Aladdin Movie Review
The new, live-action Aladdin is an extraordinary accomplishment: it manages to be sort of entertaining while being undeniably bad at the same time.
A lesser version of the animated Disney film in every way and form—my favorite animated movie, for the record—Aladdin manages to sustain itself by emulating scenes we’ve already seen and love, catering to our nostalgia even as it struggles—mightily, I might add—to get even close to matching the charm, beauty, and wit of the original.
Guy Ritchie, best known for Sherlock Holmes, Snatch, and Madonna’s weird quasi-British accent phase, helms the picture, perhaps one of the oddest directorial hires by Disney in the history of Disney directorial hires. Known for his grit and typically adult fare, his version of Aladdin comes off like a cheap TV movie, what with its unrecognizable cast save for a washed up Will Smith and generally cheap aesthetics throughout.
The visual effects aren’t terrible and sometimes are quite good, but for a movie that somehow, astonishingly, cost $183 million to make, it fails to capture the grandness of Agrabah or the story in general. Ritchie strips away the genuine energy and vibrancy of the original, delivering a product that has flat action scenes and a paint-by-numbers storytelling approach. The screenplay is rough and does little to help the cast, most notably “newcomer” Mena Massoud, who is pretty terrible as Aladdin but at least looks the part. Naomi Scott is much better as Jasmine, and Will Smith is surprisingly decent as the Genie, tasked with the unenviable position of replicating a character made famous by Robin Williams.
Marwan Kenzari, unfortunately, is dreadful as the villainous Jafar—he has the presence of a Power Rangers bad guy and doesn’t at all look the part, given how distinct the animated Jafar is. While all the film’s faults cannot entirely be placed on Kenzari’s shoulders, the fact that the casting director missed so horrendously here mirrors what’s wrong with so much of the rest of the movie.
Despite all of its shortcomings, Aladdin isn’t a complete waste. While the first act is pretty painful, things pick up once the Genie comes into the picture. Will Smith is no Robin Williams, but he has enough charisma to lift the film into entertaining territory. As dull as Massoud is, he’s also likable enough, and he and Scott share just enough chemistry to make you believe in their romance.
The musical numbers, while still not as good as in the animated film, are generally fun.
Aladdin is not a good movie, and it’s stunning to believe that Disney somehow sunk nearly $200 million into a movie that looks like it cost a fraction of that in order to head straight to television, but in the moment, I was able to get carried off on a magic carpet ride anyway. Well, maybe a carpet dragged behind a camel at least.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.