Disney has gold to mine; cranking out live-action updates of their classic animated films. Some do well (“Cinderella” 2015) while others, not so much (the “Alice In Wonderland” films). You’d think this would make for an easy job considering much of the work is already done, but Disney is actually in a tough spot; how closely to hew to the original?
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Disney seems to take heat either way they turn, with audiences not quite warming to their 2016 take on Pete’s Dragon (even though its among my favorites of their updates) while complaining about even the possibility of a simple shot-for-shot remake of The Lion King (although director Jon Favreau has addressed this even before the update hits theaters saying the rumors are not true). I’m also assuming that the higher the quality of the original, the steeper the challenge for the remake. If my assumptions are correct, then Disney had their work cut out for them with 2019’s Aladdin.
The basic story is pretty much the same, but with an additional 38 minutes of movie, there may be plenty to complain about. Luckily, much of that added screen time is spent on enriching supporting characters and expanding the role of Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). This is good news since Scott is a lovely and talented actress who can actually sing (no Beauty and the Beast-style auto tuning needed), and her Jasmine has more to do, even if some of it is undermined by well-meaning characters surrounding her; one of them being the titular hero himself, Aladdin (Mena Massoud). Massoud certainly looks the part but he doesn’t quite have the swashbuckle of his animated counterpart and he can’t sing as well as Scott, which is painfully obvious when they have their famous duet, A Whole New World, among other tunes. Thankfully the dance numbers are pleasing enough to distract from the sporadic subpar singing. Likewise, the practical parkour acrobatics may distract you from silly Benny Hill style speeds during action sequences.
Speaking of distractions, can we talk about the big blue guy in the room?
Although I wouldn’t want to follow Robin Williams, Will Smith does a commendable job as the Genie, but it’s the CGI that trips him up; when he’s blending in with the crowd looking like Will Smith he’s fine… but when he takes on the full blue Genie persona, he looks so weird it’s …distracting. You can’t help but notice how his head is out of proportion to the rest of him, or how his arms don’t quite seem long enough, or how his lips don’t line-up with his witty repartee. Maybe the filmmakers were trying to stylize him after his cartoon equivalent, but I think his blue skin and smoky lower half would probably have done the job.
But if Smith does replace Williams, Gilbert Gottfried is missed as the voice of the parrot Iago, while at least they kept the original voice of the Cave of Wonders, Frank Welker. And although Smith knows how to deliver a line, Aladdin spreads its jokes around the whole cast with supporting characters like Jasmine’s handmaid Dalia (Nasim Pedrad) getting some of the best lines. But those jokes are also spread out over a much longer runtime than the original, a risk for any PG film aimed at young ones. At least they get a Bollywood-style final dance to kick off the credits with nary a reason to stick around to the very end of the roll.
Even so, Aladdin left me feeling that is was …fine (especially considering the amount of trepidation surrounding it going in), but also that it could have been tighter and better. I guess the original 1992 animated version just casts too big (and blue) of a shadow.
- Aladdin (2019)
- Genre: Fantasy
- Runtime: 2 hrs. 8 min.
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated PG for some action/peril
- Director: Guy Ritchie
- Writers: John August (screenplay by), Guy Ritchie (screenplay by)