Aladdin review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Diving into another one of Disney’s live-action adaptations of their animated classics, it can be easy to write them all off as pointless. This apparently goes double for films the legendary Disney renaissance of the late-80s/early-90s which included such trailblazers as The Little Mermaid and Beauty & The Beast. Now Disney has taken their aim at Aladdin but, whoa, hold your initial scrutiny for a moment. With director Guy Ritchie attached to the project, this Disney adventure is trying just a bit harder to escape the easier comparisons and do more than merely replicate an already classic film.
Not surprising for a Ritchie film, considering how fast the film starts. Our villain Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) already on the move and the street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud) already meeting the disguised Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) in the streets of Agrabah. But then we slow down and take our time to get the know the gold-hearted thief and the daring princess in their mutual dreams of more. Ritchie does exactly what I wanted out of a film such as this and flesh out the characters far more than the animated film, to the point that even Jafar doesn’t have to put on a goofy outfit to convince Aladdin to go treasure hunting in the cave of wonders; all he has to do is appeal to Aladdin’s desire for power, a somewhat mutual goal.
Once Aladdin comes into possession of the magical lamp, he unleashes the cosmic power of the lamp’s Genie (Will Smith). Now comes the part where fans of the original will be most scrutinizing. Because, let’s face it, the biggest draw of the 1992 original was Robin Williams and his unforgettable voice acting of the magic genie. Thankfully, Smith doesn’t really try to match the manic nature, favoring his familiar brand of humor and goofiness he’d been perfecting for years on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In the same way that Genie has been trapped for thousands of years in this lamp, it also feels as though Smith is dusting off his old comedy routine. And despite the CGI needed to make him a bit more fantastical and faster in his gags, he still has some of that old silly magic.
Going further with the characters, Smith also gets more to do as the Genie than merely cheer from the sidelines as the now Prince-turned Aladdin attempts to woo Jasmine under a new identity. He gets in on the romantic comedy angle by forming a cute and enticing romance with Jasmine’s handmaid in adorable sequences of them stumbling over their words and trying to hide their blush. It’s far more tantalizing than the expected musical numbers and a few more showcases of grand VFX. I’m not sure we needed a chase sequence with a giant Iago but I guess you gotta have something for Aladdin to flee from.
Yes, we’re still burdened with the familiar musical numbers, but with just a few tweaks to be a bit more distinct. Smith doesn’t have the best voice for the outlandish sequence of “Prince Ali,” but still gives that Big Willie style vocalization that suits him better than Williams’ larger than life approach. “A Whole New World” has very little change because I guess you just don’t mess with a classic. Thankfully, Naomi Scott gets a few new songs in the film that shine much brighter for their originality and power, not to mention she has the best voice of the entire cast built for singing.
As Disney continues on with these live-action renditions of animated classics, there are a few better steps in this version of Aladdin. They’ll keep making these films as long as they make money and if they must continue, I feel they must make attempts to be more of their own thing than stale retreads. Aladdin thankfully dusts off just enough to see something more than the familiar.