In Brief: A so-so remake of a very good animated movie but it’s kid and family friendly so it’ll be a hit.
I’m not a fan of the live remakes of Disney’s animated classics. Dumbo was a dud, Pete’s Dragon ended up dragged out and a drag. So was Cinderella. Her slippers slipped to a new low. Alice’s fabled trip to wonderland was anything but a wonder and The Jungle Book ought to have remained there.
So far the only live redo that has been even close to mind-boggling is 2017’s superb The Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps that’s because of all of the Disney classics, it’s the only one with a truly high-caliber story and music to match.
Aladdin is Disney’s latest victim. Guy Ritchie directs, and Will Smith and some relatively unknown actors star. You don’t need a lot of story explanation. Aladdin lives in a fictional Middle Eastern country. He’s a thief with a trained monkey. Aladdin connects with the lovely Princess Jasmine, ends up as a major player in a palace coup and finds a magic carpet and a lamp with a genie inside.
He gets three wishes.
In the last couple of days several people have asked me questions about the movie. Before I tell you my answers, let’s explore what hasn’t been asked and it involves critical casting critics. They can rest easy. Except for Naomi Scott who plays Jasmine, Disney, the film’s producers and Ritchie did the politically correct thing and actually put actors of the right ethnicity in the leading roles.
As for the questions, we’ll start with the music. These are the same songs you remember from the 1992 animated version plus a new one. It’s written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who did the music for La La Land and The Greatest Showman. Not being a big fan of musicals, I’m not the best person to say whether the versions of the Howard Ashman, Alan Menkin and Tim Rice songs are as well done. None of them had me — like many flicks packed with music — leaving the theater unable to get this song or that out of my mind.
As for the vocals quality, Smith may have been a star rapper in his day but when it comes to actual singing he’s pretty monotone. Both Mena Massoud — who plays Aladdin — and Scott can sing. Sometimes the pumped up, often overdone production gets in the way but at least they have vocal skills.
Fans also want to know if this Aladdin is the same story as the original. I’ve only seen the first film once. From what I remember, and from research, the answer is yes. Not much has changed.
It’s written by John August whose body of work includes help with screenplays on Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, Corpse Bride and Big Fish. He took the original screenplay — done by 20-writers including Pirates of the Caribbean writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio — and reworked it a bit but kept the basic story intact.
The negative in his screenplay is how much it is stretched out. The 1992 movie ran 90-minutes. What you’ll see hits 2:08. Obviously, Ritchie and August padded the movie. That leads to another question. What’s changed?
A couple of things come to mind. The scenes are longer, the genie has a romance that wasn’t in the first film and Aladdin has more interaction with the lovely Jasmine.
The length of the film is my second highest criticism. An extra 38-minutes just doesn’t seem all that necessary to what is — as most of you remember — a really fun adventure. Ritchie and the producers might have benefitted — as will audiences shelling out box office bucks to see this one — from remembering a rule that can turn a pretty good movie into a great one.
Less is more.
That leads to the question I have been asked the most. It’s also what’s most wrong with Aladdin. Everyone wants to know how Will Smith does as the genie? The simple answer? He’s no Robin Williams. Smith is adequate but not much more. To be fair, and even when using the same dialogue Williams used in the original, he doesn’t have a chance in a million of doing anything close to what the late actor did in the 1992 classic.
Williams was so good, so funny, and so spontaneous that I would not only have given him a best supporting actor Oscar and Golden Globe nomination, but I would have handed him the awards.
Instead Jack Palance picked up the Oscar and the Golden Globe for a very good piece of acting in City Slickers. He was good but not close to as good as Williams. While that’s debatable, at the very least Williams deserved a nomination.
Enough nostalgia. The question on the floor is about Smith. His version of the genie is blue and buffed up. It’s the 1970s bodybuilder look Ritchie wanted and though many purists are complaining, the look works. By the way, except in a few instances, Smith’s genie — face, body and blueness — is almost totally CGI.
Smith tries to have fun with the role. He is a natural comedian and makes maximum use of his exceptional ability to toss off a witty one-liner. He just doesn’t have enough of them. Smith also doesn’t have the manic energy that helped make Williams’ performance and the animated movie so wonderfully funny.
As for his co-stars? Massoud looks urchinly, street-wise and clever. Scott is drop-dead gorgeous and has that all-important regal look.
The reviews of Aladdin have been mixed. So is mine. I liked it but I didn’t, and in the end, I can’t really recommend. Yes, kids will love it and the film is family friendly. But it’s overly-long and bloated. Ritchie is a clever director. Most of you know him for doing the three Sherlock Holmes movies that starred Robert Downey Jr. He did the last — and very dreadful — King Arthur movie and gave us a redo of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that had us crying uncle.
His best films are his early efforts almost two-decades ago. They are the very, intense, pulse-pounding, quite creative and laugh-packed art house faves Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatched and RocknRolla.
Ritchie would do well to return to his roots.
Coming soon? Later this year writer-director-actor Jon Favreau brings us The Lion King. Sometime next year The Whale Rider and The Zookeeper’s Wife director Niki Caro gives us Mulan. Also of note, Favreau did The Jungle Book and will do a — do we have to? — part two.
They’ll likely be as bad as this one and the other Disney redos. But why borrow trouble, right? Until they come out the best advice I can give myself is hakuna matata.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Stars: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari
Will Smith is no Robin Williams. No more needs said. Give Aladdin a 2 1/2 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.