If you’ve been keeping up with Disney the past five years you may have noticed they are ruining your childhood with live-action remakes of their most prestigious animated classics. The exploitation is real and has legit made the house of mouse billions of dollars preying upon the nostalgia machine that ’90s kids continue to still feel. However, nostalgia isn’t a bad thing per say, it just feels a bit cheap to create a laundry list of films that seem to be void of any passion or vision.
The latest of these outings is the 1992 classic “Aladdin,” which seemed to be the worst offender of the bunch. Every piece of marketing materials made the film look gaudy, lifeless, and cringeworthy, not to mention Will Smith cladded in blue CG was more embarrassing than Tobias Funke joining the Blue Man Group on “Arrested Development.” Somehow, someway, director Guy Ritchie didn’t drive this $200 million dollar train off a cliff; it’s actually a fairly charming outing that surprises and gives the characters a modern update.
The remake switches up the story a bit by changing perspectives between street thief Aladdin (newcomer Mena Moussad), Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), and the Genie. All three want to rise above their station in life and be seen as something more than what is on the surface. After a chance meeting on the streets of Agrabah, Aladdin and Jasmine introduce themselves under false pretenses, sing a cute little song, and by the power of movie making are magically in love. Lurking in the shadows is the Sultan’s most trusted advisor, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who is power hungry and looking for the magic lamp. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Aladdin acquires the lamp, becomes best buds with Genie, and now has three wishes and a groovy magic carpet.
The script, written by John August and Ritchie, seems more interested in giving each character their own voice while serving the story as a whole rather than hitting pandering fan service beats, even though references are running wild throughout.
“Aladdin” finds its own voice within the painfully predictable story structure that provides a 21st century update to an 18th century story. Will Smith as the Genie is the little blue light that provides the spark for the rest of the film to succeed; he’s paying homage to the late Robin Williams’ performance while also putting his unique persona in the mix. If the entire film would have just been centered around him and ditched the two beautiful leads, the film could have found more originality. It’s when Smith’s rendition of the Genie gets sidelined in service of the love story that the film begin to suffer. That’s not to say that Scott and Moussad are worthless. They each compliment each other well, but pale in comparison to Smith. There are other elements to enjoy in the film, from the pseudo-Bollywood dancing to some of the more sing-song moments that feel like muted versions of the original songs.
The animated version of Aladdin had this emotional resonance to the music that provided a palpable feeling of wanting to escape and to just be in love. The 2019 version is nothing more than a fun and often times silly version of this tale, and the live action bits can’t really ever commit to either being an earnest love story or a cartoonish romp for kids to enjoy.
Maybe it could be that everything about Aladdin was maligned up until its release this weekend, and maybe it could just be the warm embrace of nostalgia that’s comforting. But it’s tough to give a film a pass just because you thought it was going to be terrible and it ended up being a passable popcorn flick. At its best, Aladdin has Will Smith firing on all cylinders that calls back to his days as the Fresh Prince. At it’s worst, Aladdin is a piece of soap opera rubbish masquerading in vibrant set decorations and costumes. If you choose to leave your cynicism at the door you could leave with a smile. If you choose to go in with a red pen, you’re bound to come out with a few dozen jokes to roast this remake.