Aladdin Review: Magical Mediocrity At Its Finest



Disney's obsession with live-action remakes has long been a major pet peeve of mine, and for (in my eyes, at least) understandable reasons. After all, the legendary animation company has laid the groundwork for millions of childhoods around the world, its movies moving past the point of being legendary to practically synonymous with magic and creativity as a whole. These movies are (for the most part) works of art with little need of remaking, and though I will always applaud an attempt to reinvigorate or re-imagine a story (Scarface and The Magnificent Seven are but two of cinema's greatest remakes) with Disney, the stench of corporate greed floats like a miasma from every lack-lustre modern retelling that has been churned out so far. Or, to summarise my argument with a simpler adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."


Yet I still cultivated some hope for Aladdin. Though a remake would be a daunting task indeed, considering the wonder, charm and adventure of the original (not to mention the inimitable performance of the late Robin Williams as the Genie of the Lamp) the first trailers were certainly impressive, and the choice of director in Guy Richie (Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) certainly seemed appropriate considering the adrenaline-packed action set pieces of the 1992 movie. Not to mention that Aladdin was by far my favourite Disney film as a child, so I was already predisposed to want to like it.


But it seems even after Crimes of Grindelwald I haven't learned to curb my misplaced optimism. Aladdin sadly, falls neatly into the category of just another forgettable pastiche of a beloved classic.


I found it hard to say precisely what I found wrong with Aladdin at first. To the film's credit, the opening song, 'Arabian Nights' is captivating and guides us through some truly fantastic set pieces, from the alleys of Agrabah's flea-market to the opulent golden domes of the Sultan's palace. But just as it seems to have stoked the flames of nostalgic wonder, the fire is firmly snuffed out-surprisingly with the introduction of our leads, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott.) The ensuing song and persecution, "One Jump Ahead" is uncomfortable to watch, bizarrely sluggish in its pacing (an issue prevalent throughout the film) yet simultaneously rushed in its eagerness to vomit exposition onto the audience. Coupled with painfully unnecessary uses of slow-motion and less-than-dazzling choreography and we're already off to a bad start.


And this is one of the film's major problems:


In abandoning 2D animation, it loses the hectic, flashy, visually captivating fluidity of hand-drawn cartoons, and chooses to be anchored by the limitations of reality in everything from action scenes to visual expressions. Instead, the characters look less like Arabian princes, viziers and warriors and more like actors in gaudy Halloween costumes, shattering the illusion of this mystical Middle-Eastern fantasy. The song numbers in particular seem to put more emphasis on expensive props, visual effects and set pieces than actual emotion and sincerity, meaning that classics such as "Prince Ali" are unbearably slow and static to watch.


Not that the plot is especially wonderful either. The script is almost exactly that of the original yet there are frequent changes and cuts which make little to no sense. The Genie is given a ridiculous sub-plot in which he attempts to date Jasmine's handmaiden ( Nasim Pedrad) which seems to exist more to pad the film's run-time than anything, and the majority of Jafar's (Marwan Kenzari) interactions with Jasmine that expose the lecherous, odiously repugnant misogyny of the character are cut completely. The Sultan (Navid Neghaban) is transformed from a bumbling, good-natured buffoon to a bland, scowling old man and Iago (Alan Tudyk) who provided much of the original's biggest laughs is reduced to merely obnoxiously screeching out the last words of whatever line a character has spoken. There is also rewrites to Jafar's motivations involving conquering neighbouring kingdoms which could have perhaps been interesting if the film did not forget about it constantly and hurriedly bring it up in the last 20 minutes.


However, to their credit the actors are, bar a few exceptions, very talented, though the script fails them atrociously. Massoud's Aladdin looks the part but comes off as insufferably arrogant and cocky, whilst Naomi Scott's Jasmine is burdened down with awkward, clunky dialogue pushing for a feminist agenda, which would be praiseworthy and celebrated if it did not come across as so crudely forced, and to an extent disingenuous. Scott's song number ‘Speechless' is very well performed for example (Scott seems to be the only actor in this mess with actual vocal talent) but in the end stinks of lazy pandering.


Jafar is an utter disaster, with Kenzari's portrayal of the character boring, forgettable and dull to watch. Gone is the sneering, oily, scheming and cackling manipulator of the original, replaced instead by a mumbling, uninspired villain devoid of any charisma or stage presence.


Will Smith as the Genie has perhaps the most daunting task, living up to the mantle left by Robin Williams, whose motormouthed, manic, witty Genie was acclaimed by critics and fans everywhere. To his credit, Smith wisely decides to do his own thing rather than merely copy William's performance, and the actor's natural charisma and comedic skills all but carry the entire movie. A pity the special effects are at times laughably bad, with Smith's face superimposed upon a grotesque, azure oddly muscled floating torso that launched a thousand derisive internet memes. 'Friend Like Me’, my favourite song in the entire movie is a sight too horrible to describe accurately, cluttered with more tawdry CGI and a cringe-inducing beat-box-rap segment (one can almost imagine a 55 year old Disney executive assuring his peers this is what kids find 'hip' these days) and again leaves you wondering, did someone slow down the frames of this movie again?


Overall Disney's Aladdin is, with lack for any better words, a mess. It's not abysmal, but flat-out disappointing, wheezing through its 2h run-time on the fumes of cheap nostalgia grabs and special effects and set-pieces which somehow look both shockingly expensive yet cheap at the same time. It is once more, the lifeless, soulless product of a corporation vacuuming money from our wallets by leeching off our childhood's treasured memories, it is unnecessary, mediocre and tedious, all noise and no feeling. Do yourself a favour and do not make my mistake, stay at home and watch the original.


Pablo L, Year 13

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