It took a few of these, but we have finally made it to a “Disney remakes one of their animated classics as live-action” for a film that I actually loved as a kid. We must proceed with caution.
“Aladdin” is the latest of the live-action Disney remakes, retelling the 1992 film, as well as the second of five to be released in 2019, alongside “Dumbo,” “The Lion King,” “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” and “Lady and the Tramp.” It stars Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott as the titular street urchin and Princess Jasmine, respectively, and Will Smith as the Genie. Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad and Billy Magnussen also star as Guy Ritchie directs.
This film has been the victim of internet hate since Day 1. From the complaints about Will Smith’s casting in the iconic Robin Williams role to the backlash on his appearance in the trailers, as well as issues with racial casting and white-washing (take all those with however much salt you like), this had an uphill climb to the bigscreen. However, despite all its baggage and the… interesting choice in director, “Aladdin” kind of, sort of, mostly works.
The thing most people feared would be the worst part of the movie actually ends up being the best part of the movie, and that is Will Smith as the Genie. I have defended the casting from the announcement, just like when Ben Affleck was announced as Batman and he ended up being the shining part of “Batman v Superman.” No one will ever top Robin Williams in the role nor would they bother to try; however if anyone can come close and still make it his own, it is the Fresh Prince. Smith has some great one-liners and moments of charm or flamboyant humor, almost harkening back to his “Hitch” days. The Genie design itself still looks…unfinished, but Smith is often “hiding” in his human form.
Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are both solid in their roles, and have some nice young love chemistry. There are times they seem trapped in the shadow and/or trying to outshine their animated counterparts, however those are fleeting. Massoud has one scene that really lets him display his awkward humor and give-and-take with Smith, however other scenes he seems bashful in the wrong ways. As Princess Jasmine, Scott (who stole the “Power Rangers” reboot and is unfairly beautiful) gets to somewhat fix the complaints about the damsel-in-distress princess from the last 25 years, although it can be a bit on-the-nose after the third time a man says “you are to be seen, not heard” and she bursts out into song.
The musical numbers (featuring original composer Alan Menken, as well as a new song from “La La Land” duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) are all toe-tapping and nostalgia-inducing, and when the “Arabian Nights” beat began as we swept over the streets of Agrabah made me have flashes of childhood memories I haven’t thought about in years. Some will say Smith’s “Friend Like Me” or “Prince Ali” are too slow or “just not the same” but just like with his performance if you compare them to Williams you’ll never be able to enjoy them. On their own they’re quite enjoyable, as is the “A Whole New World” sequence.
The issues with the film lie mostly on the shoulders of director Guy Ritchie. Known for his gangster pics and over-use of slow motion, not to mention his recent films all losing studios millions of dollars, Ritchie seemed like an odd choice to head an “Aladdin” remake. Some of his techniques work, like running through the dusty streets or seeing vast city landscapes, however the chase sequences sometimes cut randomly and on one occasion the film straight-up becomes a stop-motion music video; it’s jarring. Ritchie also has some actors completely overact their lines and chew scenery, and that is a job that should be reserved for Genie alone, not the calm, cool, collected Jafar.
At the end of the day, much like with “Dumbo,” I have to ask myself: did I enjoy myself while watching “Aladdin” and would it entertain child me? And I believe the answer is yes. There is a sense of childhood whimsy sprinkled throughout the film, and the bright costumes and colorful (if not slightly uninspired) musical numbers all make for an engaging experience. Will I or history remember this remake in 25 years? Doubtful, except as the answer to a Trivia Pursuit question, but for in-the-moment magic, there are worse things you can wish for than “Aladdin.”
Critic’s Rating: 7/10
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