Two decades from now, I wonder what kids growing up in 2019 will choose when it comes to a Disney film.
Will it be the vivid, imaginative animated classics like “Beauty and The Beast” and “Aladdin,” or will it be their live-action facsimiles?
I can see kids getting into the live-action version of “Aladdin,” as it nearly copies every beat of the original, down to Will Smith’s Genie character repeating the same exact jokes Robin Williams told in the 1992 animated version. To them, this is new, lively and funny. Who wouldn’t be entertained by a shape-shifting, transporting, multiplying version of The Fresh Prince?
But try as Smith does to inject energy and looseness to this, he’s fighting a losing battle on several fronts. Williams’ Genie character was a unique interpretation specific to his personality and improv abilities. One could argue the only way to capture his frantic style was to do it through animation. Smith’s version is a charismatic, yet lifeless cover version of that. It can only wish to strike notes that somewhat resemble the original.
That touches the tip of the iceberg of the bigger problems with this new version of the movie. The original “Aladdin” was tour-de-force of comedy, brilliant songwriting and memorable action sequences that were bursting with color and energy. While this live-action version occasionally comes to life, it’s mostly flat and muted.
That desaturated color palette is the go-to for writer-director Guy Ritchie (the “Sherlock Holmes” films, “Snatch”), a guy with a knack for profane, violent films that makes him an odd choice for a crowd-pleasing, PG-rated Disney film.
Ritchie proves he can handle the kinetic, high-flying camerawork for an opening number like “Arabian Nights,” with Smith crooning over swooping crane shots of Agrabah. But he quickly loses the thread with the faster-paced “One Jump Ahead,” as manic editing and sped-up camera work make it tough to follow Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott, easily the best part of the movie) on their run from the law.
The cast does what it can to re-create the spirit of the animated version. While sometimes monotone, Massoud has an understated charm. Scott brims with confidence as a more equality-driven version of Jasmine, who longs to be the first female successor to her father, The Sultan (Navid Negahban). But powerful forces, mainly the ancient patriarchal rules of Agrabah, stand in her way. Oh yeah, and there’s the sniveling Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), with a character so cartoonishly evil that it makes the animated version seem subtle.
The story goes as you would expect: Jasmine must find a suitable prince to marry so they can name him heir to The Sultan. With the help of the Genie, Aladdin can turn from a thieving street urchin into the suave Prince Ali, marry Jasmine and live happily ever after.
Ritchie, who co-wrote the movie with “Frankenweenie” scribe John August, made minimal, inconsequential changes to “Aladdin.” They add Dalia (Nasim Pedrad) as a friend and handmaiden to Jasmine, as well as a forgettable new song, “Speechless,” by “La La Land’s” Pasek and Paul that in no way jells with the movie’s existing tunes.
For every way this movie doesn’t capture what the original did well, it at least knows not to mess too much with the formula. But I find it hard to believe that anyone will be putting this on once the nostalgia wears off.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live