I know I’m not the target audience for these live-action Disney remakes of their classic movies, but honestly who asked for these? While it’s an interesting way to capitalize on their IP, and given the time since the original, it’s not a ridiculous notion to put something related to the title back in the universe, this just feels wholly unnecessary. Their latest, Aladdin, falls somewhere between awkward spectacle and cringe-inducing Bollywood homage.
Co-Writer/Director Guy Ritchie and co-writer John August have an impressive list of credits between them but this feels like both of them are slumming it. Most of it is a completely faithful update to Disney’s 90s version of the story. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a homeless street urchin in the middle east who makes a living stealing and grifting with the help of his pet monkey, Abu. He falls for the princess (Naomi Scott), even though he’s not sure of her real identity at the time. Through the machinations of the Sultan’s trusted but totally evil advisor, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), Aladdin comes into contact with a magic lamp and the genie (Will Smith) inside. Robin Williams did such an amazing job as the genie in the animated version that it’s a daunting task that Smith has to feel respectful to Williams’ work and yet not tethered to it, and he acquits himself fine. There are some welcome updates to the film as well. Jasmine is given more of a personality, a couple songs of her own, and a lot more agency. New characters Dalia (Nasim Pedrad) and Prince Anders (Billy Magnussen) add much-needed jolts of comedy.
Massoud makes for a decent Aladdin, capturing both the earnest nature, and his jerky side. His singing voice isn’t the strongest, but it’s not as awkward as Smith who feels like he’s in the wrong register. Scott does well with Jasmine’s new numbers, but with only a handful of songs, it’s jarring every time they break into song. As expansive as the world is, the entire set feels, well, like a set. There’s something small and claustrophobic about scenes in the street and in the palace, that don’t feel quite like real places. And the extended chase scene involving the magic carpet and a giant bird veers too much into cartoonish effects that it doesn’t connect visually to the story we’ve been watching. If anything, I feel like the filmmakers should’ve taken more chances, and had more updates to evolve the story versus being so faithful in so many ways.
Again, I’m well aware the movie wasn’t made for me, and it was fun to see kids dancing around after the movie, aping the moves they just saw. But I hope the future of these endeavors attempt to offer something more than just lazy updates that feel more like a cash grab than creative endeavor.
My Grade – C-