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Aladdin Review

May 24, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Will Smith Aladdin
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Aladdin Review  

Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Written By: John August and Guy Ritchie
Runtime: 128 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action/peril

Mena Massoud – Aladdin
Will Smith – Genie
Naomi Scott – Princess Jasmine
Marwan Kenzari – Jafar
Nasim Pedrad – Dalia
Alan Tudyk – Iago
Navid Negahban – Sultan
Billy Magnussen – Prince Anders

Considering all the recent success Disney has experienced in remaking its classic animated catalog as live-action versions, Disney had no reason to say no to the challenge of remaking the highly beloved Disney animated version of Aladdin. Guy Ritchie takes the reins to direct the new live-action musical, which he co-wrote alongside John August. However, while the film contains some familiar characters, visual motifs and classic songs, this remake is woefully disappointing.

Somehow, Ritchie and August lost sight of the main theme of theAladdinAladdin retains the musical format of the 1992 animated original and the classic songs by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice. These are still some of the best songs ever created for a Disney film, and the musical numbers provide the most lavish and exciting moments in an overall mediocre experience.

That said, the music did sound off at times. Will Smith had difficulty hitting some of the high notes. As a result, some of the songs had a lot more reverb and auto-tuning effects. It doesn’t completely ruin the songs, but there’s definitely a noticeable difference.

Of course, it’s hard to ignore the legacy the late, great Robin Williams left behind for this character. Thankfully, Will Smith is not trying to mimic Williams at all. Instead, he’s doing his own material; and thanks to Smith’s charisma, he probably provided the film’s best laughs, scattered as they were.
Aladdin mainly differs from its animated predecessor in that the script has been heavily padded to make the film run over two hours. That means there’s a brand-new romantic subplot for the Genie, of all people, and Genie gets to take a larger role in playing Date Doctor for Aladdin. Yes, large swaths of the movie are basically the Disney musical version of Will Smith’s 2005 film Hitch. Additionally, the rewritten scenes attempt to replace the more exaggerated animated humor that cannot be translated into a live-action format.

Believe it or not, Will Smith’s version of Genie is better than expected. The CG visuals when Genie is in his giant blue form are jarring at times and a little off-putting. It’s a style that the animators and production weren’t quite able to crack. These sequences are mercifully broken up when Genie takes a more human form throughout the narrative.

Unfortunately, while the production allows Smith to remain his overall wacky persona, other significant characters lack pizzazz, especially Alan Tudyk, whose talents are wasted on Iago. In this version, Iago is nothing more than a squawking parrot, with a slightly expanded vocabulary. Anyone who has watched Alan Tudyk’s vocal work on the amazing Star vs. The Forces of Evil, where he plays Ludo and King River, would know Tudyk could have done way more in this role.

Credit is given to the film because Mena Massoud is probably Aladdin‘s best discovery. He looks handsome and has a glowing smile. He is fairly believable, and he has a good singing voice. The rewrites for the live-action format have disappointingly excised a lot of the strong interactions and material with Princess Jasmine (Scott). Sadly, the relationship is not nearly as romantic and fleshed out here, but Massoud asserted himself well. Some of the Massoud’s dialogue is incredibly forced and awkward, but he does his best with what he’s given. He captures the look of a live-action version of the animated hero very well.

Princess Jasmine’s character has been rewritten to be more relevant to 2019. These alterations to Jasmine’s character are poorly executed and don’t mesh with the narrative. The new Jasmine scenes and characterization are painfully forced and contrived.

If John August and Guy Ritchie wanted a new story with Jasmine as the main heroine, that’s what they should have done. However, what happens in the film comes off more like a way for everyone in the production to high-five themselves and compliment each other for treating the character this way.

There’s a musical sequence that basically stops the story flat so Jasmine can have a big moment. The song is somewhat reminiscent of “Let It Go” in Frozen and sounds totally out of place and out of tone with the rest of the movie. Not to mention, this big moment for Jasmine is quickly undone in a matter of seconds and has little overall impact. So, in trying to make Jasmine more heroic, her actions are rendered ineffectual. This is despite the fact that 1992’s Aladdin had an animated TV spinoff series that lasted for several seasons with plenty of reference material where the Disney version of Jasmine gets to step out on her own and take the center stage.

The biggest tragedy of the movie is not Will Smith’s Genie. In fact, the true misfire is Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar. Kenzari has the look down with the costume and the iconic staff. Yet Jafar has no personality or charisma. He has no attitude. He never breaks out in song either. The animated version of Jafar is one of the greatest onscreen Disney villains in history. Hell, he’s probably one of the greatest cinematic villains period. The live-action Jafar is nothing more than a one-note baddie.

This is not meant as an arbitrary condemnation on live-action iterations of Disney’s Jafar. In fact, the Once Upon a Time spinoff, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, had a far superior adapted version of Jafar played by Naveen Andrews. Granted, that was a much different version who was more or less an homage to the animated Disney version. But at least Naveen Andrews had a personality and a more noteworthy story than this hackneyed, half-baked interpretation for the film. The point is that Jafar could have been done better, and Guy Ritchie did not pull it off.

The Sultan (Negahban) suffers in a similar way to Jafar. The actor is completely flat, and the character is paper-thin. In the original animated film, the Sultan was an oafish, roly-poly buffoon, but a likable one. At least in the original, the Sultan had a character to speak of. If Ritchie and August wanted to change the character, that’s fine, but they forgot to give actually develop and flesh out this less comedic version of the character.

The blocking and choreography for the film seem off. Characters are oddly, weirdly glued to one room or location and don’t move around very much. It makes the movie come off in a very lifeless way when it should be lively, dynamic and exciting. Even a chase sequence that leads to a CG-laden romp around Agrabah ends with the characters and the object they seek right back in the same place where they were before. In other words, this major CG-filled chase and action sequence could have been completely cut from the film, and no one would have been the wiser. It’s somewhat strange that in a magical story such as Aladdin, the characters seem so boxed in and closed off.

For example, the exteriors of the Agrabah royal palace are very big on the outside, but the interior locations seem very claustrophobic and smaller in scale and scope. The main throne room is where much of the action takes place, and it’s very underwhelming that it looks so small. There’s no sense of scale and space during the interior scenes. Guy Ritchie is definitely an experienced director and has done better work before, so this style is jarring. It’s like he had trouble getting used to the musical format and making it work for him.

That said, it’s very possible there’s still enough material in the update of Aladdin for kids and families to enjoy. This hardly ruins or touches the original, which still exists as an all-time classic. In fact, the existence of a live-action update might introduce new fans to the original, which is almost 30 years old at this point. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Regardless, there’s no reason to watch an overpriced, pale imitation when the original is still readily available.

The final score: review Poor
The 411
If this is how Disney is going to continue on with live-action remakes of its animated library, then it's time to stop. They are getting progressively worse with each outing. Guy Ritchie does one of his more mediocre directing jobs. His script with John August fails although it does maintain the good songs from the original, but it struggles to rewrite major parts of the story that they couldn't figure out how to execute in live action. The 2019 Aladdin is essentially an inverse of the original theme. Rather than a diamond in the rough, it's a bright, shining piece of fakery.