This is my personal observations of music and score of 2019’s Aladdin in comparison with the 1993 version. I’ll tell you why I think – despite being an absolute fan of the original – that 2019’s Aladdin music and score are superior. I’ll also point out where it imo fails to keep up with the original.
Let’s start with the most obvious. I think we agree that Naomi Scott is a great singer and she handles the song “Speechless” which is very difficult to sing, very well. Though she’s technically very clean and precise, I can’t help feeling that her voice at times seems somewhat “cold”, devoid of vibrato and emotion, especially in “A Whole New World”. It’s not that I don’t like it, but her voice doesn’t capture me emotionally.
Mena Massoud is obviously not as good a singer as Brad Kane, but to my ears he sounds quite as charming and lively. No need to nitpick about him.
As far as the Genie is concerned: I’ll just say it without thinking about how many hate-mails it will get me: I think Will Smith’s vocals are superior to Robin Williams’. RW did a tremendous job back then, he gave the Genie character and he expressed so much with his voice, but I also thought his over-the-top-performance came at the price of musical perfection. Will Smith imo balanced musicality and character better, improvising and shouting where it was needed, but also keeping in tune and rhythm for the most parts.
2. Songs in general
I’m very grateful that they kept all the material in. In fact, they even extended the original material (a new verse of “Arabian Nights” and two reprises of “One Jump Ahead”) which I found very satisfying. It shows that the producers were confident about the quality of the original material. They actually believed in it and didn’t just include it to attract audiences of my age.
I also think it was wise to not include the “Prince Ali Reprise” sung by Jafar in the remake. It wouldn’t have added to the scene or the character, and maybe the actor would just have ruined it.
Well, now we’re at the “Speechless” song. I’ll make it short: The song’s way better than the additional song that Menken composed for Beauty and the Beast (BATB). It fits into the existing material better, but at the same time it’s kind of generic. While the other songs for obvious reasons are linked to each other, this one doesn’t really shout “I’m from Aladdin, the oriental tale about a princess and a thief”. It could as well have been from BATB, perhaps replacing the not-in-the-remake-included “Is this home?”. This doesn’t apply to the lyrics which I think are quite good and carry an important message.
3. Orchestration and Sound
I’m trying to not get ecstatic about this, but if you compare the orchestrations with the original, there’s just so much more going on in the 2019 version. I can’t believe what’s being done with the violins as they swirl across the octaves, there’s bells, exotic string instruments, there’s drumsets, pounding drums, sub-bass elements – this is a masterpiece in orchestration and it can’t be discussed apart from sound quality and mixing. The mix is crystal clear, the frequencies are balanced like in a pop song, there’s subtle reverb with the vocals, it’s top-notch!!
But there’s not only a technical improvement, but also a musical one: There was obviously a clear commitment to making the old material stand by today’s standards. That’s a difficult thing to do, and I’m deeply in awe before the skills of orchestrator and sound engineer. Btw, the orchestrations are not by Alan Menken, but by some other guy whose name I didn’t catch, but the interesting thing is that he’s mentioned in the main credits. When did you last see an orchestrator’s name in the main credits? Right, probably never. This might mean that they were very aware of the importance of orchestration and gave the guy the credit he deserves.
I want to point out a few moments that I personally find totally awesome:
- “A Whole New World”: Listen to the sound as the chorus kicks in for the first time. That’s what I call musical energy!! I also think the hi-hats are really cool in the second verse, and – my personal highlight – the french horns playing a short, but majestic counterpoint at the word “sights” as Jasmine sings “unbelievable sights” (second verse).
- “Prince Ali”: Right at the beginning – They didn’t just repeat the fanfare, but set it a few notes higher the second time. And I also love the sub-bass effect during the part where the music reaches its tempo low (the part where the Genie says “You can do this”).
- “One Jump Ahead”: The drums are doing a really good job, not only providing rhythm as one would suspect, but actually giving it a strong “vibe”. And the strings are running wild in this track – I love it!!
It’s always the small details that matter most, and Aladdin’s orchestration is full of such little details.
Alan Menken is a master of themes and catchy songs, and the only danger he has to face is to demand too much from the audience with his sheer quantity of themes. I think this is what happened with BATB. The vast number of themes there cost it its musical integrity. They didn’t repeat this mistake with Aladdin. Here the number of themes is limited and the score balances their use very cautiously.
5. Other thoughts
I have a few more thoughts about the movie that don’t fit into one of the sections above. I think I’m just gonna list them:
- Mena Massoud might not have the most impressive singing voice, but he is a hell of a dancer and that’s important for the movie!
- Is it me or are there actually fewer anachronisms in the 2019 version than in the 1992 version? Like a genie looking like a submarine or a car between the dunes?
- I didn’t like Abu. He doesn’t look trustworthy.
- The soft-spoken Jafar with his background as a thief makes for an interesting villain. I like how he steals the lamp from Aladdin. Nice touch.
- The female sultan is certainly a nice thought, but it’s a case of “trying too hard”. But it’s also understandable. Conjecturing the events after the original ending, it would lead to Aladdin becoming the new Sultan. That’s something even the original Jasmine would have been irritated by, let alone the new, stronger Jasmine.
- Guy Ritchie has finally made a movie I look forward to watching a second time.
Thanks for reading! Please let me know if you agree or where you disagree with me – right here in the comments or on Twitter.