Do you like the middle-eastern folk tale Aladdin? Of course you do! Here’s a big-budget live-action remake of the cartoon interpretation of the story of Aladdin!
SPOILERS. (But also : Not really. I’m sure you’ve seen the original….)
My patient fiance came up with a great analogy for this one. We both wanted very different things from the film. She said it’s like we both went somewhere to eat and asked for “the best toastie” (“grilled sandwich” for my American bretheren). What we both got was a cheese toastie. Now, she loved the cheese toastie, and got exactly what she wanted from it (as she, like a lot of customers, loves the humble cheese toastie), whereas I (whilst admitting it was a delicious cheese toastie) felt that i could have had a better toastie, or even their “best toastie”. I’ll not get bogged down in Disney reinventing a previous menu but you get the idea…
Will Smith as the Genie
I suppose i should start by addressing the controversy surrounding this one. Upon promotional release/strategic leak of the Will Smith Genie visuals the internet lost its collective shit. It was also a good way to ease the masses into the idea that Genie could be played by anyone other than Robin Williams (which we’ll get into later) to be fair. But why specifically was the internet so annoyed about this? It wasn’t just the visual aspect of the character or the actor, (and I feel like i have to clarify this one as most outlets seem to miss this point) the initial reaction was essentially down to the the idea of the film itself. This is something i’ve been parroting from day one : If you reboot or remake a film (beloved or otherwise) it indicates a lack of originality. Audiences can smell it. It doesn’t serve a purpose. It comes across as a cash grab by exploiting nostalgia and an existing fan base.
As for the actual viewing : Will Smith was tasked with imprinting himself and making the Genie his own character. The contradiction occurs because this is a remake that was trying to mimic every aspect of the original. Robin Williams performance definitely shines through in the scripting but not the delivery. What we got was Will Smith through and through. Despite being so dogmatically opposed to the film myself i think that his performance was a real highlight and carried most of the film. It’s not an offensive portrayal and I think Williams would have enjoyed it. RIP you absolute lad.
Production And Casting
The CGI was inconsistent – the fantastical sequences were delivered quite flawlessly but completely fell flat when any character needed to jump or land. Seriously when are we going to get this right?
There were some very questionable choices during the ‘One Jump’ sequence regarding slow motion that looked more like they were trying to cover up some bad editing.
The sets and costume were very impressive but did not do enough to suspend disbelief. There was no dirt or grit. I get that it’s Disney but this was set in the desert for Agrabah’s sake! The costumes were crisp and clean throughout.
It’s worth noting that this film is double the length of the Disney cartoon version and it becomes evident in the pacing which is also a bit up and down (especially in the opening credits). The plot is stretched but despite having the room to flesh the characters out Aladdin never feels like a character of any depth. Contrasting that Jasmine gets major character development and it feels like a journey for her. Naomi Scott brings this character to life and much like Mena Massoud’s Aladdin feels lifted straight from the cartoon. With Massoud however, we never get past his shy and clumsy exterior despite having so much opportunity to dig into his drives, thoughts and ambitions.
Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar as a character isn’t really worth mentioning nor is it worth comparing to the cartoon version. There’s just nothing there and i don’t think it was necessarily the actors fault.
The musical side of the film was reproduced with a good amount of care, after all those sequences were so pivotal in the original. The ‘Prince Ali’ sequence was a highlight. A fan favorite that was recreated in full Bollywood style complete with asides from the Genie. Given the supernatural quality of the character they recreated this wonderfully. Big blue props on that one, Mr Mouse.
The beat boxing was questionable and the auto-tune throughout the numbers was a little uncomfortable but the only big let down (and where i seemingly disagree with the rest of the world) is the song ‘Speechless’, a new addition to Disney Aladdin canon. It sounds like the songwriters of The Greatest Showman tried to rewrite Frozen’s ‘Let It Go’. Add to that the clunky nature with which it was inserted into the scene, i found it to be very awkward to watch. Not being a fan of messages (social justice or otherwise) being forcefully inserted into modern cinema (and acknowledging that this was commentary on the gender discrimination of middle eastern culture and the trappings of royalty) this film did a good job of minimizing this. The Thanos-like portrayal just didn’t work for me.
It felt like going to the Groomsport Church Hall for their community drama performance of Disney’s Aladdin (complete with one overenthusiastic drama student during the Prince Ali sequence. Watch it. You’ll see her) but suddenly realizing their budget was 183 million dollars.
This is a total date movie. Go see it. You’ll enjoy it. It’s not under any illusion where it came from. This was a reinterpretation, of an interpretation of a story. This was a live-action remake of a cartoon, of the story of Aladdin. And i think that’s what bothered me about the whole thing.
I wanted something new. Yes, i understand this was a remake and “what did you expect” but then what was the point of doing it? (See above) Going back to the toastie analogy – I wanted the “best toastie” they could make. Not a toastie by a different chef from a previous menu. If it was a cheese toastie then fine – but do something amazing with it.
As i call out the artistic choices of Guy Ritchie taking on this project i’m sure he isn’t losing much sleep, on his bed of Disney dollars with many beautiful women. Personally i’d rather sleep in a racecar.