ALADDIN (2019)

Remakes have been around since the dawn of film. Yes, they’re far more prevalent now than before, but seriously, the classic 1959 version of Ben Hur is a remake. What I’m saying is, remakes aren’t inherently bad. What matters is their original intent, which often isn’t noble. The biggest reason why remakes are made is obviously because of money. Take a recognizable classic and put a new coat of paint on it, and hope that the nostalgic old fans will turn out, as well as enticing new, younger fans. Disney has gone full force with remakes lately, particularly live-action remakes of their animated classics. It all started with 101 Dalmatians back in 1996 and with 2010’s Alice in Wonderland being a worldwide box office smash, Disney knew what their next course of action was: pander to millenials in any way possible, in order to mine their wallets. 

Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a street rat who survives in the Kingdom of Agrabah by stealing and scheming. When he finds a magic lamp and releases the Genie (Will Smith) inside, he gains the ability to be granted three wishes. Aladdin is in love with Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), but knows that royalty like her won’t date a peasant like him. As Aladdin and Genie try to court Jasmine and make Aladdin a prince, the nefarious Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), second in command to The Sultan (Navid Negahban), plans to obtain the lamp and gain power for himself. 

So, yeah, it’s literally a live-action version of Aladdin, but that’s how these Disney live-action remakes go. They’re just our (in which I mean millennials) childhood memories repackaged with some actual actors and a barrage of CGI effects in a desperate attempt to pander to our nostalgia. Unfortunately, it clearly works, as most of these films continue to be hits at the box office. We’re now on the seventh live-action remake and it just means Disney doesn’t have to take a risk at all and can release the blandest films possible. For the most part, Disney’s choices in directors have made sense. Kenneth Branagh’s old British, theatrical sensibilites was the perfect choice for Cinderella (2015) and Tim Burton’s eccentric style was more than fitting for the circus setting of Dumbo (2019). Guy Ritchie for Aladdin, though? I’m not sure what they were thinking. The guy isn’t known for being particularly child friendly, so why him? Was he that desperate for a project after the King Arthur debacle? 

The thing is, you feel the director’s style in some of the other live-action Disney films, but I felt maybe 5% of Guy Ritchie here. There are few scenes of characters bantering, or scheming, and some rare scenes of slow-down/speed-up action. His awful King Arthur film even felt more like him, but maybe because that stayed in England. When you don’t have a bunch of Brits bickering with each other, a key element of his style is lost. He especially doesn’t know how to direct a musical. You can tell the choreography is nice, but the way it’s edited and shot just made it feel awkward and stilted. The sound mixing was awful, too. The music was way too overbearing and I could hardly hear the lyrics, especially from Smith and Massoud, with their much deeper voices. It certainly had a Bollywood-light feeling to it, especially during the big dance in the end credits, but the music and visuals are nowhere near as exhilarating. There were a lot of nice colors, though, especially with the gorgeous costumes and vast environments. Shame the same can’t be said for the CGI, which all falls into the “mediocre” territory. I guess this year’s The Lion King is getting most of the VFX budget.

While it is all paint by numbers and generic, I commend Will Smith for at least making the Genie his own and not just imitating Robin Williams. To be honest, it didn’t seem like he was putting in a whole lot of effort at all. Suicide Squad is much worse than this, but he was at least both charismatic, while bringing enough seriousness to the role of Deadshot. The charisma is here, but just like everything else surrounding him, he just feels like he’s there to collect his paycheck. Especially in the musical scenes where he’s supposed to be all animated, he just looks bored. He especially gets sidelined in the second half of the film, where he kind of just floats there and looks forlorn. His singing isn’t much to write home about either, but as Genie, I suppose he did the job. He definitely did the job better than Marwan Kenzari, who was horrendously miscast as Jafar. This is nothing against Kenzari, who gives a good performance for what he’s given, but he’s just not Jafar. He looks too young, too good looking, and his voice is too high pitched. He came off as more petty and aggravated, than menacing. Not to mention he doesn’t even turn into the giant snake at the end. Lame. 

What saves the film are the actors, especially Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott. They both exude tons of charisma, especially with Massoud and his excellent comic timing and delivery. Scott pretty much gets all of the drama to work with and does a great job, but even then, there’s not really much here for anybody to work with, because Ritchie and co-writer John August don’t expand enough on the story elements or characters to make it interesting. This is a full half-hour longer than the original film and you can really feel how thin the story is when it’s stretched out. What’s ironic is that even though the story is stretched out, it still felt rushed, like it was just itching to get to the next scene. Moments that should feel dramatic give off nothing because they’re handled with no style or emotion. It doesn’t make matters better that you know where the story is going anyway. Because of the underdeveloped elements, I never bought Aladdin and Jasmine’s relationship and it didn’t feel like they had much chemistry anyway. This is supposed to be the heart of the film and it completely fell flat. 

As a lot of remakes go, especially ones that are so literal, everything good about Aladdin (2019) is because of the original film. The music, action setpieces, and characters are all lifted from the original movie and are the things that work the most, but anything created solely for this falls flat. Will Smith makes the Genie his own, but him making it his own is just making it Will Smith. The expanded story elements and new songs don’t do anything to add to the overall narrative. Jafar is a total non-threat as a villain. Yep, like I said before, it’s literally Aladdin, and if that excellent original is still around, what’s the point in watching the far less exciting live-action version? 


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