Underwhelming. Uninspired. Unnecessary.
Rather than develop new voices in fresh stories, Disney has dumped millions upon millions of dollars into reimagined live action versions of their animated classics.
If it feels like a studio resting on their laurels because they have no competition, that’s probably because it’s true.
Such is the case once again with “Aladdin,” an extended reboot that doesn’t bring enough to the table to justify its existence, joining lackluster remakes like “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Jungle Book” and this year’s “Dumbo.”
It’s intentional on the part of a film monopoly determined to bring their animated catalog to life.
“Aladdin” proves they have nothing new to say.
The story is basically the same as it always was.
A young street thief, Aladdin, falls for a beautiful princess and must win her heart while helping to save Agrabah with the aid of his monkey Abu, a magic carpet and a wise cracking Genie.
Director Guy Ritchie’s cast is fresh faced, culturally appropriate young talent living in the 200-foot blue shadow of Will Smith as the famed Genie of the lamp. Visually, Smith’s CGI-infused character looks significantly better in the final product than the film’s first trailer, yet still sticks out like a sore thumb.
This “Aladdin” is even more a star vehicle for Smith than the original was for Robin Williams. Though Smith is energetic and charismatic, his version of the Genie isn’t half as good with twice the on-screen presence.
His “Fresh Genie of Agrabah” turn is just strange and out of place with the Broadway nature of much of “Aladdin.” Most of the more intricately designed musical moments are to push Smith into the forefront, allowing the dynamic performer to take over the frame for five minutes at a time in a way that overwhelms the film.
The original “Aladdin” took Williams’ singular talent and imbued it into a memorable supporting character. Ritchie’s film wields Smith’s star power like a sword in an attempt to sell tickets, massively altering the character to the detriment of new stars the film tries to create.
Newcomer Mena Massoud is a solid choice to play the title character and keeps the audience’s attention whenever Aladdin has to carry the story alone.
Acting opposite CGI characters you can’t see during filming is a challenge, though Massoud handles imagining Abu and the carpet well. It does often feel, however, that the young actor is overwhelmed by Smith’s demonstrative presence and fades into the background whenever Genie appears.
“Aladdin” doesn’t entirely realize that Naomi Scott should be the runaway star of the film as her performance as Princess Jasmine far exceeds the tertiary role thrust upon her.
Of all the changes made to the original, empowering Jasmine and giving her a new modern ballad penned by Pasek and Paul of “Greatest Showman” fame works the best. A fuller commitment to modernizing “Aladdin” could have proved stellar, but the attempt is halfhearted on the part of the filmmakers.
There’s just not enough of her character on screen, especially as Jasmine is saddled with a servant best friend intended more as a romantic interest for Genie than a sounding board for Jasmine.
“Aladdin” is the biggest miss for Ritchie as a director. The film lacks the crisp, gritty streetwise mentality that Ritchie developed in gangster flicks like “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” before popularizing it in two “Sherlock Holmes” films.
Ritchie rarely puts his actors in positions to succeed and moments that work are often because the talent exceeds what is given to them.
This is especially true in the smaller, more intimate songs which are treated less like the cinematic musical numbers they should be than stoic solos sung in high school drama style with characters pacing around obviously weak sets and staring over the shoulders of the audience so as not to look directly at them.
As expected, Disney’s animators know how to make compelling, realistic CGI animals with Abu the monkey, Rajah the tiger and Iago the parrot all looking phenomenal. Things don’t look as crisp when live action performers walk around animated backgrounds as viewers can feel the green screen.
Because it’s family-friendly Disney, “Aladdin” offers a perfectly serviceable outing to the movies that will largely be forgettable on the car ride home.