Director Guy Ritchie brings us to the world of Agrabah with all the visual dazzle, lavish costumes and exotic vistas one would expect, but a classic work has most definitely not been emulated. Much like the 2017 Beauty and the Beast adaptation, this live-action adaptation of Aladdin is generally well crafted and entertaining (and full of nostalgia) but noticeably lacks in its humor and heart, things no amount of special effects can ever accomplish.
These are emotions so crucial to the original that to have them largely absent in the live action treatment is a tremendous disappointment; the flying carpet may have been recreated but the essence of Aladdin has not. The animated film was called “one of the funniest and joyous ever made” by iconic Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones, and yet in making it again in 2019 the fun and joy are conspicuously minimized. It is not to say this version doesn’t have some laughs, tenderhearted moments or a sense of wonder, but in comparison to lines drawn on paper nearly 30 years ago, the lack of an emotional hook is most evident.
Into the titular role steps Canadian actor Mena Massoud, who delivers satisfactorily, credibly embodying what everyone’s favourite ‘street rat’ would look like; a commendable Naomi Scott brings forward an even more assertive and politically motivated Princess Jasmine, but it’s perhaps not the performances here that are the reason for a lack of heart, but the screenplay. Co-written by Ritchie and John August, this Aladdin is neither overtly funny or sweet, instead typically relying on nostalgia for the cartoon; as was written in the Beauty and The Beast review, if this new Aladdin was the one first released in 1992 it’s unlikely it would have found its way in the hearts of so many, let alone be remade 27 years down the line.
Aladdin’s and Jasmine’s romance is, of course, inevitable, but still perhaps one could expect a better buildup. Ritchie has attempted to insert humor by making Prince Ali a bumbler who embarrasses even Genie, yet it comes off more as awkward than inspired especially in comparison to the jokes or comic scenarios of the original. While of course, we should view each film as its own entity, immediately making comparisons to the animated movie just comes spontaneously.
Without making comparisons, this live-action film is clearly trying to go for something more epic and humorous than it actually delivers, only sporadically giving us something that could be considered “magical’. But if we are to make comparisons (and how could we not) then this movie is largely a lusterless outing nowhere near as charming and classic as its animated counterpart. Thus the movie is nearly damned on both fronts; without comparison to its source material it comes off as a stilted attempt at something greater, and with comparison, it is but an adaptation of inferior narrative quality.
Cast under the large shadow left behind by Robin Williams as the omnipotent, shape-shifting Genie, Will Smith does his best to make the Genie his own with a suitably boisterous and engaging persona. He delivers well and is let down only by the screenplay he is given; indeed the Genie’s jokes here are hit or miss, not because of performance but of content. His love interest for instance ( a new addition from the original) just further showcases the type of awkward humor Ritchie has inserted, generally flat on its own and inconsistent with the tone of the animated movie. Yet despite this, Will Smith is still entertaining enough to be given kudos, and the CG animation on his Genie form is not as distracting as was previously feared by many. As for his singing, there are definitely vibes of hip hop in “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali”, but the songs have kept their familiar structure and sense of grandiosity.
If there is one character however that is noticeably very much inferior from the original, it is surely Jafar. Tunisian-Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari is not only poorly cast as the scheming vizier but returning to the screenplay, is once more given a dull character to portray. Jafar, a dull character?! Most unfortunately what made Jafar such a compelling villain in the original is nowhere to be found here. Instead of the menacing, overzealous, and even occasionally comical baddie, Kenzari’s Jafar is strangely restrained, and frankly just not that intimidating. In any scene he is in, the live action Jafar is underwhelming and just plain boring; there is no joy in watching him (his song even excised from the film) seeming to almost indicate Ritchie would not have even included Jafar if he could. Perhaps no Jafar would have been better…
What partially saves this Aladdin is the set and costume design, which are colorful and imaginative; chasing Aladdin through the streets of Agrabah or the sequence to the song “Prince Ali” is fast-paced and bright, while vistas of the desert and the royal palace are appropriately wide in their scope. These are all pleasant aspects of the film (with the noticeable exception of the Cave of Wonders, which appears drab and uninspiring), but none that are particularly groundbreaking, and definitely not enough to compensate for the narrative tone of the movie.
Alan Menken’s Oscar-winning musical score and songs have been slightly revised, with some additional lyrics added, including a brand new song entitled “Speechless” for Princess Jasmine; although the presence of this song may come off as a bit shoehorned. Voices are pleasant and Will Smith’s hip hop like injection is amusing at the very least. It is certainly a treat to hear “A Whole New World” on the big screen again. But the lengthening of the songs really only serves to lengthen the film, rather than enhance it. Clocking in at 128 minutes it is 40 minutes longer than the animated film and does not justify its use of the extra time.
The Disney Studios have built up these remakes heavily with nostalgia, and though it may be an exciting prospect to see a classic recreated in a new era, it is being continuously proven that despite the best intentions classics are indeed difficult to emulate. It would seem that the magic of the lamp (or more largely Disney’s magic) has become stale of originality, attempting to live on through nostalgia instead of trying to create new classics.
Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin (2019) struggles to shine as its own film, and when obviously compared to the original is rather dull. In spite of good set pieces, costumes, performances, and music, this just isn’t that wondrous of a movie. Surely there are elements here worthy of applause, but as a whole, the film lacks good humor, heart, and fun. When one thinks of classic Disney these are assured things at the forefront, and so we are reminded again that while it may look like a classic, actually being it is something completely different.