Marking yet another live-action remake from the king of the genre, Aladdin, directed and written by Guy Ritchie, plays as the most diverse and “vibrant” of any before it. Infusing an Arabic and Indian taste to every set, there is no denying that Ritchie and company went all out to deliver the best experience possible. However, often times, despite their best efforts, Aladdin can’t quite escape its gaping flaws, ones that continue to eat away over the course of its seemingly slim 128-minute runtime. It’s a woefully undercooked concoction from a mixed bag of lead performances to a painstakingly monotone aesthetic, but also a sprinkling of charming moments. These moments come too far and few however, leaving the between of Aladdin exposed and vulnerable as Ritchie’s spirited direction wears out surprisingly fast.
Starring Mena Massoud in the titular role, Aladdin is a remake of the 1992 animated classic of the same name. Yet as a remake, Ritchie injects fresh blood into the fray, mostly in the form of modernly topical subplots and further characterization. Sure, Ritchie’s efforts to create his own vision of the story are appreciated and do tie up several loose strings from the original in effective ways, but it’s no accident that the best portions of the film are ones where Ritchie stays by the script. Inserting a subplot of Naomi Scott’s Jasmine speaking against the traditional values of her country’s ruling is interesting at points and certainly inspiring for little girls everywhere, but Ritchie never earns the arc’s conclusion with the journey seeming more like a race against the clock rather than natural progression. That criticism could, unfortunately, be applied to a large majority of Ritchie’s additions. They’re all clever on paper but never quite work within the confines of a 128-minute runtime.
The collision of so many uneven elements creates a wide array of narrative problems. The film quickly glosses over its exposition and genuinely setting the stakes for its messy CGI concluding act. It’s an issue that the most diehard of Disney fans will ignore, after all, they’re the crowd that will have the entire original memorized by heart, but for newcomers, this latest rendition is simply inaccessible and requires both prior understanding of these characters and exposition regarding the world. Admittedly, screenwriter John August in addition to Ritchie do face a near-impossible juggling act, leaving multiple arcs underdeveloped, and the uneven roster of performances doesn’t do the pair any favors.
Mena Massoud definitely looks the part as Aladdin, and he quickly warms up to the role as the film chugs along, but there are definitely moments where he falters. He lacks on-screen charisma, and it shows, particularly in the earlier portions. With the screen time divided smartly between Naomi Scott’s superior performance as Jasmine and Massoud, it’s not a crippling blow, but one that is disappointing. His best scenes are with Naomi Scott’s Jasmine with their on-screen chemistry clearly present. Ritchie, once again, might sprint to the finish line to wrap everything up, leaving the conclusion of the arc middling, but both Scott and Massoud made a definite effort, and in large part, they succeed.
Speaking of Naomi Scott as Jasmine, she’s easily one of the best things in the entire film. She has multiple musical numbers, some of which being entirely original songs. Most of them are certainly throwaways, but one featured number, the song “Speechless,” is well executed, even if it is too much on the nose.
The largest controversy surrounding Aladdin up to its release was easily Will Smith as the blue, mystical giant…the Genie. Fortunately, like Scott, his detractors will be immediately silenced in his very first scene. Yes, his performance is an absolute triumph with his performance contributing to a roaring scene of laughter from the audience. He’s instantly likable and I can’t quite imagine someone else doing a better job than him in what Ritchie was aiming for, a target that does drift from the late Robin Williams’ version of the character.
For a film that is from the big house of the Mouse, Aladdin’s CGI expectedly looks polished most of the time, with the most being a massive asterisk. The controversial shot from the “Special Look” has seen a few touch-ups and the Genie does look acceptable and even fantastic in certain scenes. But in other sequences, the visual effects can look like they stemmed straight out of a real-time rendering videogame. They have an overly stylistic look that quickly eliminates the photorealism the team was striving for. It’s not nearly as bad as bias detractors say it is, but it’s no match to either April’s Avengers: Endgame or even last August’s Christopher Robin.
Throughout the course of the film, there’s a clear intellectual dilemma happening inside of Ritchie’s head. Is 2019’s Aladdin a reimagining or a retelling? At times, he seems to be striving for both, never quite deciding on a clear answer, and consequently, the film suffers. But there are moments of potential and even success scattered in between the mediocre bits. These moments admittedly did evoke a childish glee inside, as flying colors burst around the screen in a stellar IMAX 2D presentation, but they’re too rare to make this reimagining or retelling a worthy one. Aladdin is undoubtedly a mess, but it’s also undoubtedly a vibrant one.
Written & Edited by Charlie Jin
A street rat frees a genie from a lamp, granting all of his wishes and transforming himself into a charming prince in order to marry a beautiful princess. But soon, an evil sorcerer becomes hell-bent on securing the lamp for his own sinister purposes.
ALADDIN Hits Theaters on May 24th, 2019.