Let’s talk about Aladdin (2019).
God, I hate that I have to put the year by this film now. Yes, the Disney remake bug has hit again and this time they are doing Aladdin. Well, it’s got to be better than Dumbo at least. I’m bored of talking about them to be honest. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve moaned about their existence but then reasoned that they make a lot of money so I’m just going to have to suck it up and deal with it. And this one isn’t even the last one of the year. We’ve got The Lion King coming up which will do gangbusters and then we’ve got Mulan, another Maleficent and then Cruella, a re-imagining of 101 Dalmations. So let’s just get on with Aladdin.
You know the deal. Aladdin is a thief, riff-raff, street rat that falls in love with Princess Jasmine. This leads him down a path to finding a lamp with the Genie in it, he wishes to be a Prince and a whole lot more involving Jafar’s evil machinations. Seriously, you know this, let me get on with the review.
If you are coming into this movie with a cynical mind, which if you share the common feeling on these Disney remakes you will have, it definitely makes a bad impression. Will Smith, who is the Genie in this and we’ll get to him, does a terrible version of Arabian Nights which demands way too much of his voice and therefore has to rely on a lot of autotune which sounds very wrong. Then they get the introduction of Aladdin all messed up with Jasmine’s introduction in what is a scripting howler. Aladdin’s introduction in the original is the song ‘One Jump Ahead’ which is perfect as it contains all the exposition you need for his character. It then goes on after that to introduce Jasmine, give her the time to show her character and then they meet and the movie starts in earnest. The remake is in a rush and has them meet in the first five minutes and One Jump Ahead is sung between them. It really doesn’t work, we don’t know the characters at all at this point and it’s a weird change for the sake of change. The way the song is done is odd too, mostly because they slow-mo the action while he’s singing in real time which is very disconcerting.
The movie does a few other weird pacing things after that but it does improve from there on in. When given some time to just be the character, Mena Massoud makes for a very good Aladdin. He’s confident in the role, got the boyish charm to make sure the deliberately unlikable parts of the character don’t end up defining him and he’s a hell of a dancer for the song numbers. Naomi Scott is also a very good Jasmine as well. She gets all the beats right, strong, likable and bloody hell she can belt out the songs. Neither are very well known at this point and while I can’t say that either performance is a star-making one, I think they will go on to do very well for themselves and probably get a chance to do much meatier roles in future.
But let’s move onto Will Smith as the Genie. I actually feel sorry for Will Smith, if it is possible to feel sorry for one of the most likable and rich people on the planet. Because Robin Williams’ portrayal of the Genie is so beloved, anyone coming close to the role is going to get hated. If Smith tries to be like Robin, he’ll never come close and be mocked forever. If he tries to do something completely different, he’ll be accused of being disrespectful. It’s a no-win situation. But you know, I think Smith finds that nice middle ground. It’s a very fun, very Will Smith performance. I know he’s not the most popular person in the world right now but I’ve always enjoyed Will Smith playing himself up to eleven and he’s burst past that in this movie. He does the stuff you’d expect, the rapid shifts and pop culture references, but also mixes it with his schtick to decent effect. Every scene with him in it is better because of it so I’d say it’s a good performance. And yes, he butchers Arabian Nights but he does much better with A Friend Like Me and Prince Ali because the tone better suits his singing style, though autotune is still used too much for my liking.
Of course, if you’ve seen the clip of Prince Ali, you’ve probably had the same criticism. The staging and choreography seems oddly stilted in what is meant to be one of the most extravagant parts of the film. And it’s a fair criticism. While seeing the full scene on the big screen is much better than watching the one minute clip on YouTube, it does feel oddly slow. Thankfully, that’s not the case throughout the movie. A Friend Like Me is absolutely nuts and when the movie teases a slower version is feels like they are somehow punking us for the reaction we had to that Prince Ali clip. But I’ll be honest, there is this feeling that things have been done on the cheap. Agrabah never feels more than just a rather large and detailed set which is an issue when the movie goes to a lot of effort to make you care for the extras. It is an issue that you might struggle to get past.
So what does this remake actually add? Because right now it seems like just a straight remake. And to be honest, it almost is because not much is added. The movie tries to make a point about power corrupting both with Aladdin and his wishes and just Jafar in general but that feels so tacked on it was probably added in the final draft of the script when the producers noticed how similar the original is. Jasmine also gets a new song called Speechless which to its credit, is a very nice song and gives Jasmine more to do. The problem is that it sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s a West End ballad and while it is as mentioned before very good, it comes out of nowhere and it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the songs. Oh! And the Genie has a romantic sub-plot. Best make sure you know that’s a thing that happens.
Before I finish off, I want to talk about the director. Directing this movie was Guy Ritchie. Yes, the man behind Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrel. Whether you like his movies or not, you’ll agree he has a very unique style. He made King Arthur into a cockney gangster movie, yes it was terrible but it was most definitely his. Yet this does not have any of his trademarks or feel like he’s never been near the directing chair. None of his pizzazz, his weird cuts and not a cockney in sight. I don’t get why Disney would hire these directors with such a unique style if they aren’t going to let them put their style on it. I have no idea what a proper Guy Ritchie Aladdin movie would be like but at the very least, it’d be different from the original.
In the end, this feels much like the Beauty and the Beat remake we got a few years ago. On its own, a decent movie that is enjoyable enough but when you compare it to the original, it’s nothing. Because while there is enough to like Aladdin, it does nothing better than the original. Zilch, nada, diddly squat. And in addition to that, it has a bucket load of flaws which make it a lot worse. So instead of dishing up the expensive ticket prices to take the family to see this, just pick up the Aladdin Blu-Ray on your next trip to the supermarket because instead of watching a cash grab, you’ll be enjoying one of Disney’s finest animated movies.