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‘Aladdin’ (review)

Produced by Dan Lin, Jonathan Eirich
Screenplay by John August, Guy Ritchie
Based on Disney’s Aladdin by
Ron Clements, John Musker
Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and
Aladdin
and the Magic Lamp from
One Thousand and One Nights

Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring Will Smith, Mena Massoud,
Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari,
Navid Negahban,
Nasim Pedrad,
Billy Magnussen, Alan Tudyk

 

How do you take the whimsy and imaginative freedom of a cartoon setting and transfer that energy into the real world?

If anyone finds out, please let Disney know.

Yet again, the studio has taken one of the animated classics of the Disney Renaissance and dragged it into a live action universe.

But unlike Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and the incredibly dark Dumbo, Guy Ritchie’s take on Aladdin manages to come closest to the goal of the original films: make an enjoyable movie for kids.

Orphaned petty-thief-with-a-heart-of-gold Aladdin (Mena Massoud) helps a beautiful stranger in the marketplace who turns out to be Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). She is desperate to control her own outcomes but bound by her father’s insistence that she find a prince to marry who will be the one to rule the kingdom that she knows so well.

Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), scheming adviser to the Sultan, sees the potential in Aladdin and promises him assistance in pursuing Jasmine if he will only steal a lamp from a magical cave. After the cave collapses on Aladdin, he rubs the lamp and meets Genie (Will Smith), and who offers to grant him three wishes to make his dreams come true.

I’m sure you all know the pieces in between and after.

At this point, we can safely say that Disney live-action movies are just remakes and updates, not upgrades and innovation. The desire to hook another generation onto the same franchises where the company built its empire is understandable, and maintaining rather than rewriting the game is certainly the more fiscally-safe option.

The only real addition to this version is a glaringly out of place “Let It Go” style female-empowerment solo for Jasmine that is so stylistically out of step with the rest of the score it seems as if the writers never listened to what the rest of the soundtrack sounded like. If that is a glimpse of what Disney has to offer for new content in their classics, we should just stop right there.

The movie is certainly muted when compared to the original manic energy brought by Robin Williams’ Genie, the belting joy of Lea Salonga’s “A Whole New World”, or musical mastery of Alan Menken and Tim Rice’s original songs.

In the new Aladdin several songs are truncated or have slight changes in lyrics that would trip up a sing-a-long in the theaters. Additionally, animated Aladdin was one of the first movies to use a big name star as both acting talent and singing with the outsized talent of Robin WIlliams. While Will Smith seems to be enjoying himself as Genie (and his expanded storyline including love interest played by the charmingly ditzy Nasim Pedrad), his singing is nowhere near as good as his rapping.

“Arabian Nights” and “Friend Like Me” should be swelling showstoppers, but instead they are just a musical break. Next to the original, there are much weaker vocal skills across the board. Since the movie was always heavily dependent on memorable songs to provide the charm, older audiences will certainly feel shortchanged.

With all this going against it, it is almost amazing that the movie still manages to be reasonably enjoyable. Even after a lackluster “Arabian Nights” opening, the extensive parkour-influenced choreography from “One Jump Ahead” livens up the screen alongside a campy and well-costumed version of “Prince Ali”. Additional dance breaks and comedic setups help keep the pacing, and the addition of a truly awkward meeting between a nervous Prince Ali and the Royal Court is one of the funniest moments in the movie.

Much of the film is shot in a way that is reminiscent of a well-taped stage musical rather than a purposeful motion picture, which oddly grounds expectations in reality. The over-the-top earnestness from Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott fit this type of framing, and make the lackluster Jafar (a one note performance from Kenzari) just one of those characters where you wait patiently for their number to be over.

It is highly unlikely that we will see a Disney remake outpace the original. A renaissance is understandably difficult duplicate. But as more of the catalogue receives this treatment, we can certainly spare a wish for the trajectory to stay on this ever so slight upward trend.

 

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