With nostalgia and anticipation we encounter another live-action remake of a classic Disney animated film: Aladdin. Set in the magical kingdom of Agrabah, a story of love, friendship, and humanity unfolds as we follow Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and a mysterious genie (Will Smith) who grants three wishes that could change Aladdin’s life forever.
Filled with vibrant colors, dancing and strong musical numbers, Aladdin does not disappoint visually or musically delivering energetic performances and contemporary versions of our favorite songs. Similar in many aspects to the Disney animated feature, the new Aladdin includes beloved musical numbers such as “A Whole New World” and “Friend Like Me” yet leaves room to more deeply develop our favorite characters for an unexpected but welcome new perspective.
In the new film, Jasmine’s struggle to accept a political marriage runs deeper than her ability to choose love. We find she is a passionate leader, devoted to her people. Jasmine yearns for her father to see her worthiness and value her wisdom, so that one day she may become the sultan and care for her country. Though the Agrabah law prohibits women from ruling over the kingdom, Jasmine’s loyalty and compassion for her people’s well-being is relentless. As Jasmine is told time and again that her role is to “be seen and not heard” she cries out for her value to be recognized in the brand new song “Speechless.”
And Jasmine is not the only character with a makeover. The infamous Genie stays faithful to the classic character in many aspects such as his signature witty banter and matter-of-fact information, yet we also see a deeply caring and sensitive side of this mystical being. The genie’s wish for freedom does not hinge on traveling the world but rather the opportunity to experience real human connection.
In this new adaptation of Aladdin, we quickly realize that this is not just a romance. It is a love story, but it is a story with different forms of love. Jasmine develops love for Aladdin, but her first love is her kingdom and her people. Aladdin loves Jasmine, but we also see his love for the genie and the friendship they share. Even the genie finds a romantic love interest in this story, and yet we witness the strength of his love for Aladdin which remains faithful to the end. The film challenges us to add another layer to our understanding of what love looks like in this well-known narrative. It brings us to the proposition that freedom to be who you are, to be treated with value, respect, and equality is the essence of love.
Aladdin becomes a story of hope and vision as each character vies for a more meaningful life than what they are allowed. Hoping that somehow they will be seen in their full value, beyond beauty, beyond poverty, and beyond power, to be seen and loved as equals in a world that is determined to keep everyone in their separate roles.
The new Aladdin is more than a remake of a classic animated film, it is a new telling of the story for the world we live in today. A world where we strive to empower women to be leaders, a culture where we are learning to not let popularity and status on social media define how we see ourselves, and a time where we are beginning to understand that authentic, vulnerable human connection is the most powerful gift we can ever give or receive.