Obviously, there’s the original 1992 Disney film in all its animated glory, with a genie brought to life by late genius Robin Williams. (That is, if you have it on DVD, because this gem is locked up in the stupid Disney Vault, and if you want to show it to your uneducated boyfriend you won’t be able to find it anywhere.)
Then came the much anticipated live-action adaptation just this past month, with a genie brought to life by Will Smith. Finally, if you can’t get enough of Agrabah, the Dallas Summer Musicals has brought us a flesh-and-blood version running now until June 23, with a genie brought to life by a Broadway performer and former North Texan.
So let’s break it down.
The StoryObviously, all three mediums are retelling the same story. Specifically, they are all telling the Disney version of the story, so you have the same major characters and major plot lines each time. Here is where they differ: The musical dragged out certain scenes to spend time in a song-and-dance spectacle, and since the musical itself runs longer than a feature-length film, it was a tad slower-paced. Which is fine, since the singing and dancing is what you come to a musical theater show for anyway. Scenes at the marketplace or in the Cave of Wonders were more like displays of entertainment rather than quick storytelling devices.
The tone of the musical was a lot lighter in general, perfect for the whole family. There was a lot more comedy, and even Jafar was more comic relief than villain. The live-action movie, however, was able to provide more background and depth to the story of Aladdin. Instead of a random man narrating the story in the beginning of a film and singing “Arabian Nights,” the movie has Will Smith introduce the tale, later revealing that he was the Genie all along.
The live-action movie was also able to put more at stake for our heroes as they included more politics and bigger issues for the Sultan, his adviser and his daughter to fight over than the “Who will marry the princess?” plot line from the original. The updated version also presented a more threatening Jafar.
Characters and CastingThe original Aladdin is probably one of the only Disney movies in which not every animal can talk. The only animal that speaks is Iago, Jafar’s parrot. With sidekicks like Abu the monkey, Raja the tiger and even the magic carpet, the animated film had the most freedom to play with these characters and give them life.
The musical only whipped out the carpet a couple of times, and though it served its practical purpose — to carry the leads in the air to sing “A Whole New World” — it wasn’t a character. The musical also replaced Abu with three thieving human best friends for Aladdin, who were very well cast and provided plenty of comedy throughout the show. Another huge source of hilarity was their replacement for Jafar’s parrot, though we’re still not entirely sure if the actor was supposed to actually be a parrot or just a parrot-like man.
The live-action film did well with these little friends, while capturing a much more realistic spirit than they achieved in the original movie. The character of Aladdin was consistently well-represented in all three versions. North Texas native Clinton Greenspan delivered an impressive performance in the musical. But the character who has seemed to change most since the '90s is Princess Jasmine.
Jasmine is one of the most fiery and spirited Disney princesses of all time. And with the singing voice of Leia Salonga in the original animated film, who could beat that? The musical cast Kaena Kekoa, a Hawaii native, in the role of Princess Jasmine. It was her first tour, and she delivered. The musical also wrote her character with a greater inclination to rule. Not only did she want to chose to marry whom she liked, but she also had a real desire to rule the Kingdom, something the original film left out, but then again, '90s.
The musical only whipped out the carpet a couple of times, and though it served its practical purpose — to carry the leads in the air to sing “A Whole New World” — it wasn’t a character.
This is emphasized even more in the live-action movie, in which the Naomi Scott-portrayed Jasmine actually becomes sultan and has opinions about her country’s issues and how it should be run. Though her singing isn’t exactly Leia Salonga, and the new song written for her in this movie was a little cringe-y and unnecessary, the acting was flawless.
When the first trailer for the live-action film came out, the internet flooded with memes and tweets horrified at a blue Will Smith. As Harry Potter once said, “How dare you stand where he stood?” It was a long introspective process coming to terms with the fact that someone would be taking the place of the beloved Robin Williams. But it wasn’t as bad as we all thought it was going to be. Smith made the character his own and brought a very Fresh Prince of Bel Air feel to the character and the songs. We’ll forgive him.
Major Attaway, the other touring Texas native, has played the Genie on Broadway, and it is clear he has mastered the role. Taking a much more comedic approach, Attaway has the audience laughing with every word, spitting out Disney and pop culture references like no one’s business.
MusicWhat we all really want to know is who did “A Whole New World” better?
Not the live-action movie. It’s a smudgy CGI mess, and though the acting and the chemistry of the actors are great, the singing doesn't measure up to the other versions.
The musical was smart with its execution of this number. First of all, the set and lighting for it were magical. Aladdin and Jasmine stepped onto the magic carpet and were carried up into a captivating sea of twinkling stars. They kept it simple: stars, the moon, the carpet and the leads. And the pair delivered a softer version of the ballad that added to the dreamlike effect, which didn't compete with the original song but stood on its own.
If you can’t get to the original movie because of the aforementioned whole Disney Vault thing, these two other options aren’t exactly horrible. The live-action movie was not a total sin against the 1992 version as the memes had prepared us for, and the musical is a fun night of quality entertainment. But of course, who can beat good old-fashioned Disney? So excuse us as we listen to the original “A Whole New World” until we die.