Remake wrings all magic out of Disney classic
May 30, 2019
Disney’s endless parade of live-action remakes based on beloved animated classics continues with Aladdin, a pointless and tedious exercise in cynical corporate filmmaking.
While one could argue that there’s still value in trying to “refresh” films like Cinderella and Dumbo that were released 70 years ago, the artistic merit behind bringing back movies that aren’t even 30 years old yet seems dubious at best.
Even though this retread isn’t quite as bad as the abysmal Beauty and the Beast variant from 2017, it offers virtually no improvements from its predecessor and wastes most of its opportunities to branch off into new directions.
This “re-imagining” follows many of the same plot details of the 1992 original, in which the amiable “street rat” Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and his pet monkey Abu scrounge for food in the city of Agrabah. After sneaking away from the palace, Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) crosses paths with Aladdin and the two have an instant connection, despite the disparity between their social standings. Through deception by the treacherous aristocrat Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), Aladdin becomes trapped in a mystical cave, where he meets a magical Genie (Will Smith) who grants him three wishes.
The easiest way to sum up Aladdin would be to say that it feels like watching a version of the original that has been stripped of most of its charm and personality. It’s simply an odd experience to watch a film that quotes specific story beats or lines from an existing work but does so in the most lifeless and stilted way imaginable.
If anything, this nagging sense of déjà vu made me appreciate the stellar voice work and vibrant animation style of the original even more by comparison. Perhaps Disney is going for a grounded or serious approach for this live-action iteration, but the muted tone does no favors to the magical elements of the story.
With the exception of Naomi Scott, who does a fine job of conjuring both the grace and panache that make Jasmine a memorable heroine, none of the actors is able to access the defining aspects of their respective characters.
Both Kenzari as Jafar and Navid Negahban as The Sultan are one-note and spectacularly miscast in roles that require some over-the-top flourishes to make their characters work well. Massoud strains hard to keep the ship afloat in the titular role, but there just isn’t enough in his performance past his flashy smile to mirror the affability of his animated counterpart.
But perhaps it’s time to address the Genie in the room. Since footage of Will Smith as the singing and dancing jinn emerged months ago, many have lambasted the off-putting computer-generated work that sloppily rendered Smith’s face atop a smoky blue monstrosity. I won’t add to the sea of well-founded criticism that’s already been heaped upon it but would instead call out a more galling aspect tied to this Genie, which is that it relies too much on comedic callbacks derived from Robin Williams’ performance to get its point across.
It’s obvious the heads at Disney don’t adhere to the axiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and Aladdin is proof that they aren’t likely to adopt it any time soon.
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