Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: John August & Guy Ritchie
Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban
Animation as an artform pushes the boundaries of what can be displayed in reality. It can bring toys to life and make animals talking somewhat believable. Sometimes it just does not transfer well to live-action, in the case of this film, the results are atrocious beyond belief.
This film retells the beloved story of Aladdin, where a young man, who needs to steal in order to survive stumbles on the opportunity to impress a princess by finding a lamp that can grant three wishes. In the process, he learns about the importance of specificity in the wishes and the true value of connection. A story that worked out beautifully back in 1992 where the magic could be felt, but unfortunately its re-imagining lacked everything that made this story so special.
This review will have plenty of descriptions as to why this film fails in many facets but Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott try their very best to maintain any dignity throughout this. With the material given, they both did quite well to make these characters their own. I found them both to be very charming and I’m glad that Disney actually did cast people of color to portray these roles. This should not be something I have relief for, but Hollywood continues to remind us that with one step forward, they take three steps back. That pretty much summarizes what works well in the film because nothing else works at all.
Everything that doesn’t work with this film stems from the larger issue of Disney remaking all of their animated films of note. When viewing them through the animated lens, their magical stories soar because as an audience, we see its colorful landscape and can buy into all of the bombastic sequences and actions humans cannot actually do. This film and many of the other remakes show that recreating these stories with live-action elements, makes everything seem woefully fake. For example, the Prince Ali entrance into Agrabah displays an animated elephant and a group of background dancers. In the animated film, it feels whimsical and playful but in this version, we get an ugly CGI elephant with an auto-tuned Will Smith dancing around. The set looks cheap because it toes the line between a magical world and reality. Disney made the film so no expense was spared but it loses the wonderment of the city when it painfully looks like a set.
Speaking of Will Smith, his casting was just fine for this performance. Trying to find someone to replace Robin Williams in this adored role was always going to be a losing battle. The only solution lied in hiring someone with enough charisma to help the audience forget that they’re not Robin Williams, and Will Smith certainly tops the list of individuals who could accomplish that task. Smith works well when in human form to blend in, but when he goes full-genie, it looks quite atrocious. In the animated form, Genie doesn’t feel human nor does he seem too otherworldly. In live-action, he looks like a big blue monster with Will Smith’s face glued on. It turns into pure nightmare fuel that could be easily avoided by simply not making this film.
Aladdin follows the same beats of the original except for giving Jasmine a bit more to do, as she wants to be the Sultan of Agrabah. She even gets a song called “Speechless,” which happens abruptly and inorganically. It rings hollow because it doesn’t follow the narrative flow of the story, but every Disney film needs a catchy song, right? Noami Scott did try her best and hit those notes with passion.
As the film continued, this viewing experience made me question if I even liked the 1992 version, because its execution makes no narrative sense. When Aladdin poses as Prince Ali and speaks to Jasmine, he can barely put together coherent sentences despite earlier in the film being able to flirtatiously be confident with her. The Sultan, unfortunately, loses what made him special in the original film and becomes the archetypal “strict dad.” Abu looks like a terrible ugly CGI monkey with seemingly no personality at all. Jafar proclaims himself to be the Sultan and the guards do so just because he said so and then switch when Jasmine says she should be Sultan despite the guard explaining how they choose their allegiances. They set up these rules and seemingly break them within the same scene.
Guy Ritchie was such an odd choice for this film because his style was only truly suited for the “One Jump Ahead” song. Besides that, it did not feel like a Ritchie film, who made his name with rough and very British gangster movies. It could have been anyone behind the camera and that seems to be the problem with many of these live-action remakes. It felt incredibly generic and takes these talented filmmakers to just carry the camera as they rake in the cash.
In the end, I can only see this film as a soulless exercise in brand management by Disney, who evidently want to lose everything that made them special. This adds nothing new except a song that no one will remember by next year. I look forward to seeing the good work the two leads do in the future, and if this mess of a film assists them in their career outlooks then I guess this film served some type of purpose.