At its worst, Disney’s Aladdin is yet another attempt to capitalize on past animated features. That does not mean that from a technical standpoint the film is bad — quite the contrary.
As you probably already know, Aladdin is about the titular thief (Mena Massoud) surviving on the streets of Agrabah, who one day meets and saves a young woman revealed to be Jasmine (Naomi Scott), the princess of Agrabah. Aladdin spends the film attempting to woo her through grand gestures under the guise of Prince Ali, a persona bestowed upon him by a magical genie (Will Smith) named Genie. Oh yeah, and the adviser to the Sultan, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), wants Jasmine's father's position as ruler of Agrabah.
This is the latest live-action reimagining (using the term loosely) of a beloved Disney property, and the second of three to be released this year. While earlier attempts such as Cinderella and the Jungle Book have garnered favorable reviews, the quantity of remakes has caused enthusiasm to dissipate and audiences to question the effort put in to these movies upon release. Calling Aladdin effortless in its execution isn’t quite the right way to put it, but the viewer can be left with a sense of dissatisfaction when the colorful landscape of Agrabah doesn’t compare with its animated counterpart in the 1992 original.
While the performances by the main cast are serviceable (with one major exception), there aren’t many changes to the story’s narrative that help it stand out from its previous incarnation. It’s still able to accomplish this to some degree thanks to the portrayal of Jasmine by Naomi Scott. Though her original introduction is cut from this new movie, Scott is still able to effectively communicate her desire to put empathy for her people before the power that comes with her status. Though inexperienced, she is nonetheless steadfast and assertive when in the presence of danger or mortal threat and delivers a unique take on the princess that is as refreshing as it is timely.
Scott has an amazing voice and showcases it wonderfully during her performance of “Speechless,” a new song that managed to convey that Jasmine is the star of the show and Aladdin is the supporting player in his own movie. However, with the scene that follows immediately after, Jasmine more or less reiterating her point in real time, it begs the question of why the song was included in the first place. Other musical moments in the film, though well-performed overall, feel misplaced, awkward, and even gratuitous at times.
One of the film’s weaker aspects is most definitely Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, who acts as an irritating, dead-eyed downgrade from the cunning, silver-tongued advisor we knew from the animated original. While Jafar acts as the movie’s main antagonist, his presence is rather obligatory, and the powerfully persuasive sorcerer is no more than a festering canker sore in the scope of the overall narrative.
During one scene within the palace, Genie makes the observation to Aladdin (as Ali) that Jafar “has everyone fooled.” While this may be true, his manner of doing so strips the nefarious and power-hungry official of what made him interesting in the original. He’s just a dude holding a magic staff.
Another character worth noting is Will Smith’s portrayal of Genie, which isn’t anywhere near as bad as people feared; he’s not Robin Williams, though. Technological limitations were always going to play a factor in Smith’s performance, and he did well for what he was given. Though funny, colorful, and lively, at times he came off as overbearing, dwarfing the otherwise charismatic Aladdin and indirectly bottling up his charm and cunning until the film’s concluding fight. Though anyone wouldn’t know what to make of encountering one of — if not the — most powerful being in the universe, Aladdin is reduced to a high school freshman sweating his prom suit off around Genie or really anyone else.
While Aladdin is entertaining, so is the original. Other than Scott’s performance as Jasmine, little else makes this movie feel like an experience Disney wants you to see. It will make money regardless, and in less than two months, so will the remake of the Lion King because we will all be there on opening night. Though not exhausting per se, Disney’s strategy is successful despite how exhausted it feels at this point. The dust remains on the lamp and the magic is still trapped inside. Not saying leave the memories alone; just give us something to work with.