‘Aladdin’ Remake Doesn’t Live Up to Animated Source

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CHICAGO – The Walt Disney Studio (cash) obsession with turning their animated film hits to live action movies continues this Memorial Day weekend with “Aladdin,” which adapts the 1992 classic. What worked in 2018 with “Beauty and the Beast” falls flat with this title, because the animated version plays better.

And lest anyone forgets, the first film relied heavily on the improvisation skills of the late Robin Williams (as Genie), so without his take – and Will Smith attempting the impossible as a live-action replacement – the film was destined for mediocrity. The odd choice of Guy Ritchie as director, who has spent the last ten years making action heroes out of King Arthur and Sherlock Holmes, added problems with generating that “Disney feel.” And this film also had a slack pacing … adding a whole half hour to the original film’s running time, without creating any energy for those extra minutes. However, it is “Aladdin” after all, and the songs, setting and weird humor are all still in place. To give this effort a baseball metaphor, it managed a bunt single.

Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a post-adolescent street thief, who helps a runaway Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) figure out the nuances of the Arab market where they live. This begins a tale as old as storytelling, involving a magic lamp, a villain named Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) and a visit from the occupant of that magic lamp, a dreamer named Genie (Will Smith).

The Cast of the Live Action ‘Aladdin’
Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Jafar desires the lamp, and uses Aladdin to retrieve it from a dangerous lair. The Genie emerges and grants Aladdin the three wishes. He uses one to become a prince, to entice Princess Jasmine to marry him, and that is when the complications arise. Jafar desires power as Sultan, which means gaining control of the lamp. The only thing that can stop him is a former street urchin named Aladdin.

Yes, Will Smith be blue. The hilarious internet battle over the early trailers were clumsily handled by the Disney team, and the film generated bad vibes just with that joke. Smith is game as Genie, and to his credit doesn’t try to go anywhere near Robin William’s interpretation. But that is also to the detriment of the film, as William’s manic expression helped to provide comic relief to the time worn story. Smith’s Genie is much more integrated as a character, and it misses the surreal touch.

The hand drawn animation style of the 1992 version also allowed for fanciful turns that the live-action CGI couldn’t match … in fact, elements like the “flying carpet” character looked really odd. Where the live action creates some atmosphere is in the recreated settings. The “A Whole New World” number, when Aladdin and Jasmine fly over their territory, was beautifully rendered and opened up the feeling of the song. The desert scenes were also in the epic style of Lawrence of Arabia and the costuming/settings were achingly colorful eye candy.

Be Blue: Genie (Will Smith) and the Title Character (Mena Massoud) in ‘Aladdin’
Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures

And the nostalgia, coupled with the original “Aladdin” songs (“Friend Like Me,” “Arabian Nights” etc.) still had an impact, even in this different state. It’s funny, but the live action rendering unfortunately exposed some of the original’s story flaws, mostly by stretching them out and making them more noticeable. The magic lantern switching of hands, for example, seems much lamer in a live action mode rather than a cartoon. There was a risk factor in this one that wasn’t in the Broadway musical style of “Beauty and the Beast,” and that factor was evident in “Aladdin.”

And what of Iago, Jafar’s parrot companion, voiced so memorably in the first film by Gilbert Gottfried. Well, with Gottfried in the show biz doghouse due to controversial remarks, the parrot is reduced to a forgettable polly-wants-a-cracker chorus… a perfect metaphor for the feathers that this live action re-imagining took out of the original.

“Aladdin” opens everywhere on May 24th in IMAX, RPX and regular screenings. See local listings for theater format and show times. Featuring Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari and Nasim Pedrad. Screenplay adapted by Guy Ritchie and John August. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Rated “PG

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Writer

© 2019 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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