It’s obvious by now that the Disney live-action remakes are made to scratch a nostalgic itch in the adults who watched the animated films as kids, expose their children to these stories, and to make a bunch of money. Are they usually good films? No. They tend to be average and forgettable because they are so busy trying to recreate the original magic, and they fail to forge something new and exciting. The remakes don’t really measure up, and the trend unfortunately continues with Aladdin.
Based on the ancient Middle Eastern folk tale “The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (The Arabian Nights), Aladdin tells the tale of the “street rat” (Egyptian/Canadian actor Mena Massoud), who eats to live, and steals to eat on the busy market streets of Agrabah. One day, he meets Princess Jasmine (British actress Naomi Scott), and after helping her escape the guards, falls in love with her. You know the rest, so let’s skip ahead to what works and what doesn’t in this adaptation.
The main characters of Aladdin and Jasmine are great in their roles. Jasmine’s story has been expanded with a subplot of her wanting to become Sultan, and it gives her a more interesting story than just being a love interest. Unfortunately, the new original song – a power ballad called “Speechless” is only given a single verse before the movie shifts to other plot points. When we finally get to hear her sing the full song about why she refuses to be ignored, it’s during a fantasy sequence at the end of the film, and no one else actually hears it. That’s not a good idea when you’re trying to expand and empower this character. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast leaves quite a bit to be desired. Jafar (Manwan Kenzar) never comes across as intimidating, let alone evil. The film turns his evil pet (Iago) into a realistic parrot that only speaks a few lines, totally wasting the talent of Alan Tudyk. Aladdin’s monkey Abu is completely computer generated, and some of his actions look very odd when interacting with human actors.
Will Smith is willing to try and fill the large shoes left by Robin Williams’ iconic Genie, but almost every moment of his performance feels forced and inorganic. Williams spouted off one liners and impersonated people at a blazing pace, but the film tries to make Smith recreate the role instead of allowing him to make it his own. At times, the Genie is comic relief, sometimes Mr. Exposition, and in one odd sequence, a wingman to Aladdin. There is a weird and unfortunate romantic subplot with former Saturday Night Live actress Masim Pedrad who is Jasmine’s handmaiden. The whole performance is low energy, even in the musical numbers like “Prince Ali” and “Friend Like Me.” Smith, like the film, tries hard but it feels like an inferior copy. I have seen the successful Broadway adaptation several times, so I know it’s possible to create a unique version of the Genie and still feel true to the character Robin Williams created. I don’t think Will Smith was given the opportunity and the performance suffers as a result.
Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock, Two Smoking Barrels, Sherlock Holmes) directs his first musical and it shows. He has no real idea on how to stage and shoot the musical numbers, and stuffs each frame with so much color and action that it all blurs together. He then speeds up the dancing to a bizarre pace that is distracting from the film. There are some very unfortunate green screen work in the film that completely removed me from the story, especially during the Cave of Wonders escape, Aladdin’s and Jasmine’s escape from the guards, and during the flying carpet sequence where Aladdin and Jasmine sing “A Whole New World.”
Overall, it’s a film that is completely unnecessary, but completely harmless. You’ll tap your foot along with the songs you love, but you’ll probably be longing for Disney+ to go live so you can watch the superior 1992 film. You can at least check out some clips online like the ones below.
Val and Jake liked the film more than I did, with each of them giving the film a B, while I give it a solid C grade.