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Aladdin – Movie Review

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Aladdin – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

With Disney continuing to make their way through their animated catalogue in pursuit of the next blockbuster hit, Aladdin was definitely one of the most likely candidates. With its unforgettable songs, charming romance and a scene-stealing comical genie, Ron Clements and John Musker’s Middle Eastern adventure remains a favourite among many viewers. While Guy Ritchie seems like a surprising choice to tackle the live-action remake, a lot of his usual directorial flourishes are toned down here. While his leads are likeable and the changes the filmmakers do make are admirable, Aladdin doesn’t capture that special spark required of this famous story.

For the most part, Aladdin is a well cast film and to see a large scale production like this with a primarily multi-ethnic ensemble shows Hollywood is slowly, but surely taking a step in the right direction with onscreen diversity. To make the audience care, the central romance between the titular thief and a princess has to work and the movie succeeds in teaming up two likeable leads. Mena Massoud brings the necessary charm to Aladdin and Naomi Scott’s Princess Jasmine displays the necessary intelligence to counteract his streetwise ways. However, Will Smith probably has the biggest challenge to overcome. Robin Williams was a major part of the Genie, applying his improvisation skills to a character bursting with energy. Smith makes the right decision to not copy Williams, instead using his own natural charisma to portray the Genie.

While the screenplay, credited to Ritchie and John August, follows the basic story template of the animated film, it does make some modifications here and there. The Genie is given a larger role with the filmmakers frequently having him by Aladdin’s side as he attempts to woo Jasmine. Jasmine and the Sultan also have a slightly different dynamic here than in the animated film. The Sultan being made more headstrong in his leadership allows for a bigger look at Agrabah’s international relations, which also provides a different reasoning for Jafar’s villainous motivation. Unfortunately, Jafar himself is somewhat of a bore. In an attempt to ground the character, the filmmakers have removed what makes him such an entertaining baddie and he’s also less threatening in this incarnation.

The most disappointing aspect of Aladdin is the musical numbers. Even with the wildly energetic Alan Menken songs at their disposal, there is a surprising cheapness in their visual presentation. The orchestrations don’t spring to life and the staging comes across like watching a high school theatrical production. While “Friend Like Me” is given a bit more of a visual splash, befitting the Genie, it’s not a song that lends itself to Will Smith’s hip-hop stylings. Menken and new lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have also written a new song for Jasmine, which is largely unnecessary, forgettable and stops the movie in its tracks. The best use of a song is the opening number “Arabian Nights”, in which the camera moves through the streets of Agrabah in the fashion of a Disney World dark ride. While the animated film ran a breezy and well-paced 90 minutes, the live-action Aladdin clocks in at a little over two hours and it’s especially noticeable in the climax. There is a lot of unneeded padding that causes the finale to go on for what feels like an eternity.

Aladdin is certainly a noble effort in trying to turn Disney’s widely beloved animated adventure into a live-action spectacle. While the main romance retains its sweetness and Will Smith’s Genie provides some solid laughs (as does Nasim Pedrad as Jasmine’s handmaiden), the presentation doesn’t provide the full pizzazz the movie desperately wants to achieve. While there are some moments with the expected grandness, other parts look surprisingly cheap. That the musical numbers lack the needed energy is notably discouraging and proves the limitless power of animation when matched with the right orchestrations. Aladdin has some points in its favour, but the animated movie still remains far and away supreme.

Stefan Ellison

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