Similarly to "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin" stems from the Renaissance era of Disney animation in the 90s, meaning that unlike the majority of the House of Mouse's line of remakes thus far, its source material is substantially more well known and visibly present in modern culture. That makes the decision to remake “Aladdin” come across as a far more transparent cash grab than the more creative reimaginings that kicked the line off to begin with.
That doesn't make the film bad, but accepting that these remakes are going to offer a lot of redundancy and that they aren't going anywhere anytime soon is going to make swallowing the pill of their presence a lot easier, especially when they do have quite a bit to offer.
Directed by Guy Richie, of "Sherlock Holmes" fame, this take on the tale of the titular street rat's journey of self discovery to win the heart of the fierce yet loving Princess Jasmine with the help of the wish granting Genie remains largely faithful to its 90s animated namesake, but injects a few alterations to leave its own stamp on the classic. "Aladdin" retains all of its iconic musical numbers and combines them with bombastic costuming and set design in an effort to evoke the theatricality of South Asian Bollywood productions. Although, a sound idea on paper, it's ultimately held back by certain limitations, including the singing ability of certain cast members, as well as a clearly restrained Guy Ritchie, who's struggling to not cut loose with his usual bag of tricks in terms of snappy editing and unconventional camera angles.
While I applaud the level of discipline on display, given the incomprehensible nature of some of his previous work, I can't help but chuckle at the notion that his style for his 2017 "King Arthur" movie would have ultimately been more at home with what he was aiming for here and vice versa, as the film is hindered by an inability to keep a consistently energetic pace that it attempts to establish several times. Watching such misdirection really does sting because, combined with some of the original approaches that the film does make, "Aladdin" could have been the ultimate poster child for how these remakes could be a great idea rather than a hit-or-miss means of perpetuating brand recognition.
Princess Jasmine's arc regarding finding a royal husband is repositioned from being denied her right to love to the problems of antiquated traditions and the perception of power structures that prevent her from becoming a capable Sultan of Agrabah herself. That theme of power drawing out and ensnaring the insecure ripples through every character of the movie, from Aladdin's struggle to separate his identity from his social status and the way this impacts his budding friendship with Genie, to Jafar's lust for power paralleling Aladdin's path of learning whether or not enough power is truly enough.
The cast really sells this and holds their own amidst the production; Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott share a brilliant chemistry and bring their own unique takes on Aladdin and Jasmine to life in what will hopefully be star making roles, while Marwan Kenzari's Jafar manages to maintain the character's sense of menacing while adding a little more humanity into the mix.
Will Smith's highly publicized take on Genie is ultimately one of the movie's greatest assets. Contrary to fears leading up to release, Smith excels in the role when he's allowed to really make it his own, distinct from that of the late Robin Williams, aiming for a quirky but more relaxed personal counselor — similar to his titular role in "Hitch" — that makes him a surprisingly effective emotional center.
Smith's role also has the unfortunate effect of perfectly embodying the biggest problem with the film, as the production requiring him to heavily sing can't quite carry due to his lack of a powerful and versatile singing voice and the clever infusion of hip-hop characteristics into his numbers can only do so much to mask this.
That's the biggest struggle that "Aladdin" really faces: hints of a better and more compelling movie rear up only to be snuffed out by a strict, brand reinforcing adherence to the source material, despite the precedent put out for these movies to take their reinterpretations deeper with features such as "Maleficent" or "The Jungle Book." The greatness "Aladdin" misses out on is frustrating in that regard, but I still can't deny that there's plenty of Disney family fun to be had in the movie that exists.
3 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.