Movie: Aladdin
Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Studio:   Disney (2hrs. 8mins)

Plot:   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.
Cast:  Will Smith, Naomi Scott, Mena Massoud, Marwan Kenzari, Billy Magnussen, Nasim Pedrad
Rating:  PG
Bottom Line:   ***1/2
 
By Carrie Rutledge
 
The latest movie to get the Disney live-action remake treatment is the 1992 animated musical, Aladdin. Aladdin was the first of the Disney Animation Studios films to incorporate a celebrity voice into its animated features, blazing the trail that would lead to The Lion King, Pocahontas, Toy Story and the rest. With the voice of comedy genius Robin Williams as a draw, and a score by Howard Ashman, Alan Menken and Tim Rice, Aladdin quickly became a classic, earning two Academy Awards and becoming the top-grossing movie of the year.
 
In this remake, the story remains the same as the animated classic. Orphaned petty thief and so-called street rat, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) falls for the beautiful Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who in turn is feeling stifled by an overprotective father and the restrictive role of women in society and governance. The ambitious Grand Vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), meanwhile, seeks a magical lamp that can only be recovered by "The Diamond in the Rough." Surprise, this uncut gem turns out to be none other than the aforementioned street rat. Aladdin recovers the lamp, but instead of turning it over to Jafar, he releases the Genie (Will Smith) on his own and hijinks ensue.
 
Massoud is charmingly confident as Aladdin, and equally charming bumbling through his disguise as the wealthy Prince Ali. Scott's Jasmine is lovely and charismatic. Princess Jasmine is given considerably more agency in her own story than in the original animated movie, which is a nice shift. The newly added song, "Speechless" highlights the oppression she feels as a woman in her quasi-Arabic society, and her ambition to become more than a silent decoration in her father's or husband's court. 
 
Undoubtedly, the role that caused the biggest controversy was the casting of Will Smith as the “big blue Genie.” Early photos and trailers were panned primarily for the Genie's awkward appearance. However, in the final release, this problem was largely abated.
 
Smith and director Guy Ritchie wisely did not attempt to make the Genie an imitation of Robin Williams. They clearly knew that no one could survive that comparison. This Genie is different: still manic, in his own way; still funny, but with an original flair. Smith makes the role his own, leveraging his naturally engaging personality and screen presence for maximum effect
 
So, if the cast was fine, the effects were fantastic and the score was great, why did I leave the movie thinking it was just OK?
 
There are several reasons.
 
First, Jafar lacked menace. Kenzari just wasn't scary or intimidating. He was possibly the blandest Disney villain of all time. Iago the parrot (voiced by Alan Tudyk) was more villainous than his master. How can you root against a villain who feels more like a pouty teen than an evil sorcerer and who is upstaged by a barely verbal bird?
 
Second, the musical numbers, with the exception of the fabulously staged "Prince Ali," lacked heart. Massoud and Scott both have fine singing voices, but their songs didn't have the kind of energy I've come to expect from a Disney musical. I found myself just wanting the songs to end so we could get on with the story.
 
Finally, the pacing was too slow in all the wrong places. The lead-in went on too long and Jafar's inevitable turn to the dark side was almost tedious
 
Overall, Aladdin is a fine effort, but one that suffers from a few major flaws, and which pales when compared to its source material. 
 
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