“Aladdin” Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 128 Minutes, Rated PG, Released May 24, 2019:
The ghost of the late comic actor Robin Williams haunts the new live-action version of Disney’s 1992 animated blockbuster “Aladdin.”
Williams’ characterization as the Genie was so strong that the performance dominated Disney’s 1992 version of the tale. And even twenty-seven years after the animated film’s original release, Williams’ characterization as the Genie is still so strongly associated with the familiar tale that any actor would have a difficult time replacing the late actor in the role.
Even for an actor as powerful and charismatic as Will Smith, playing Aladdin’s Genie was probably going to be a futile endeavor. And if any actor could pull it off, it likely would’ve been Smith...had the filmmakers cooperated, and given him lines of dialogue more appropriate to his talents and artistic sensibilities.
But part of the problem with the new version of “Aladdin” is that the role of the Genie seems to still be written for Robin Williams. From the character’s first appearance about forty minutes into the picture, the Genie’s scenes and dialogue seem to have been tailored to Williams’ uniquely manic rat-at-tat delivery, and his distinctive ability to seemingly take aim at dozens of targets simultaneously.
Will Smith labors mightily in the role, and manages to at least leave his mark on the part. But Smith’s comedic style has always tended toward wry observation, a relaxed and almost genteel delivery, and occasional mild sarcasm. The hippest guy in the room, Smith’s technique is almost the polar opposite of Williams’s barely-restrained madness.
“Aladdin” is of course is adapted from the eponymous Middle Eastern folktale from the eighteenth-century anthology “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights,” and tells the story of a penniless street urchin who finds a magic lamp and discovers that inside is a genie bound to grant three wishes to the lamp’s owner. The urchin uses his three wishes to become a wealthy prince, and to win the hand of the beautiful daughter of the land’s ruler.
It’s unclear how the Disney organization reviewed the resume of director Guy Ritchie and decided the filmmaker would be an ideal fit for the live-action remake of a beloved cartoon classic. With a filmography which includes 2015’s disappointing “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and 2017’s almost unendurable “King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword,” most of Ritchie’s recent films have been oriented toward more mature audiences...and with the exception of his “Sherlock Holmes” pictures in 2009 and 2011 have been markedly unsuccessful at the box office, anathema to the folks at Disney. Additionally, none of Ritchie’s pictures have been musicals.
As both the co-writer (with occasional Tim Burton collaborator John August) and director of the new “Aladdin,” Ritchie tries to push the live-action update through his usual template, emphasizing individual set-pieces over a coherent, naturally-flowing narrative.
There are a few dazzling sequences, but in veering uncomfortably from comedy to adventure to farce to musical, Ritchie’s version of “Aladdin” squanders its chance to excel at any of the above. The tale’s moral is somehow all but lost in all the confusion, and the familiar Academy Award-winning songs seem particularly out of place.
As Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott seem to have been cast for their resemblance to their animated counterparts. The actors are adequate, and are certainly attractive and photogenic, but never seem to quite grow into their characterizations.
Among the supporting cast, Marwen Kenzari is appropriately slimy as the villainous Jafar, and Navid Negahban is wise and noble as the Sultan. New to the live action version are Billy Magnussen’s Prince Anders, another of the princess’ suitors, and Nasim Pedrad from television’s “Saturday Night Live” playing it straight as Dalia, Princess Jasmine’s handmaiden.
“Aladdin” is not a bad picture, except that at 128 minutes it goes on for too long (the animated 1992 version wrapped it all up in 90 minutes flat). The movie is filled with dazzling scenes and segments which clearly show the Disney magic at work. The ”A Whole New World” sequence is especially spectacular, if incongruous to the context of the scene and the picture’s overall narrative..
But it all seems to be designed in a calculated effort to resemble as closely as possible a live action version of the classic animated film experience, wrapped up in enough special effects and cinematic razzle-dazzle to make us almost believe we’re watching an animated picture. And where’s the sense in that? The picture’s worst fault: It just wasn’t necessary. Next time, Disney should just re-release the cartoon, as they did in the old days.
Released to 4476 theaters across the United States and Canada, “Aladdin” was expected to gross around $80 million during its four-day holiday weekend opening, against a reported production budget of $183 million. By the end of business Saturday, the picture had already accumulated a total exceeding $86 million in box office earnings, easily taking the top spot in the Box Office Mojo Top Ten, with the returning “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” in second place and the behemoth “Avengers: Endgame” in third.
“Aladdin” is rated PG for some sequences of action and mild peril.
- Language: French, Flemish, Hungarian, English
- Subtitles: Dutch, French, Hungarian, Arabic
- Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
- Number of discs: 1
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- ASIN: B07S28YDNP