Wednesday 29 May 2019

Film Review: Aladdin

Hop on a magic carpet and journey to Agrabah once again in Disney's live-action remake of Aladdin, starring Will Smith as the big, blue and boisterous Genie. 

Of all the Disney Renaissance films to come out in the decade between 1989 and 1999, it is perhaps 1992's Aladdin and 1994's The Lion King that stand shoulder-to-shoulder as most popular or enduring today. The stories, the songs, the characters – millions of children, myself included, were enamoured with these animated classics back in the day.

It's strangely fitting then that Disney has chosen 2019 as the launchpad for live-action remakes of both. The first punch in a double-whammy of nostalgia, 2019's Aladdin comes from director Guy Ritchie (The Man from UNCLE, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), and stars relative newcomer Mena Massoud in the titular role, Naomi Scott (Power Rangers) as Princess Jasmine and Will 'Willenium' Smith as the Genie.

This is essentially the same story you know, with only a few alterations here and there. Aladdin is a kind-hearted 'street rat' with his pet monkey Abu as his only friend in the world; Princess Jasmine is the most eligible bachelorette in all of Agrabah, with her father the Sultan (here played by Navid Negahban) urging her to marry; and the Sultan's right-hand man Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is making a play for the throne, by hook or by crook. Cave of Wonders, diamond in the rough, magical lamp, three wishes, make me a prince – you know the drill.

Smith is tasked with the unenviable job of catching lightning (or a genie) in a bottle; stepping into the sandals of the late, great Robin Williams was never going to be an easy task, such is the level of reverence his performance in the original is treated with.

The good news is, Smith doesn't botch it. When he is giving it his own spin (going full Fresh Prince), it works a treat. Other times, it feels like the film is trying to reign Smith in, which feels contrary to the whole point to be honest. Go nuts! Make it crazy! Obviously it's not a patch on Williams – but it never could be.

The MVP is undoubtedly Scott as Jasmine. With a more active role in the narrative, Jasmine drives the story and feels like more a fleshed-out character than before. Scott picks it up and runs with it, delivering the emotional crux of the film in new song 'Speechless' and plenty of laughs alongside new gal pal Dalia (Nasim Pedrad).

Elsewhere, things are more mixed. Massoud personifies the same sweet naivety and 'aww shucks' attitude of Aladdin, complete with 1000-watt grin and swagger. He's a little flat at times, but nothing compared to the utterly shite Kenzari as Jafar. Rarely is an actor as categorically miscast as Kenzari is here, so it's hard to apportion blame on the actor – he just doesn't suit the role and the direction he's been given isn't good either.

The visual effects are a mixed bag too; the Genie is an impressive creation, zipping around the screen like a pinball, but some of the dialogue scenes where Smith's face is melded into the effect look a little wonky. The honest truth is, it's very hard to deliver the same level of expressiveness outside of cartoon animation. The same can be said for all the animals – Abu, Iago and Rajah. They don't pop the same as they do in the original. They just look like animals, not characters.

The Verdict: 6/10

The choreography isn't as inventive, the colours less arresting and the direction less dynamic – Ritchie's Aladdin is a passable adaptation that evokes the memory of the original, making you yearn for that level of energy and wonder. It has its moments, but by and large this is another Disney remake that is watchable but not wonderful. A whole new world? Nah, just a less magical one than the earlier one.

Aladdin is in cinemas across Australia now.

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