Aladdin movie review: Guy Ritchie's live action remake suffers from Will Smith's superficial coolth
Someone like Baz Luhrmann with experience in lavish musicals would probably have given the Aladdin remake that grandness and the heart that it deserved.
It is difficult to write about a live action remake of an animated movie that was a focal point in your childhood without letting emotion get the better of you. There are memories at stake here, and anything less in quality is deemed to be met with both disappointment and anger. Aladdin, the newest live action flavored syrup in the giant menu of Disney’s entertainment cafe was of course never going to be as good as the original, but the question was by how much. The answer is sadly a lot.
Guy Ritchie directs an oddly staid, unambitious looking movie that does not capture the energy and wonder of the original, and in updating it to 2019, loses out both charm and thrills. Right out the gate let us acknowledge that the biggest void here is naturally the lack of Robin Williams, on whose comic timing the entire original movie was engineered. Will Smith is an unworthy replacement who neither has the singing nor comedy muscles to recreate the magic.
The story remains the same – street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud) falls for a young woman from the palace who turns out to be the Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), and stumbles upon a magic lamp whose genie helps him woo the princess. The villainous Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), meanwhile, has plans to steal the lamp and use it to usurp power. Songs and dances ensue, good battles evil, and lessons are learned.
This is not a terrible movie, but just a painfully disappointing one. If you are in for a light hearted comedy and have no clue of the story beats of the original film, you and your kids might actually enjoy the film. Scott is in fact really strong here, and even if the film does not do well her, acting and singing performances are definitely going to turn her into a star. Some of the story beats are glossed over in a good way because the film knows that 90 percent of its audience would have already seen the original.
The problems with this remake, however, begin right at the onset where the film introduces Smith’s character in the opening scene, taking away the sense of discovery from Aladdin and making his lamp finding journey useless. There is Will Smith doing Will Smith things, but that is the problem – the genie in the original was supposed to be many characters thanks to the vast repository of people inside Robin Williams, but Smith is playing the one note Smith here as usual. The fact that he cannot sing is the actual shock given his background in music, and letting him take us through the worst possible karaoke bar version of the opening 'Arabian Nights' song automatically makes your palm approach your face. When Williams had heart and rapid fire energy, Smith’s version of the genie tries to emphasise laid back and ‘coolth’ when the coolth in question is obsolete attitude from the '90s.
The damsel in distress angle from the original film was one of its weaknesses, and the new version tries to show Jasmine as a strong character who defies the evil Jafar, but it is executed in an atrociously melodramatic musical number that is utterly inconsequential, considering what happens right after. Speaking of Jafar, I know of kids who were terrified of the character while watching the original film. In this version, Kenzari renders the most non-threatening Jafar possible, with a weak voice and even weaker body language, and even during the ‘evil’ moments, just absolutely crash lands multiple times.
Ritchie was not the best choice here. Someone like Baz Luhrmann with experience in lavish musicals would probably have given the Aladdin remake that grandness and the heart that it deserved. The ‘big’ moments just do not feel sweeping and aside from ‘A Whole New World’ on the magic carpet, the musical numbers fall visually flat. The film wants to wow you constantly, but just ends up tripping over itself. Onto the live action The Lion King then, which hopefully will not be a misfire.
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