'Aladdin' Review

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Disney’s second of four live-action re-imaginings this year is director Guy Ritchie’s version of “Aladdin”. Ritchie’s previous film, 2017’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”, cost $175 million and only made $39 million at the U.S. box office. This “Aladdin” cost even more (a reported $183 million) – so there’s even more on the line this time.

Many people consider “Aladdin” their favorite Disney animated movie. That group certainly doesn’t want to see the story, songs or characters tampered with too much. (Which is, unfortunately, what happened with my favorite, “Beauty and the Beast” two years ago.)

The other member of this production under a great deal of pressure besides is Will Smith. Taking on the Genie role meant competing with Robin Williams’ iconic voice performance in the animated version. So Smith he had to make this take on the blue guy all his own – and in that respect, he’s succeeded.

In fact, the Genie is actually the best element of an otherwise basic, dull and unappealing “Aladdin”. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott play Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, who meet on the streets of Agrabah. He’s a “street rat”, she’s disguised as her handmaiden Dalia. Massoud and Scott’s scenes together early are much better than those that come later on, when Aladdin (aka Prince Ali) and Jasmine’s relationship is supposed to grow. Makes one wonder if the latter scenes were shot first.

The story is pretty much the same: The evil Jafar wants the golden lamp, but Aladdin and monkey pal Abu get a hold of it instead. The Genie grants Aladdin three wishes. Smith does the whole “Friend Like Me” bit to explain it all (the sequence is a tad underwhelming). Aladdin wants to marry Jasmine, but she can only marry a prince. You get the deal.

But there are some major differences in this reboot. For starters, it’s 38 minutes longer than the 1992 animated film. That means some new tunes are forced in, including an obvious female empowerment song belted-out by Jasmine late in the movie that come from out of nowhere, and makes absolutely no sense with the storyline. Jasmine suddenly turns into Wonder Woman. What? None of the new music comes close to the classics.

Mena Massoud and Will Smith
Mena Massoud and Will Smith

The comic relief comes from the real Dalia (played by “SNL”’s Nasim Pedrad) and a prince seeking Jasmine’s hand in marriage (Billy Magnussen). Both characters are intentionally goofy. And, for some reason, we get a whole lot more of Jafar. Marwan Kenzari’s portrayal of the villain is more bland than evil.

Just as with the re-do of “Beauty”, the transition from animation to live-action for “Aladdin” isn’t perfect. The CG of Smith’s Genie takes a bit of getting used to, but at least you can tell he’s having fun, especially in the “Prince Ali” number. Some of the dubbing of the songs is technically rough.

“A Whole New World”, the showcase, Oscar-winning song from the first film, is set at night. Aladdin and Jasmine go on that famous magic carpet ride. But the sequence is so dark that you can barely see anything. And when it comes to Iago the parrot, still the pivotal character in the story, well, let’s just say, there’s a major Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade vibe in a Ritchie-style climactic action scene.

There’s no reason why Disney and Ritchie made this “Aladdin” other than to literally pick-pocket cash from audiences: those who grew-up with the first film and their kids, who will likely NOT be entertained or enchanted.

If I had three wishes, I’d use them to stop Disney from doing these remakes… but I’ve got a strange feeling the Genie would override me.

Jackson Murphy: Emmy Award-winning Film Critic / Entertainment Reporter. Broadcast Film Critics Assoc. (@CriticsChoice), SAG-AFTRA (@SAGAwards)