The effort by Disney to remake their own cherished animated classics into live-action films has resulted in a mixed bag, to say the least. Leading up to the remake of Aladdin, the news of Guy Ritchie hired on as director and worries of the cast being whitewashed didn’t provide much confidence. It’s always possible for a remake to rise to the level of its source and beyond — just look at 2016’s Pete’s Dragon for a prime example, and even Tim Burton’s Dumbo, if you ask me! Unfortunately, the new Aladdin does really nothing special to enchant its audience or warrant the revisit to the fabled original material.
Mena Massoud plays Aladdin, the Agrabah thief trying to survive on the streets. He runs into Princess Jasmine, played by Naomi Scott, who’s posing as a servant to the princess. The meet cute leads to Aladdin getting captured by the Sultan's (evil) chief adviser Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) in a plot to take a mystical lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Well, of course, Aladdin ends up rubbing the lamp and is given three wishes by Genie (Will Smith) within. In order to woo the princess, he makes a wish to become a prince. It all unravels as Jafar catches onto Aladdin’s plot. It’s a tried and true story, and the remake hits those beats like you’d expect it to, but, boy, does it do so with little excitement.
Massoud and Scott have chemistry, no doubt, and they’re natural talents when it comes to singing and dancing. They belt out the original tunes with force and Scott performs a barnburner original song written by La La Land songwriters Pasek and Paul, “Speechless” — which is a powerful song on its own but feels out of place, shoehorned in via a subplot of Jasmine’s empowerment that is never fully fleshed out. The musical beats in the film barely have enough magic, though. The visual touch you’d expect from Guy “Speed Ramp” Ritchie is nowhere to be found. Frankly, the production value feels too small for a grand fantasy story like this. The truly visually vibrant moments happen once Genie appears, which has issues all on its own.
Will Smith is miscast as Genie; Smith may have the charisma for the all-powerful yet fun being, but — and this is coming from me, a very tone deaf individual — he can’t carry the musical numbers and he sounds depressingly flat. In a remake of an animated musical classic, actual singing turns out to be a vital part of the equation. What’s worse is the design of the all-blue Genie, which is as off-putting as the marketing makes it out to be. Thankfully, Genie spends a long stretch of the film in human form in order to help Aladdin pose as Prince Ali. Still, the special effects feel off, which is all too apparent in the film’s climax.
For a film about sorcery, romance, and wish-fulfillment, you'd think the final set piece of the film would feel... bigger. The animated classic went for that grand scope, while Ritchie's film is confined in a small, inert room for its final supposedly thrilling moments. It sums up the film — a shell of classic with an inner boring center of mainstream blockbuster filmmaking. That's not to say there couldn’t have been something here. Some of the jokes do land, and the two leads (minus Genie) work well together, and Nasim Pedrad's talents are miraculously not squandered as she plays servant to the princess. It's in what the new film decides to add in and leave out that is all the more puzzling — for as evil as Marwan Kenzari is as Jafar, they really couldn't have had him sing at a key point in the film? And the end result is something less than magical for Disney fans all around.
Stay tuned for the end credits song featuring a rapping Will Smith and DJ Khaled to help drive the fact that you’re watching a 2019 remake catered to who-the-hell-knows.