*Some spoilers ahead! Yes, obviously we’re all familiar with the animated one, but there are some changes made in this live-action version.*
It turns out all the hand wringing and pearl clutching that some people did over that first shot of Will Smith as the Genie was for nothing, because not only does he look fine now that the CGI is finished, Genie is a highlight of what is easily the most fun of these live-action adaptations Disney has done so far. I’ve been to see all of them, and Aladdin was the best audience viewing experience by a long shot. Out of the corner of my eye I could see people smiling, bopping along to the musical numbers, and during the most hilarious scene in the movie — right after “Prince Ali,” Aladdin and Genie present gifts to Jasmine and the Sultan in the most disastrously awkward way possible — I heard equal parts little kid giggling and adult cackling.
Mena Massoud is cute, charming, and funny, and an all around perfect leading man as Aladdin and I can’t wait to see what he does next. New lyrics in “Prince Ali” have Genie refer to him as a “yummy boy” and it’s true. I suspect that years from now we’re going to hear a bunch of young adults talk about how this movie was some kind of sexual awakening for them, and if I were a little girl watching it I would have lost my mind over him (I’m saying that like I didn’t kind of lose my mind anyway as a grown woman). Look at this adorableness! I die.
And what about the much swooned over Hot Jafar, you may be wondering? Whether or not I’m attracted to yet another sexy villain is for me and some kind of mental health professional to discuss, okay? I’m not getting into what that probably says about me here. But seriously, if Marwan Kenzari isn’t a romantic lead in a big studio movie sooner rather than later, I’m suing someone.
We love a good bad guy here at TN (I’m inclined to blame Loki), but the movie does a good job of making it really hard to be Team Jafar, as much as we might be tempted. He gets a backstory that some people loyal to the original may not love, but I think it works really well. He’s quintessentially patriarchal, toxically masculine, is obsessed with wanting to be the most powerful man in the room, and exhibits all the behaviors you’d expect from a man like that. He literally tells Jasmine that she should be seen and not heard. The best Disney Princess! Right to her face!
But more than anything, I really, really want to talk about Jasmine. She’s always been my favorite Disney Princess, and the expansion Guy Ritchie gave to her character here serves her so well. Not only does she get to share her feelings with more than just Rajah — Nasim Pedrad as friend and handmaiden Dalia is a welcome addition — she’s just as important to the story as the titular hero. I had dissolved into happy tears by the end of the film and texted my sister in all caps as soon as the lights came on in the theater, because at the end of the movie Jasmine becomes the new Sultan of Agrabah. She wants nothing more to become the next leader of her country, but her father is initially reluctant to have her rule in part because of some kind of “it’s never been done before” nonsense. After he sees her stand up to Jafar and convince the palace guards to turn against him, the Sultan realizes that his daughter is more than capable of handling things on her own.
There’s a new song in this Aladdin, feminist power ballad “Speechless,” and Naomi Scott absolutely crushes it in the scene where Jasmine has finally had enough and belts it out. You had a good run “Let It Go,” but it’s time to hear little girls singing this one with everything they’ve got. I’ve started crying every time I’ve listened to it so far.
It’s a sad statement on how movies like this usually play out that I sat staring at the screen almost baffled that the filmmakers actually did something like this. The big victory for the male lead character is that he gets to marry the person he wants, while the lead female gets the top job, one she’s been preparing for her entire life. When diplomats arrive in Agrabah and automatically try to talk to Aladdin about the goings on in the country he’s gonna shrug and say “I don’t know what to tell you. Talk to my wife, she’s in charge.” I know there’s been some cynicism about these live-action movies, but I think they’re worth making if it means countless little kids are going to see stories like these play out.