and imagines breaking free from the guards. Scott beautifully sings the lines, “But I won’t cry and I won’t start to crumble whenever they try to shut me or cut me down.” When the song is over, Jasmine actually uses her newfound voice to convince the palace guards to stand with her against Jafar. It's a much-needed twist and the song is also just a great addition to Disney’s catalog.
There's More Than One Female Character
While there were women in the original who were there to be given food and generosity from Aladdin, or to swoon over him endlessly, Jasmine was the only actual main character who was a woman. Adding Nasim Pedrad's Dalia not only fixes that issue, it including the comedic actress in the ensemble gives the film even more opportunities to make audiences laugh.
Will Smith Doesn't Try To Copy Robin Williams' Genie — Including His Ending
Since the trailer was released, the constant criticism surrounding Ritchie’s Aladdin’s has been about the design of the Genie. It seemed like everyone on the internet agreed Smith looked very strange when Entertainment Weekly first released pictures of the Genie with a top knot. These critiques piled onto the opinions of naysayers who were already convinced that Smith wouldn’t compare to Williams. Based on the film, Will (a respected actor!) didn’t let this affect him and made the Genie his own, while delivering some of the same lines Williams made memorable.
Smith’s interpretation of the Genie adds some hip-hop elements to the music numbers that are reminiscent of his 90’s hits. In his much-anticipated version of “Friend Like Me,” Smith beatboxes and shows off a few dance moves with Massoud. “Prince Ali” (below), which is also sung by Smith, includes a hip-hop dance break as well. Smith uses the moments to add his particular style of comedy that fans have loved since his Fresh Prince days. He pulls it off, but it also doesn’t stray too far from the type of personality people would expect from the Genie.
Smith’s version of the Genie is also more clearly labelled as Aladdin’s friend compared to the '90s Genie. In the original Aladdin, the Genie is disappointed when Aladdin says he will renege on his promise to use his third wish grant the Genie freedom. Ritchie has Aladdin and the Genie joke quite frequently about their friendship in this film and the Genie uses his magic to help Aladdin, without him wishing it, multiple times. Their bond is much stronger here which makes Aladdin’s decision to keep his promise and wish the Genie free even more fulfilling during the film’s final scenes.
But of course the biggest change to Genie is that he doesn't keep his powers once he's set free. He his own romantic storyline with Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), and when he's finally freed, he ceases to be a genie at all, instead getting married and having kids, rendering him a normal, slightly goofy dad figure.
Jafar Is Awful, But Less Predatory
Despite the Internet's assertion that the new Aladdin includes Hot Jafar, the new Jafar's actions are not so hot. Rather than being a creepy older man trying to force Jasmine to marry him or show him affection as he was in the original (we still shudder at the scene in which he commands Genie to make her love him), Jafar is just a straight up misogynist who thinks Jasmine should be "seen and not heard." It's a little blunt, but it sure does make him a villain without making everyone uncomfortable every time he makes an unwanted romantic advance.
It also completely changes the final showdown with Aladdin, which no longer has Aladdin rescuing a helpless Jasmine, clad in a sexed up slave outfit devised by Jafar. Instead, the scene is more about convincing Jafar to seal his own doom (which is also what he does in the original, albeit with a bit more creepiness).
Many of the changes make the film quite long, but if you think about it, they're almost all for the best.