A whole new world? Hardly. The new, completely unnecessary live-action re-make of Disney's animated classic, "Aladdin" should have stayed bottled up.
To quote the Genie: "I'm in the mood to help you, dude." And the best help I can provide you is to have you ask yourself: Why? Why is Disney re-making every animated film in their library? Is nothing sacred? What is the point of it all?
Well, the answers to these questions are fairly obvious I suppose. They're going to make millions and billions of dollars first of all. And no, of course nothing is sacred, that's why we have already seen live re-makes of "Cinderella," "The Jungle Book," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Dumbo" in recent years, and in the next few will witness re-makes of "The Lion King," "Mulan," "Lady and the Tramp" and "The Sword in the Stone" (and these are just the ones that have been officially announced). Cashing in with live-action re-makes is of course nothing new, I mean, who can forget the 1996 film "101 Dalmatians" or its 2000 sequel, "102 Dalmatians" (and you guessed it: Glenn Close is returning to produce the upcoming "Cruella" as well).
So there is no avoiding the Disney re-make. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. In the case of "Aladdin," please don't make the error of mistaking familiarity with entertainment.
The bright spots of the new live-action "Aladdin" are Naomi Scott as Jasmine, SNL alum Nasim Pedrad as her faithful handmaiden Dalia, and Marwan Kenzari who does a fairly convincing job as the villain Jafar, in spirit if not in looks. But oh, are the bright spots outnumbered by the blotches of pure awfulness that simply cannot be wished away.
We'll get to Will Smith as the Genie in a minute. But even worse than his performance is how this film is staged and directed by Guy Ritchie ("Sherlock Holmes," "Snatch," "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels"). He somehow manages to suck all of the life, all of the color, out of what is unarguably the strong-suit of "Aladdin": It's musical numbers. It starts with Aladdin's "One Step Ahead" number through the streets of the fictional Agrabah, which feels strangely bland and relies way to much on cuts and action instead of introducing us to the character...you know, the point of the song. The magical carpet ride of "A Whole New World" is anything but, and only his "Prince Ali" number comes close to the fun spirit of the animated movie.
But it's the iconic "Friend Like Me" portion of the movie that encapsulates everything that is wrong with this version. Sung by Will Smith as Genie, we see Smith and the filmmakers trying desperately to fill the shoes of their predecessors, and failing miserably. Instead of creating something new, in a scene that is supposed to introduce us to the wonderment and powers of this ancient Genie, they try instead to imitate.
Well bad news: Will Smith is no Robin Williams, and in Smith's defense, who is? But anyone over the age of 15 knows that "Friend Like Me" was a song built to work off of Robin Williams' strengths and his aptitude for impressions...I had expected that they would have in some way tried to make this updated version an unapologetic Will Smith song - maybe even introduce a brief bit of rapping? - but instead he gives a hackneyed karaoke performance, butchering the song and slandering the reputation of the character all at once. The failed number revealed two things: One, that Will Smith is in fact, not a very good singer, and Two, that Disney, in re-making these classic films, is both confident enough to re-make them and is at the same time scared shitless to upset the apple cart.
In trying to defend Will Smith for a second time in this review, his performance is mostly lost in what can only be described as bad CG. This version of Genie seems to exist in the Uncanny Valley, and if this movie was a new property not attached to something we all know and love, it would be rejected and reviled. There's a reason that Genie doesn't wear his blue skin throughout much of the movie, and in these scenes Will Smith comes across a lot better.
Most of the time, it's not appropriate to compare movies to the source material or to the movies that came before it, but Disney is begging us to by literally trying to re-create, shot for shot, pieces of our nostalgia. There are a few new songs and moments weaved into the fabric, and they mostly fit in, but overall "Aladdin" offers up no reason for its existence. In the case of a film like "Dumbo," a movie made nearly a century ago and in dire need of modernization? OK, I'm on board. But to re-do a movie like "Aladdin" for no discernible purpose?
This is something that no one wished for.
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family.
Run Time: 2 hours 8 minutes.
Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen.
Directed by Guy Ritchie ("King Arthur: Legend of the Sword," "Sherlock Holmes," "RocknRolla," "Revolver," "Snatch," "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels").
"Aladdin" is in theaters everywhere Friday, May 24th, 2019.
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