Sunday, June 2, 2019

Movie Review: "Aladdin" (2019)

Director: Guy Ritchie
Year: 2019
Rating: PG
Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes

A kind-hearted thief who falls in love with the princess of Agrabah may get the chance to make his dreams come true when he locates a magic lamp that contains an all-powerful Genie. The royal vizier to the Sultan of Agrabah also seeks the lamp so he can become the most powerful man in the world.

Mena Massoud and Marwan Kenzari as Aladdin and Jafar
"Steal an apple, and you're a thief. Steal a kingdom, and you're a statesman." (Image Source)
In recent years, Disney has been taking their classic animated features and turning them into live-action films. Doing this has been the equivalent of printing money for Disney as each of these tentpole remakes has raked in boatloads of cash. Their latest reimagining is "Aladdin" (2019), directed by Guy Ritchie, who is better known for directing R-rated London gangster comedies like "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" than he is helming family adventure flicks. Ritchie also helped write the screenplay along with John August, who is known for creating movies like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Corpse Bride," and "Frankenweenie." Much like the 1992 animated feature of the same name, the story revolves around a generous, compassionate thief named Aladdin (Mena Massoud), who is said to be a 'diamond in the rough.' While at the market one day, he helps out a young woman who turns out to be Jasmine (Naomi Scott), the Princess of Agrabah, who has snuck out of the castle for the day. The two instantly hit it off, but due to his station in life, a relationship between them seems impossible. Jafar (Marwan Kanzari), the power-hungry royal vizier to the Sultan of Agrabah (Navid Negahban), sends Aladdin on a quest to retrieve a lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Jafar double-crosses Aladdin, but not before Aladdin obtains the trinket for himself. Inside rests a Genie (Will Smith) with the power to make Aladdin's dreams come true, so long as the lamp doesn't fall into the wrong hands.
Movie Still of Will Smith as Genie in Disney's Aladdin (2019)
"Why are you playing hard to wish?" (Image Source)
We regard 1992's version of "Aladdin" (1992) as an animated masterpiece. For those of us who grew up watching this beloved classic, it's hard to see anybody but Robin Williams playing the role of the Genie. No matter what Will Smith did, and no matter how charming he may be as an actor, it would have been virtually impossible for him to escape Robin's enormous shadow because he was that iconic as this character. Luckily, Smith does manage to make the Genie his own, and the few times we smiled and laughed were usually because of him. That being said, even if you can separate the two version of the character and the film as a whole, this incarnation of "Aladdin" leaves a lot to be desired. It's not a total waste of space or time, but there's no reason (other than Disney's desire for more and more money) for it to exist. This version lacks energy at times, and with the exception a few noteworthy scenes, it has an overall soulless feel to it. We were a bit baffled when it was announced that Guy Ritchie was going to direct this movie, and now that we've seen it, he was so not the right person for the job. The closest film Ritchie has made to "Aladdin" is his gangster-esque interpretation of King Arthurand we all saw how that turned out. This story seems so far removed from Ritchie's usual offerings, and what's more confusing is how it lacks any of Ritchie's signature directorial style outside of one or two brief instances of slow-motion action. It would appear that this project was (debatably) brought to life by a committee rather than being the vision of one director, and that really comes through on-screen in its final product. It has a very stage play quality in the way it is shot and in its costume design. We don't know if that's what everyone involved was going for or not, but it wasn't the best choice, in our opinion.

"Aladdin" is not a total loss. The majority of the cast does a decent enough job with what they have been given. Mena Massoud is very likable in the titular role, and he does a good job for the most part despite some early-film stiffness. Nasim Pedrad, who plays Jasmine's handmaiden Dalia, a new character, offers some comedic relief as she is attracted to and flirts with Will Smith's Genie for the entire film. Together, they offer some of the funnier moments in "Aladdin." We also liked Navid Negahban as the Sultan, and even though he stars in a much smaller capacity, we still thought he did a great job as Jasmine's supportive father who is bound by tradition and rule and order. Naomi Scott is the real show stealer here. Jasmine has been given more of a girl-power edge in this incarnation, and Scott hits the nail on the head in every instance. She has the best singing voice out of anyone in the cast, though BigJ and I differ on the necessity and fittingness of the new-to-this-version/purely-Oscar-bait song "Speechless."
Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine
"My dear, you cannot be a Sultan." (Image Source)
Unfortunately, "Aladdin" doesn't offer anything new. It's certainly not necessary x10000 and definitely didn't need to exist, but if you can set aside your feelings for the original or happen to be one of the few people who has never seen the animated version (POWER), you may find the overall experience of watching this live-action reboot enjoyable enough.

My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.4/10
RT Rating: ~56%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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