"Aladdin (2019)" Movie Review
In the current climate of living green and sustainability, it’s at least somewhat comforting that Disney has taken the concept of recycling and run with it. And though I’m not sure this is the kind of recycling environmentalists have in mind, the Mouse House can at least earn partial credit, right?
The latest in the long, long, long line of live-action remakes and re-imaginings of Disney staples (Alice in Wonderland, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon, Beauty and the Beast, etc.) Aladdin isn’t nearly as god-awful as March’s colossal failure Dumbo, but it’s still among the weakest of the bunch—a victim of its own magical fairy tale roots. The story is just too fantastical to make the transition to a world of real people and locations without feeling like a clunky and humdrum, ill-advised concept pretty much from the outset. Imagine a movie that features a real-life coyote running down the street in pursuit of an actual roadrunner, and you’ll begin to grasp the sense of how much has been lost in the transition from the 1992 animated classic to now.
Mena Massoud stars at the titular street rat, and Naomi Scott is Princess Jasmine (who, in a nice, modernist turn, is actually gunning to become sultan herself instead of waiting to marry a handsome prince). Together they share a decent chemistry, and Scott particularly has the chops to convince us she didn’t win the role simply because of her ethnicity. The headliner, though, is Will Smith as the Genie, in what amounts to the ultimate no-win situation… and he doesn’t. Alternating between a watered-down imitation of Robin Williams’ epic original performance and an all-too-hip amalgamation of Bad Boys’ Mike Lowrey and Men in Black’s Agent J with a little Fresh Prince thrown in for good measure, Smith never seems to care enough to make the role his own original thing.
Even more ill-fated is Marwan Kenzari as the devious Jafar—the role that, more than any other, needed to remain a cartoon. The Disney Villain has always been larger than life, and Kenzari comes across as just a normal guy in a wacky costume who seems a little grumpy; long gone is Jonathan’s Freeman’s memorable menacing calm.
All is not lost, however. Aladdin does have its moments, including a slew of nifty costumes and sets. And the Menken/Ashman soundtrack is still great, including a legitimately goosebumpy rendition of “A Whole New World”. We even get a new female empowerment anthem in the stirring “Speechless”, which Scott pulls off effortlessly.
In the end, though, the story’s scope is just too big for misguided director Guy Ritchie to bring to life with any sense of scale or fantasy. But fear not—Disney has many, many chances to earn its way back into our hearts in the near future, including live-action takes on The Lion King, The Lady and the Tramp, and Mulan in the next nine months alone. The trick will be not making us look around for the nearest recycling bin.