If the Disney company is to be remembered for these past couple of years it is for their brilliant reinterpretation of past animated classics into modern live action films. When Aladdin debuted on the big screen back in 1992, it solidified Disney’s renaissance for the next two decades. Keeping this in mind, it seems only logical that the magical land of Agrabah would receive the live action treatment in 2019. Hence audiences are given director Guy Ritchie’s interpretation of this Middle Eastern tail. In short, Aladdin is by far not a bad remake, especially when one considers the amazing work that actor Will Smith put into the role of the Genie. But a few shining moments do little to detract from many of the film’s flaws that overall undermine this otherwise joyous experience.
Every film is given birth by its screenplay and this Disney remake’s Genesis is where all it’s problems stem from. From its simple resolution to its lack of proper character motivations’s Ritchie fails to connect the audience with the exposition of the story. For example, Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott)easily believes Aladdin (Mena Massoud) to be of royalty and goes along with his courtship without ever avoiding the gullible female typecasting afforded to women in that time. She spends so much energy aspiring to be a Sultana and yet never questions Aladdin’s motives. This type of plot progression feels tacked on all so the film could reach the third act.
Even the protagonists felt awkward and uninspiring when compared to some of the stand out side characters. Aladdin’scharacter faded in and out of the plot, and Massoud’s on screen presence is easily dwarfed by Smith’s star persona. Ritchie should have placed greater emphasis on Aladdin’s poverty and what impoverished origins and connect that to his drive for riches rather than plugging up the plot with fast paced character progression. Viewers never get a true sense of the protagonists despair which ironically is where the animated version excelled in. Strange how the cartoon origin felt more truthful to its characters than its live action successor.
A Star Vehicle For Smith
By far the shining moments of this film are with The Genie and his transition from the lamp to the real world. Smith proved everyone wrong with his performance and in many ways shifted the focus of the film from Aladdin and onto his comedic antics. Ritchie’s casting choice here is spot on because Smith manages to take the character and provide his own interpretation of the once inhabited late great Robin Williams. Smith does not to rehash the mania of Williams’ performance but instead adds a level of sarcasm and friendship that shifts the film from a fantasy romp to buddy picture. This is where the remake gains credibility in the eyes of its audience.
A Lush and Vibrant Soundtrack
Even the music is masterful, especially in Smith’s modern spin of “Friend like me” that surpasses its more orchestrated original. Smith adds the comedic flare and humanization of the Genie role that few others could achieve in a character remake. Even the way in which the film starts, with the Genie in human form telling the tale of Aladdin to his children on a boat. Such nuances lend this secondary character a sense of gravitas that the original animated film could only dream of. Ritchie’s plot choice in this regard added to the film’s depth and is s welcomes addition to this live action remake.
In the end, Aladdin is a fun and at times enthralling remake that eclipses animated it’s predecessor. Smith definitely carries this film and without him, the protagonists would have failed miserably. Smith adds the connection between the audience and the film’s identity. The music is stylish and modern. It’s placement in each scene is perfect with the tone of each act. But subpar exposition, inept protagonists’ and sped up plot progression all hamper the overall joy factor of this remake. Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) should have been more fleshed out and his motives for conquest are not fleshed our enough. Such missteps in writing greatly affect this modern take and this casted a huge shadow on this 2019 reimagining. For simple fun, this film hits the mark. But when compared to other Disney live action works, it definitely falls flat. Mindless for the sake of being so is not an admirable attribute to have in a work of narrative art. Sadly, Aladdin embodies this notion in every way.