Disney live-action remake fatigue is real, and though people were horrified by the visual Will Smith as the genie when it was first revealed, the Sonic debacle has firmly put us in our place regarding just how awful blue CGI versions of beloved children’s characters can be. That being said, ‘not as bad as it could have been’ is just about the highest praise Aladdin can be afforded.
The real shame here is all the potential – newcomer Mena Massoud is delightful as the cheekily charming titular street-rat, and Power Rangers’ Naomi Scott delivers a performance that belongs to a far better movie as the feisty Jasmine.
There’s hardly a hint of Guy Ritchie’s signature style – a few slow-mo shots and the opening sequence following the monkey Abu through the marketplace are about the only times we see anything innovative at all. Like the genie himself, Ritchie had the power to do something phenomenal with this adaptation, but unfortunately Disney kept him tightly manacled to the script of the animated film.
Bringing iconic animated moments to live-action life should be exciting, but despite the colourful costumes, the film is visually uninspired. Flat CGI backdrops, cheap-looking sets, and generally underwhelming parade scenes make it clear that the majority of the budget was definitely spent on animating the CGI monkey and paying Will Smith.
To be fair, that paycheck paid off – though he’s no Robin Williams, Smith brings his own signature swag to the iconic role, and once you get over the weird visual, his charisma really pulls through. There’s also the fact that they chose to make him not-blue and generally human looking for a lot of the film, which definitely works in its favour. An interesting decision, though, to remove the genie’s pop-culture quipping entirely – updating those references could have been really fun.
I don’t think Smith’s comedy chops were ever really in doubt, and he and SNL’s Nasim Pedrad deliver some genuine laugh out loud moments. Massoud too delivers some top notch physical comedy as well as squeezing every ounce he can out of a script that does nothing to help him.
The real star is undoubtedly Scott, who brings a depth to Jasmine – the only character to have benefitted from any development since the original film. Added-in song ‘Speechless,’ though somewhat teen power ballad music video -ish in its delivery, is the most solid emotional moment of the film, and Scott really shows she has an illustrious career ahead of her.
Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari does his best as Jafar, but ends up coming off cartoonish and over-acted rather than truly sinister. Billy Magnussen on the other hand, who plays a bumbling prince courting Jasmine, manages to turn goofy into funny rather than cringe-worthy.
Overall the biggest disappointment lies in the lack of strong stylisation in the action sequences, or any kind of unique visual identity. Even the songs that we know and love don’t hold as much charm as they should. Even the cultural identity of the piece is hugely confused – something that can be perhaps forgiven in the 1992 animation, but is just stale in 2019. Broad American accents for our heroes, but ambiguously Middle Eastern/South Asian ones for minor characters and villains? Not a fan. It’s particularly noticeable that everyone pronounces the kingdom’s name ‘Agrabah’ with the appropriate ethnic accent (Mordor syndrome), but nobody manages it for ‘Aladdin’.
The young cast really are diamonds in the rough of this mediocre movie.
Aladdin is in cinemas now.