One of the ’90s’ biggest animated hits is getting a reboot, and who better to lead the way than the biggest movie star of the ’90s – Will Smith.
In Disney’s sixth live-action remake of the decade – and the second of four set to release in 2019 – director Guy Ritchie takes on the task of adapting the classic 1992 film “Aladdin.” Ritchie seemed like a relatively unorthodox choice considering his lack of experience with musicals, but his trademark overstylization seemed like it would fit right in.
His energetic technique is present, but Ritchie’s “Aladdin” ends up being a lot of the same.
The plot is fairly truthful to the original, following Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and his monkey Abu live on the streets of the fictional Middle Eastern city of Agrabah, stealing to survive and dreaming for more. After saving the kingdom’s princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and developing a bit of a crush on her, Aladdin finds himself wrapped up in the scheming Jafar’s (Marwan Kenzari) evil plan that eventually leads him to the iconic gold genie lamp.
The film clearly acts under the impression that the audience doesn’t want to retread the first act of the animated version. The result is a rushed, choppy first 30 minutes, with certain songs – most notably “One Jump Ahead” – feeling like afterthoughts and certain character introductions completely ignored.
The film does manage to close up plot holes and weave finer details into Jafar’s and Jasmine’s character arcs. But while Jasmine’s new focuses on independence and personal political power fit in seamlessly, Jafar now comes off as a discount Littlefinger from “Game of Thrones” – a slimy self-made man using chaos as a ladder – rather than the intimidating super villain from the original.
The film finally finds its footing when the Genie (Smith) bursts on screen in all of his charismatic glory. Smith avoids a Robin Williams impression and instead makes the role his own – every scene he is in is a delight to watch.
His ad-libs are down-to-earth and funny, his songs are unique and his new subplot with Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad) is a pleasant surprise. But Smith’s chemistry with Massoud shines brightest, and the dialogue scenes between the two are genuine and the emotional center of the film. Their banter is organic, their relationship is believable and their back-and-forths boast the film’s best writing by far.
Aladdin and Jasmine’s relationship is more fleshed out this time around as well, and they are a sweet on-sceen couple. But the film’s lone new song, “Speechless,” seems sorely out of place. The song is about Jasmine’s refusal to be quiet and smile, which is empowering in isolation, but its contemporary style does not mesh with that of the iconic songs from the original.
The musical adaptations from the animated film are hit-or-miss as well – “Arabian Nights” and “One Jump Ahead” are rushed and not particularly memorable, while “Prince Ali” and “Friend Like Me” are bombastic, glorious and plenty of fun.
And much like Disney’s last live-action musical “Mary Poppins Returns,” “Aladdin” has colorful and intricate production design. Whether it’s the wild streets of Agrabah, the mysterious Cave of Wonders or the extravagant palace, every set, prop and costume is nearly perfect.
But outside the fancy sets, costumes and a slight twist to otherwise iconic songs, “Aladdin” does not have too much going for it. Massoud’s and Kenzari’s forgettable performances and a rushed first act don’t do the film any favors, and Ritchie’s efforts to differentiate his film from the original mostly fall flat.
However, what does work really works. Smith puts the film on his back as Genie and flips a choppy movie into a delightful ride.
So while it may not be the complete package fans of the original were wishing for, “Aladdin” is still able to make its mark.