Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Aladdin was, is and likely will always be my favourite animated Disney film. It was one of the first movies I ever watched in the theatre and the experience was unforgettable. So when Disney announced a live-action remake, I was immediately skeptical. What could this new Film say that was not said back in 1992?
You likely already know the story of Aladdin (Markham’s own Mena Massoud) and how he meets the Genie (Will Smith). If you do not, then you are in for a treat. What Director/Co-Writer Guy Ritchie and Co-Writer John August have done here is add more motivation for Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) and amped-up Princess Jasmine’s (Naomi Scott) role substantially. Instead of being the object of desire with some vaguely explored backstory, Jasmine is now fully developed and has more of an edge than ever before.
Though the Trailers suggested otherwise, Ritchie’s rendition of Aladdin is entertaining and enjoyable. The Film looks absolutely stunning, filled to the brim with gorgeously-detailed costumes, beautiful dancing, lush and vibrantly-coloured sets and great makeup effects. I had my doubts about the Film being able to replicate the animated original’s look, but it practically surpassed all of my expectations I had in that arena. Ritchie injects some of his tricks even into some wild chase scenes and clever editing. And while the new songs are well done but not particularly memorable, the old songs we know and love are still just as enjoyable and fun – even if they have been revised and reworded ever so slightly.
What also works great is the chemistry between Massoud and Scott. They are terrific together and do a wonderful job balancing audience expectation and character reinvention. Massoud stumbles often, yet still manages to be charming and full of heart. But Scott is the showstopper here. She is captivating and magnetic as Jasmine, making the character wholly her own. She gets to have fun, but the seriousness and longing to be something greater is where she really soars. Saturday Night Live’s Nasim Pedrad is also quite enjoyable as Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia, delivering laughs and getting one of the Film’s most delightful subplots.
Where the Film falters – beyond some really wonky animal CGI – is in its depictions of Jafar and the Genie. For all the talk and Twitter thirsting after “Hot Jafar“, Kenzari’s performance is downright disappointing. He has some evil moments, but his character is whiney and childish. His voice never bellows, and Kenzari just seems content to go through the motions instead of really investing in the performance. Smith is more of a mixed bag. He does make the Genie his very own and steals the show with his sly jokes and attitude. But he lacks Robin Williams’ manic energy and seems a bit too dialed down when he should be larger than life. We know Smith has charisma and swagger, so why does he not lean more into it? And why are his songs slowed-down?
And did anyone else notice how dirty Ritchie and company do Iago?
The live-action remake of Aladdin was never going to best the legendary animated Film. But Ritchie and his team have done an admirable job trying, and have made an entertaining and enjoyable Film that will no doubt delight younger audiences. It looks stunning, it sounds great and the chemistry between Massoud and Scott is terrific. Yes, it is far from perfect, but it is also a lesson that we all should do a better job waiting to see the final product before we rush to judge.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Canada release ALADDIN on Friday, May 24, 2019.