Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Aladdin - Review

Of Disney’s renaissance era animated films, Aladdin might be the most difficult sell as a live action remake. And not due to any complex themes or narrative choices, but the task of replicating the magic of a classic without completely mimicking the delightful performance of Robin Williams in an iconic role. Yet, somehow, the results are not nearly as bad as the trailers would make it seem.

A kind-hearted, thieving street urchin, Aladdin (Mena Massoud), is in love with Jasmine (Naomi Scott), the princess of Agrabah. To win her love, Aladdin is ordered by Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the Grand Vizier to bring him a magical lamp, which wields the powerful Genie (Will Smith). Now it is upon Aladdin and Genie to stop Jafar and his evil intentions and marry the love of his life.

Let’s clear the air straight away: no one can ever match what Robin Williams did with the Genie in the animated version of 1992. Period. End of story. To even task someone with the role again seems cruel, and yet, Disney did it anyway. And for the most part, Will Smith is able to hold his own.

Stuck between a place where he must evoke some memories of the Genie everyone knows, and making the character his own, Smith mostly sticks the landing. The film doesn’t truly liven up when he first appears and noticeably drags when his role is reduced towards the end. It was an impossible role, and the results are, if nothing else, admirable.

Fortunately for the other members of the cast the roles aren’t quite as iconic. Within moments, it's clear that Mena Massoud is the perfect casting for the charming, street smart Aladdin, and the fiery performance from Naomi Scott as a more determined Jasmine just about steals the whole show.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Aladdin that so many know without the music. Yes, some numbers lack the punch or pizzazz that they do in the animated version (looking at you “Prince Ali”) but the Bollywood influence on others make them pop and dazzle in a wonderful way. The addition of a song for Jasmine works really well, in spite of some odd choices by director Guy Ritchie.

Ultimately, the direction from Ritchie feels like the weakest element of it all. Many shots lack a cinematic quality that something like Aladdin requires, and the pacing towards the third act is abysmal. The choice for Ritchie to helm Disney’s live action Aladdin always felt like an odd one, and it will remain that way even if the performances and music carry the film far beyond the quality of its direction and writing.

Aladdin is not the disaster that many feared from a marketing campaign that did it absolutely zero favors. What looked like a soulless cash grab actually brings some twists, however minor, to the story audiences know so well to result in a cash grab with some heart instead. The film is not exceptional and isn’t Disney’s best animated to live-action remake (that title still falls to Cinderella), but when it gets things right, you feel just a bit of the magic that made the original so beloved.

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