There’re two ways to look at re-releases and remakes: the nihilist “cash grab” view or optimistic “opportunity for new audience” view. The chorus is rarely louder about this issue than when it comes to the live-action/photorealistic adaptions Walt Disney Studios releases based upon their animated features. Even if several feature rather complicated characters best left to the past (ahem, Dumbo’s Jim Crow), each film is a time capsule of their respective eras. To some, that makes them precious, as though the adaptations are somehow reductive to the legacy of the animated editions. Truth be told, the only thing that determines any film’s value is how the audience receives it. What can be evaluated, however, is whether the adaptation does anything that pushes it closer to the optimistic view more than the nihilistic one. As both the 1992 Ron Clements and John Musker-directed (The Little Mermaid) animated Aladdin: Signature Collection edition and 2019 Guy Ritchie-directed (Snatch) live action Aladdin release on digital HD August 27th and 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD September 10th, a comparison is certainly top of mind.
In both iterations the premise is relatively the same: street thief Aladdin survives by his wits, stealing what he can to survive in the city of Agrabah, but is always willing to share his spoils with those less fortunate them himself. Upon noticing a girl in trouble, Aladdin steps in to help, which is where he meets Jasmine, the princess of Agrabah in disguise. Meanwhile, the Sultan’s advisor, Jafar, sends men to capture Aladdin, as he believes Aladdin possesses both the inherent goodness required to acquire a magical lamp from the Cave of Wonders. When Aladdin’s monkey companion Abu accidently sets off the Cave’s defenses, the duo find themselves trapped within the cave until Aladdin rubs the lamp, setting the genie free in the process. After some light bonding, the trio, also joined by a flying carpet, escape the cave and set about winning Jasmine’s hand. Despite his good intentions, Aladdin finds himself lying to the woman he loves and trying to prevent Jafar from stealing the throne from the Sultan. It’ll take more than magic for the day to be won. It’ll require a diamond in the rough.
The core of the films may remain the same, but there are enough differences for them to feel like unique experiences. It’s not just the shift in presentation of the genie, which prolific entertainer Will Smith does his level-best in making the character his own after Robin Williams’ iconic performance, but the changes to the characters, their motivations, and the approach to the narrative which make them more individual. Some will seem like nitpicks — in the 2019 version, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) works with several trusted soldiers versus plotting alone with Iago (voiced by frequent Disney voice actor Alan Tudyk) — while others abruptly change the aspects of character relationships — the “do you trust me?” scene is altered in the live-action version in a way that makes little sense and Jasmine is given more agency — which are likely to grate. Additionally, while 1992’s Aladdin feels like a cohesive story wherein tone matches character, 2019’s version can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. An action story? A buddy comedy? Broadway production? In short, by trying to differentiate itself from the animated feature, it changes much of what made the animated feature so strong.
Let’s look at a few details for comparison to see the ripple effect:
When Aladdin and Jasmine first meet, it’s after she gives food to a starving child without paying for it, earning the justified ire of the goods seller. In the original, Aladdin steps in, leading Jasmine to play addle-minded to suggest that she’s somehow daft and therefore shouldn’t lose her hand as punishment for theft. This aspect hasn’t aged well, so co-writers Ritchie and John August (Corpse Bride) wisely alter it so that Aladdin instead uses Jasmine’s bracelet as payment for the food she stole, only to steal the bracelet back while the seller is distracted. This is smartly updates an uncomfortable interaction and highlights Aladdin’s quick thinking as easily as the original. However, Ritchie and August decide that the moment the two run from the seller and the soldiers he’s sending after them is the perfect moment for “One Jump Ahead.” Originally an introductory song for Aladdin and his ingenuity in tight situations, the number is played as a getaway for the duo. That’s mostly fine, except the lyrics sing of bread — which he stole in the original number – and the execution is jarring as Ritchie switches between the standard 24 frames per second and 16 frames per second, adding a sped-up effect that comes and goes throughout the number. Ritchie’s prior films always possess a bit of flair, bending reality a bit to enhance the emotionality of a moment, but it doesn’t work as well here since it’s a technique he uses at inconsistent times. Additionally, the “do you trust me” line is delivered as soon as Aladdin meets Jasmine in the 2019 version, which doesn’t make sense as they’ve just met. How could she possibly trust him in their first meeting, stranger to stranger, whereas the original had them first get away, have several chats, and then try to escape from more soldiers. They’d had a chance to bond before that question was thrown out, which is why his asking carries the weight it does the first time and why it serves as a signal for her the second time, later in the film.
Two other significant changes relate to Genie. Ritchie and August added a wrinkle to the lamp so that the user has to be in the process of rubbing the lamp while wishing, whereas all the owner of the lamp must do is speak in the animated edition. It’s a small change, but an unnecessary one which creates more problems than it solves. In the ’92 version, Aladdin tricks the genie into saving them from the Cave by challenging his skills. It’s a sequence which once more highlights Aladdin’s cleverness under pressure and establishes for Genie that Aladdin is different from his previous masters. In the ’19 version, Aladdin wishes but doesn’t rub the lamp. It’s still a trick the genie falls for, but it showcases nothing about Aladdin and barely implies Genie’s underestimation of Aladdin. Considering the sequence later in the film where the genie saves Aladdin’s life without directly wishing, it’s likely that Ritchie and August view their change as one which makes Genie’s choice easier to explain narratively. Instead, it merely shifts the focus onto the genie, making that character more impressive than Aladdin. This becomes even more evident after the transformation into Prince Ali, as suddenly Aladdin’s ability to confidently adapt to any situation disappears and Genie must direct him at every turn. Smith already had a difficult job taking on a role upon which Williams placed such a stamp, and he does wonders with it. However, even though it appears that Smith’s natural charismatic side is more muted here than normal, he still absolutely overtakes Massoud in every scene they share. Much of this is due to the new characterization of Aladdin. The once confident and clever character becomes overwhelmed in his new role, something which works well as it relates to the larger theme of being true to yourself that the ’19 version focuses on, except that it diminishes the character’s strengths.
The film isn’t all bad, however, and when viewed on its own, is quite enjoyable. One particular desirable change is the increased agency for Jasmine. The audience is given more backstory as to why she’s so often locked in the castle, the character’s given more freedom to challenge prospective suitors, and there’s a stronger focus on her intelligence over beauty. Jasmine was presented as equally quick-witted to Aladdin and similarly agile in the ’92 film, but Ritchie and August make a point to spend some time exploring the character where the original did not. For her part, Naomi Scott (Power Rangers) is a strong fit for the role, commanding attention not just for her appearance but the way she presents the character. Another character given more backstory is Jafar. This, however, is one of those less-is-more situations which Kenzari does his absolute best to manage. It’s hard to top the slithery, sliminess of Jonathan Freeman’s vocal performance, as well as the similarly wiry character design which made Jafar so chilling in his ’92 depiction. In the ’19 version, the reasons given for Jafar’s motivations make him an excellent foil for Aladdin and the scenes the two actors share are quite delightful. Though Kenzari possesses an unignorable presence in the role, the character rarely comes across as anything more than petulant.
As with any major home release, the special features offer an opportunity to dig deeper into some of your favorite moments. As the latest addition to the Signature Collection, ’92 Aladdin features all the bonus features from previous home releases, plus a few new additions. Chances are you already know the words to all the songs, so the “Sing-Along with The Movie” version of the film will hit you right in the heartstrings. There’s a featurette titled “Let’s Not Be Too Hasty” wherein you can watch the voice cast record their lines and another, “Aladdin on Aladdin,” where actor Scott Weinger (Fuller House) shares stories about his experience auditioning for the role and what becoming Aladdin has meant to him. The ’19 edition offers deleted scenes and a deleted song, a blooper reel, and three music videos for two songs, as well as three featurettes. Special access is granted to a “making of” featurette for the new song “Speechless” if you own a digital copy and, if you pre-ordered, a featurette titled “Make Way for Prince Ali” shows you how they created the sequence for the film. Of the featurettes on the disc, the one that’s particularly interesting is “A Friend Like Genie,” which actually gives audiences a look at how Smith created his own version of the character. Though it opens with Williams, and that version appears a few times throughout, it’s clear that Smith had his own vision for who the genie is and what he wants. More of that would’ve gone a long way in making 2019’s Aladdin more unique.
1992 Aladdin: Signature Collection
- Sing Along With the Movie – Sing along to your favorite tunes as you watch the film. With magical on-screen lyrics.
- Aladdin on Aladdin – Join the speaking voice of Aladdin, Scott Weinger (“Fuller House”), as he reflects on almost 30 years of being Aladdin.
- “Let’s Not Be Too Hasty”: The Voices of “Aladdin” – Take your seat in the recording booth and watch as the voice actors of “Aladdin” work their microphone magic.
- Alternate Endings – Enter the realm of “what if” and see just how differently the movie could have ended.
- Drawing Genie – Join prolific animator Eric Goldberg as he draws and reminices about the Genie.
Classic Bonus – Revisit over 40 exciting bonus features from previous releases including:
- The Genie Outtakes
- “Aladdin”: Creating Broadway Magic
- Unboxing “Aladdin”
Blu-ray & Digital Bonus Features:
- Aladdin’s Video Journal: A New Fantastic Point of View – Watch behind-the-scenes moments captured by Mena Massoud (Aladdin) in this fun, fast-paced look at his personal journey.
- Deleted Song – “Desert Moon” – Experience a moving duet performed by Jasmine and Aladdin, fully shot and edited, with an introduction by Alan Menken.
- Guy Ritchie: A Cinematic Genie – Discover why director Guy Ritchie was the perfect filmmaker to tackle this exhilarating reimagining of a beloved classic.
- A Friend Like Genie – Discover how Will Smith brings talent, experience and his own personal magic to the iconic role of Genie.
- Deleted Scenes
- Falling Petals Into OJ
- Jafar’s Magic Orrery
- Anders’ Gift
- Wrong Wishes
- Silly Old Fool
- Post Yam Jam Debrief
- Bloopers – Laugh along with the cast and crew in this lighthearted collection of outtakes from the set.
- Music Videos
- “Speechless” – Music video performed by Naomi Scott
- “A Whole New World” – Music video performed by ZAYN and Zhavia Ward
- “ A Whole New World” (“Un Mundo Ideal”) – Music video performed by ZAYN and Becky G.
Digital Presale Bonus Feature:
- Make Way for Prince Ali – Take a look at the gigantic design extravaganza that came together for this scene of Genie-sized proportions.
Digital Exclusive Bonus Feature:
- “Speechless”: Creating a New Song for Jasmine – Follow the story of Jasmine’s inspirational song “Speechless,” written by Alan Menken, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul especially for this version of “Aladdin.”
Final (Film) Score: 3 out of 5.