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story.lead_photo.caption Aladdin (Mena Massoud) falls in love the Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who he mistakes for a commoner, in Aladdin.

It's hard to believe in magic in a movie made by people afraid of the risks involved in trusting the supernatural. Still, I suppose Disney chairman Robert Iger is grinning at the marketing opportunities this new live action adaptation of Aladdin offers.

Parents who grew up with the classic 1992 cartoon won't need much persuading to take their offspring the see the story they loved as kids. I'm sure the balance sheet for this movie looks worthy of the Louvre or Crystal Bridges. Yet while the film might not have any trouble selling toys and fast food, this story, could use a genie's assistance. When writer-directors John Musker and Ron Clements remade the cartoon, they didn't create a whole new world.

Aladdin

78 Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Alan Tudyk

Director: Guy Ritchie

Rating: PG, for some action/peril

Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes

Like Walt Disney before them, they took established, public domain material, but they brought a unique, contemporary angle to the ancient Middle Eastern tale. Robin Williams' manic, shape-shifting turn as the genie and Alan Menken's catchy, Broadway-infused songs kept Aladdin from seeming like a musty sheet of papyrus.

Having those same songs returning for Guy Ritchie's new adaptation is a wish granted and a bit of a curse. There are some new tunes, but they don't have the late Howard Ashman's wit and precision. Worse, they don't tell viewers anything new about the characters or add to the story.

Williams wasn't much of a singer, but having Will Smith repeat his songs only makes it easier to miss the sadly departed comic's manic glee. Williams didn't have auto-tune, so it makes Smith's use of it seem even more egregious. Smith is a master of hip-hop delivery, so it's a shame the soundtrack didn't play to his strength.

That said, Ritchie and co-screenwriter John August have managed to give Smith a role that capitalizes on his formidable charm. He doesn't have Williams' atomic energy, and he wisely doesn't try. The CGI's shape-shifting isn't as fun as Eric Goldberg's frantic, rubbery animation was, but Smith's droll delivery gives his genie a personality of his own.

If you missed the 1992 version, the plots are nearly identical. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a young thief with a pet monkey named Abu trained as an accomplice. When Aqaba's Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) decides to go slumming with her subjects, the agile criminal helps her escape from merchants who mistake her for a shoplifter. It troubles her that her subjects are needlessly suffering while the Sultan's ambitious vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is pushing her father (Navid Negahban) into a pointless war.

Because Jafar and Aladdin both have humble origins, the former decides that the thief is the perfect person to search for a brass oil lamp. The lad appears to be just good enough to get past the supernatural forces guarding it.

Unless you've been stuck in lamp yourself for a few thousand years, you know what's happening next.

While Musker and Clements made a movie for the ages, there was a carelessness with Arab culture that Ritchie and company try to remedy here. All the major cast members with the exception of Smith are of Arab or Iranian descent, which prevents most of the movie from feeling as phony as the giant CGI parrot that mars the film's conclusion.

Scott and Massoud have fine voices, and it's nice to see them cast because they fit the roles. Casting for box office appeal is stupid if nobody wants to see more familiar performers play the same characters badly. Anyone who has seen John Wayne play Genghis Khan knows that there are limits to the roles that even great actors can play.

Saturday Night Live alumna Nasim Pedrad is expectedly funny as Jasmine's overly eager handmaiden, but Kenzari isn't as threatening as Jonathan Freeman was as the crooked vizier. Maybe Andreas Deja's virtuoso animation could have helped.

The magic in Will Smith's lamp is uneven. Abu the monkey gives the human performers plenty of competition, but Ritchie might have created even more stunning visuals if he'd placed more faith in magic than in shoddy graphics. Then again, Disney wouldn't have greenlit a movie that strayed too far from its predecessor. Because the new film's magic carpet is following in the flight plan of its animated ancestor, it can't reach new heights on its own.

Photo by Daniel Smith
Thieving street urchin Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is charged with stealing a magic lamp in Guy Ritchie’s (mostly) live action version of Aladdin.

MovieStyle on 05/24/2019

Print Headline: Aladdin

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