The (Aladdin) Elephant in the Room
Let’s start with the elephant in the room and I am not talking about Abu. How was Will Smith as Genie? That all depends. If you are obsessed with Robin Williams as Genie, or Expect Smith to hit those marks and that level, expect disappointment and failure. Smith can’t come close to Williams. Who can?! Every scene that mimics Genie or tries to reproduce the magic again fails.
Now, If you can let Williams go, and judge Smith on his own performance he’s magnificent right? No. Smith brings very little to the role of Genie. There is very little exceptionalism to his performance. So he sucked? Hell no! Confused yet?
Where Will Smith comes up short has nothing to do with him. Where Smith fails is because he is held back by HAVING to hit Robin’s notes. They needed to let Will Smith separate from the cartoon and Williams’ performance. There are one or two scenes where Smith does get to free lance a bit and when he does, he excels. The opening song is atrocious. He can’t sing it. ‘Friends Like Me’ in the movie was not great, but passable at least; However, during the closing credits Will gets to create his own version that sounds 100% Will Smith. THAT should have been used in the movie instead.
It Takes Two
Mena Massoud plays Aladdin while Naomi Scott from Power Rangers play Jasmine. How did these two perform? Very well actually. Massoud does a very good job with the Aladdin role. At times he felt a bit flat and two dimensional, but guess why? Again, his worst scenes were where he had to mimic the cartoon instead of breathing his own style into the role. His voice also holds up very well during the songs.
Naomi is incredible. While she too has a scene or two come off flat, her role as Jasmine was given a bit more leeway from the cartoon. This is a much stronger, more independent Jasmine than the cartoon. The scenes where Naomi adds herself to the role shine beautifully. Oh my God, her voice!! Jasmine is given a new song for this version. She sings part in the beginning and a second round near the end. Her voice captivates, and her performance, especially behind the second half, is powerful.
Scott and Massoud work very well together. Their only limitation being, of course, the script. Aladdin and Jasmine have a slightly different relationship in this version, but it plays well into their performances.
Quick Side Note on Aladdin
Scenes like in Avengers: Endgame where directors have only the females met up and charge ahead drive me nuts. It breaks the flow of the movie because it is absolutely unbelievable. It would not happen in a real battle and the ‘normal’ humans keeping up with the super-powered ones can’t happen. They do it to check a political box.
Why bring this up? In Aladdin they do something similar where Jasmine’s actions are done, perceivably, to check the politically correct box. The ending hinges more on Jasmine and her actions than Aladdin in this movie. In the cartoon success rested squarely on Aladdin’s shoulders. Why do I mention this? Because in Aladdin it worked BEAUTIFULLY!
Instead of just being a scene to ’empower’ Jasmine and make her look stronger by not needing the man, It is 100% believable. They do a magnificent job setting up Jasmine’s character and beliefs very early on in this movie and reference it every so often.
I am not going to spoil the scene, but what you get in the end is a scene that comes across both extremely powerful and moving. Naomi Scott does an amazing job of putting everything she has into this scene, making it come off wonderfully.
The Rest of the Aladdin Cast
The rest of the cast worked very well. Abu, Raja and Carpet do wonderful jobs adding flare to certain scenes, bu they all seem less in this version than they did in the cartoon. Iago lacked any type of magic or interesting personality, but I feel they were trying for a more realistic version of a parrot, a half breed almost between the two. It worked well enough.
Then you have Nasim Pedrad who plays Dalia. Don’t recognize the name? She was added as Jasmine’s hand maiden. She is a new role and guess what – SHE ROCKED! Her interactions with Jasmine made some hilarious scenes and helped flush out small story points otherwise hard to do., but her role mixed wonderfully with Jasmine, Aladdin, and oh yes…even Genie. Let’s just say, she and Genie are “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit it”. New character equals great addition.