The Aladdin remake is now playing in theaters.
[Note: This post is kind of a ramble and barely edited, but I’m trying to get back into writing mode after a few months off. Enjoy.]
By Elazar Abrahams
Ah, the 2019 Aladdin – a shameless cash grab of a movie. Existing for no other reason than to further line Disney’s pockets, I understandably went into this film with low expectations. Right before heading to the theater I rewatched the 1992 original and loved it. It was a lot more creative than I remember, and much funnier. What also stood out was the runtime: a brisk hour and 20 minutes. This remake is just over two hours, which only added to the poor outlook.
I’m happy to report that this iteration of Aladdin was not as bad as I thought it would be! Overall it was enjoyable time at the movies, with a few major problems weighing the experience down.
Jafar, a menacing and calculating villain in the animated version, is so terribly miscast here. Marwan Kenzari’s totally unthreatening screen presence is a baffling choice, and the movie doesn’t fully click without a good antagonist. (And his parrot sidekick is nothing without Gilbert Gottfried voicing the spying creature.) Similarly, Aladdin himself is nothing special. Mena Massoud delivers hokey dialogue and comes off as flat. In both versions, I found our heroic street urchin the least appealing part.
On the flip side, I think the internet owes Will Smith a collective apology. He made a fine Genie and truly tried his best. If we weren’t using the incomparable Robin Williams as the reference point, Smith did a fantastic job, but of course, he didn’t come close. A large part of why his scenes disappoint is simply because animation is a better medium to showcase the Genie’s antics. Friend Like Me is one of my favorite Disney musical numbers, and it was underwhelming here. (Almost like Be Our Guest in the Beauty and the Beast remake.) Some things work better as cartoons. A Whole New World has lackluster visuals in this live-action version too.
Naomi Scott is great as Jasmine. She has a new song (Speechless) that’s really good, even if the tune does seem a little out of place with the classics.
Ultimately, Guy Ritchie’s direction is why I think the new Aladdin fails. Key scenes like the Prince Ali parade and palace happenings scream “soundstage,” which makes the sprawling Arabian world feel cooped up. There are also some unexplainable filmmaking decisions. Random slow-mo shots during action sequences throw off the pace of the story. And, quite hilariously, there is a flashback to something that happened literally three minutes before. We remember guys!
If you’re a diehard Disney fan, I would recommend watching Aladdin in the theater, but if you’ve got just a passing interest, wait for the DVD.
I give Aladdin a B-.