Directed by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Mena Massoud, Will Smith, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, and Billy Magnussen.
A kindhearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true.
Disney’s live-action remakes will always attract questioners. “Cartoons preserve Disney’s secret sauce!” “Why update a classic!” All the hits. In some cases, the opposition might have a point. In Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin? What’s lacking in hand-drawn vitality is rescued by pivoting major plot points to reflect conversations that dominate 2019’s ongoing battle for inclusivity. As my generation fondly heralds 1992’s vaulted classic, new generations have an Aladdin all unto themselves. One that justifies reincarnation through intent and entertainment, noting a sluggish beginning that requires Will Smith’s genie to summon Ritchie’s magic formula.
Mena Massoud stars as Arabian street urchin Aladdin, who only steals what he can’t afford (which is everything). During a chance market encounter – unbeknownst to the commoner – he helps Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), under disguise, escape angry vendors. Thus beings their classist romance, but a princess can only marry royalty. You know the story. Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) tricks Aladdin, but it’s Aladdin who ends up with a golden genie’s lamp (enter super buff Wishmaster Will Smith who blue’d himself). As an undercover prince, Aladdin hopes to win Jasmine’s heart – unless Jafar places the palace’s familiar new guest.
Aladdin is not without spotted issues. Guy Ritchie’s race through Camelot in King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword finds more excitement than Aladdin’s “One Jump Ahead” flee from Jafar’s guards. Green screens aren’t always favorably digitized with awe-striking landscapes, thinking of high-flying effects during “A Whole New World.” Frankly, it takes a few sequences for Ritchie’s direction to steady itself like a magic carpet on cruise control. Excitement and adventure dodge Aladdin’s nonchalant aversions from danger during choreographed parkour-lite spurts versus hapless guards who bumble a bit too oafishly. When pulling word-for-word from Ron Clements and John Musker’s original screenplay, Ritchie exhibits basic recreation architecture.
Then, we meet Will Smith’s “Genie.” Never feigning Robin Williams’ zany carousel of personality, more chilled-out like a hip hop hype man for Prince Ali. Smith’s rendition of “Never Had A Friend Like Me” involves more beatboxing, less hyperkinetic bouncing, and plenty of Genieisms in his less performative but still spectacle-driven fireworks display. Smith doesn’t attempt to repurpose Williams’ iconic Disney character, especially given how live-action sensibilities cannot mimic off-the-wall body transformations like something from The Mask. Color me converted by Smith’s fresh-as-hell genie with rhythm, pour-dripping swagger, and human characteristics when freed from his brass prison vessel.
The real star of Aladdin is Princess Jasmine, who’s expanded into a fuller “damsel” with agency and motive. Jafar wishes to outright silence Jasmine’s “Princess Of The People” pursuit, while her Sultan father (Navid Negahban) urges his daughter into marriage by necessity (enter Billy Magnussen as dimwitted Prince Anders). Naomi Scott furiously sings Jasmine’s refusal to be silenced is the direction 2019’s Aladdin needed to explore; a welcome addition versus Aladdin’s dashing heroism. Jasmine’s redesign is Ritchie’s ace, proving that updated storytelling and musical numbers can benefit age-old children’s tales given modern context.
Expanding outward, Massoud’s Aladdin is a rigid take on existing sketches. The actor dives around slum roofs, crushes a breakout dance number, and bumbles his way through hapless romantic dialogue on a level that’s…passable. You’ll be more inclined to cherish the friendship between animated characters “Magic Carpet” and Abu, whose aid in dire aerial chases makes for a trendy lamp-snatchin’ tandem. Massoud’s voice is up to the challenge of musical duets, which balances opposing sequences where Aladdin attempts to recreate cartoon colorfulness but merely comes off rigidly inclined. Same for Jafar, never as devilishly presented given Marwan Kenzari’s muted Grand Vizier appearance.
I have my problems with Aladdin. Computer graphics aren’t always cleanly executed (Rajah licking Aladdin), Guy Ritchie’s soaring accomplishments are never sustained, and – I swear – to increase pacing, scenes seem to have undergone fast-forwarding instead of reshooting actors under the direction of “move faster.” Ritchie’s vision has a slight lethargy problem, but that’s smoothed out once Will Smith’s mystical matchmaker is summoned forward. Nasim Pedrad understands comedic timing where others fumble, Smith’s genie outlives early negative trailer preconceptions, and when it hits big, flashy parade costumes and decorative bejeweled luxuries bring Aladdin’s sand-dune-surrounded universe to life. I’ll always prefer Disney’s non-computerized original, but newer fans should experience the magic of Ritchie’s redo with enough rags-to-happiness wonder.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).