Aladdin (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 128 Minutes
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott
Aladdin is Disney’s newest attempt at seemingly wanting to exploit their brand along with their animated classics to nostalgia-hungry nutters who will see anything as long as it takes them back to their childhood. Now that seems a bit harsh for me to say, but seriously. Looking back over this decade as Disney have started to readapt their classic movies for a newer generation, the results are very mixed to say the least. I love movies like Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book and David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon for what new they manage to bring to the table in terms of making some solid improvements to their source material. But then we have something like the 2017 Beauty and the Beast: a movie that isn’t inherently bad, but adds nothing to the original source material that’s worthwhile and substantial, and even then any similarities it does have feels somewhat half baked like a poorly made stage play adaptation of the original. It’s clearly something that has been done by Disney these past few years as a way of exploiting their brand to audiences who will eat anything up that keeps in line with their fairy tales and moral values. All of this of course made me extremely skeptical towards Aladdin. I was already a bit sheepish from the start since Guy Ritchie was directing, who hasn’t made a truly good film in nearly a decade following Sherlock Holmes, but what really threw me off was the casting of Will Smith. I have no issue with the actor, but since the original 1992 film had such an iconic role with Robin Williams as the Genie using his classic improv comedy, I just had a feeling nothing had a major chance of recapturing what was already established back when John Musker and Ron Clements set foot into the animated world of the Arabian Nights. But I did decide to give the film a fair chance, so I got my ticket, went on in, and……………..well it could have been worse.
For those of you who aren’t aware of the story behind the 1992 original, it followed an Arabian street rat named Aladdin who fell in love with the Princess Jasmine of Agrabah. The sad truth is that they just aren’t meant to be because Jasmine has to marry before her next birthday and only to a prince. Of course in a world of high-class royalty and democracy, the Sultan’s advisor, Jafar secretly wants to take the throne for his own and his only chance at it is getting his paws on a magic lamp, which he convinces the love-struck Aladdin to do his bidding with the promise of riches in return to impress Jasmine. He finds the lamp, which in turn hides inside an all-powerful Genie (played by Will Smith), who offers Aladdin three wishes as his new master. Aladdin obviously exploits this and uses the Genies abilities to turn him into a prince so that he has a legitimate chance of winning Jasmine’s heart. From there on out is a story of love, loss, hellfire, magic and all the insane wizardry brought to life by the Big Blue Giant that sets off these turns of events ("Oh, that's hot!").
Now this movie felt like a bit of conflicting situation for me. There were many instances throughout the movie where the film clearly wanted to rip off it’s own 1992 animated counterpart which just made me wanted to moan knowing that they did this with Beauty and the Beast to utter plagiaristic levels. But at the same time, I still can’t deny that there are many aspects to this movie that do arguably work just as well as the original too and that comes down to some of the songs and the music cast. The musical numbers from a visual perspective in my opinion can be a little lame, but in terms of the actual songs themselves, they are REALLY GOOD. One Jump Ahead is a very catchy track that introduces Aladdin well as this street rat in Agrabah, Friend Like Me has a fun new rap-take which thankfully doesn’t sound utterly horrible, and even though Jasmine’s new solo-number, Speechless, doesn’t add too much to the story itself it’s a remarkably great song and showcases Naomi Scott’s great talent as an actress and singer. And while on the subject, Naomi Scott if you ask me is the best aspect to this movie. Jasmine has always been one of my favourite Disney Princesses, mostly down to how she’s a fun and rebellious young woman who clearly wants to fight for her own rights, but Naomi adds some solid dimension to her. She has a bit more as a character to play with during this movie and while I wouldn’t say it’s 100% necessary since she was fine enough in the original, she is at least brought to life with grace. Also, Mena Massoud is fine as Aladdin. Nowhere near as energetic or as snarky as before which takes away some of the character’s dimension, but he does a good job with the script he has.
But even with a decent cast and music numbers, it doesn’t mean much else around it helps the movie to be anywhere near close to the quality of its predecessor. Where the original film only featured an 87 minute runtime basically devoid of any padding and filler to keep the story in focus and at the centre here, this movie features a 128 minute runtime with most of the story feeling either too rushed, or too padded with additional story elements that don’t necessarily need to be there. One of the elements that really KILLS Aladdin (2019) is the pacing. The film opens alright as it reintroduces Aladdin as this street rat escaping from the guards after stealing food which keeps the same frenetic pace, but even then following that, the film then goes into a relatively slow crawl until its conclusion, feeling like everything is too stretched out or just padded with pointless story elements that weren’t there in the first place for a reason. Yeah, the 1992 Aladdin is very short and arguably simpler, but the tight runtime meant that there were no wasted moments. Everything had some sort of thematic purpose and kept the story rolling. It might not sound like much to the average consumer, but you really don’t know how much of an issue it is until you go to see it, remember each of the movie’s iconic moments as they come up, but feel as though they are literally taking forever to get there.
Also, from a visual standpoint, though not terrible, I can’t help but feel the movie lacks much of a true creative identity. The best way I can describe this movie’s overall creative intentions is that it’s an overall mix of the animated look of the 1992 film, along with some more authentic looks on the sets and locations to give it more of a modern Middle-Eastern touch to fit the world of Agrabah along with the country of Saudi Arabia. And while I can see how the film is somewhat trying its best to try and meet the best of both worlds to give it a unique look whilst appeasing the corporate Disney overlords, I can’t help but feel it makes it look a bit too tonally confused. The overall Production Design feels a bit too much like a Pantomime to me. I can see the creative intentions but trying to mix an Arabian sense of Authenticity with a very animated colour palette, it just makes everything look cheap. None of it is fully horrible. The cinematography is serviceable, the overall practical effects and stunt work are really good, and the choreography of the dancing during the songs for the most part are done well, even if the practicalities of them don’t do these original tracks justice. Alan Menken is an absolute legend as far as creating Disney music is concerned so seeing him back to re-compose for this movie is a nice touch to see. Everything has been slightly updated and tweaked to support the new actor’s singing talents and it’s all brought together to create a final soundtrack that mostly sounds quite solid.
As far as the Supporting Cast, it is generally a Mixed Bag. Like most, I genuinely like the updates to Jasmine as a character and the amount of time dedicated to her along with the previously mentioned “Speechless” music number help to make her the legit standout. It does somewhat lean towards perhaps having maybe a bit too much of a feminist agenda, but considering the closeted nature of this character and what she wants and strives to be, it doesn’t bother me that much. However, despite how excellently Jasmine was handled, much of the other cast also feel somewhat inferior to the original in contrast. I’m not too bothered by the huge character changes given to The Sultan since his more childlike demeanor in the animated version likely wouldn’t fit this much more authentic take on the character, but I feel it restrains what personality he did have. He just kind of comes of as generic to me. But the real kicker comes from how they REALLY BUTCHERED Jafar. What was one a truly evil little sod with a delightfully slimy personality that was a lot of fun to hate is now a boring blank slate with no richness or flavour to him. His motivations are fine enough, even if his introduction in the film seems awkwardly glossed over, but it’s really in how he is portrayed that makes him so disappointing. He’s never scary when he needs to be, and when he gets increasing more powerful later down the line, I’m not scared of him at all. He’s like that kid you see in the playground who enjoys to play the villains but doesn’t quite understand what makes them so special. I think the actor Marwan Kenzari isn’t necessarily to blame, but more regarding the direction of the film. It’s clearly going for a less energetic feel compared to any other iterations, but since the original Aladdin was so reliant on its energy and comedic timing to really stand out in the wide array of animated films at the time, it only feels as though the film is sucking away any life that made that movie so memorable and special. Now as far as the Genie is concerned, that is also a mixed bag. I’m quite glad that the film for the most part seemed to allow Will Smith do his own thing as this new interpretation of the character, but even then that’s only for his general personality. There are many instances where the film really wants to make him this energetic cartoon character like in the original, but where a very lively and cartoonish Genie can work in animation since he can still blend in seamlessly with the more humanoid characters, when you bring it to Live-Action where his CGI is built to be more photorealistic, it produces this weird uncanny valley feel that does a better job giving the kids nightmares than actually looking appealing or funny. Will Smith’s natural charisma does help the Genie not feel terrible, but he’s still nowhere close to either the humour or genuine heart that Robin Williams brought to the table in the beginning.
As a whole, Aladdin is not a bad film, but one I just can’t find much courage to recommend. It’s not horrible; if you look at it on its own merits it’s a perfectly fun Action Musical with plenty of heart and humour for the family to enjoy. But especially when compared to John Musker and Ron Clement’s animated movie and what that film did to take risks and make a fun, yet fresh Disney movie with heaps more charm and energy, I find it genuinely difficult to appreciate. It’s so clearly a film made as a piece of Disney brand endorsement featuring very little of Guy Ritchie’s own sense of directorial flair to appease the lowest common denominators and Disney Nostalgists to the point where it feels coldly calculated for financial gain rather than for any genuine artistic merit. I like to see movies as a work of art and when something like this comes along, I can’t help but turn my head at it. It’s admittedly a movie I dislike more for what it represents rather than for the overall quality of the film itself. It’s a decent movie if you don’t judge it as a comparison to the original, but I do highly suggest considering why you’re going to see it in the first place because Disney knows its audience too well, and it’s only a matter of time before they find out they don’t have much else to reboot until they become a self-indulgent parody of their past selves. Just a thought.
FINAL RATING: 5/10 (AVERAGE)