Written by Tyrone Bruinsma
It’s fine…but only fine.
DISNEY’S REMAKE TREND
Disney’s current remake trend so far has largely just been “Hey, you liked this movie we made that you saw as a child-pay us to experience it again or have fond memories of it”. The trend has lead to mostly average watches like The Jungle Book and Cinderella, and some outright bad films like Beauty and the Beast, Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo. I will say the best of the remakes is easily Maleficent (of which we’re getting a sequel this year) because it did something so largely different and original compared to the film it remakes. My main issue with the remakes is that they either try to “fix” perfectly good movies like Beauty and the Beast or re-tell a fairly interesting story as a more basic set-up like Pete’s Dragon, as opposed to finding entirely new ideas for them (again, except Maleficent).
ALADDIN AS A WHOLE NEW THING
Aladdin ends up being one of the average watches, a movie that sometimes hits a few solid notes of the original and a few of its own-but largely feels somewhat forgettable, even as I write this 90 minutes having seen it. It pretty much feels like a 2 hour long “Remember the original you love so much?” advertisement. Or maybe a better analogy would be a miniature Will Smith Genie dancing on top of you DVD/Blu-Ray of Aladdin and getting his little footprints on the cover. Yeah, there’s a little bit more new and it feels like it’s lightly ruining a good film, but you just love the original more.
Speaking of Will Smith, he was largely getting the most flack for replacing the iconic and late Robin Williams as the Genie and his blue CGI effect not being the most convincing. I’ll say the same thing I said about Alita’s eyes-it stops being a problem when you get into it. His performance is largely his own and different from the 1992 version, playing more as a life coach than the jolly giant of the original. He’s one of the better parts of the film, even if half of his highly animated movements don’t work and feel like poor imitations of the original’s (though some new visual gags do work). Aladdin in the film is…well he’s kind of the poster boy for the film in that he’s fine. Not terrible, not great-does really well in the stretch around A Whole New World…but does less with more opportunity. Some of the supporting players are fine: Hakim the main guard needed more screen time and Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia is hilarious: a great addition. But Naomi Scott as Jasmine is the MVP on the acting side and the one true improvement in the film. Jasmine was my first childhood animated crush and she’s great in the original, but Naomi Scott’s version is more empowering (with a really great original song of her own) and holds just as many qualities I treasured in the original. I seriously hope Naomi gets bigger and better roles: Pakistani Ms Marvel, Poison Ivy or even a female James Bond would be great roles for her. But the weakest performance in the film is Jafar, from trailer one…he looked without menace or intimidation-which is 100% what happens in the film. On the script, Jafar is interesting as he’s an ex-thief like Aladdin and wants to make a militarised border state (I’ll get back to that)…but he’s one of the weakest looking villains in recent memory. I almost wish Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston had the role (and you could just making another parallel with the character) as the original Jafar was truly menacing. Abu and Iago have less screen time and personality (though it’s not all gone) and Carpet has a bit more too him.
QUICK ALLEGORICAL ASIDE
And before I go further, Jafar and Jasmine have a rather blatant Trump V.S Hillary allegory going…although there’s nothing clever done or even said with it. It just kind of says “Trump’s a prick…Hillary should’ve won”…and that’s all. Personally I now prefer the idea of Jafar as a Westerner who loves Agrabah and would like to use an old feud to rule it…because then it’s a Hitler allegory and that’s just as blatant-but with a bit more to say.
The most notable element of this film (which pretty much follows the original film with tiny variations) is the pacing differences. In the first 5 minutes of 1992’s Aladdin, we’ve had our intro and been introduced to Jafar and the Cave of Wonders (which isn’t as fascinating as the original) and Aladdin is still a minute away from introduction. In this film, Aladdin and Jasmine have met by the 5 minute mark (in the original-it took 17 minutes). Now you might think this is better pacing…but it’s not. 1992 Aladdin is 90 minutes, this one is 2 hours. This is because despite rushing various parts…they drag some others on top of their additions. It also takes away mood and atmosphere from some scenes (making some entire sequences and rather important plot points in the original, screenwriting coincidences in this version). I’m not saying the film needed to be shorter, but do more with its runtime than pad out to the next homage.
LESS WITH MORE
Unfortunately this is mostly as “Same as before, just not as good and more” case. Jafar only has one truly “ooo I hate that guy moment” (that contradicts his character and just feels like trying to copy the original), scenes of wonder and tension are rendered less so thanks to staging and action scenes not being as fluid and the scope/scale of the original’s is lost in almost every sense (With most of the sets and costumes never really making you think this is real). Plus Genie’s rules get a bit of the Beauty and the Beast remake treatment in that they try to make it rather strict…but it just gets in the way of the drama and tension. And yes it copies the “Be yourself” message of the original…but it comes off a little bit weaker.
I feel like Disney should’ve just made this film ENTIRELY about Jasmine. She’s the best character, the best acted, the one upgraded from the original-why not have her at the beginning sneaking around and seeing Jafar’s plans, meeting Aladdin from her perspective and giving her the main driving force. Hell, I’d make it so she ends up getting the Genie (Whom I might’ve cast a woman for in this role and have a Shantae homage). I just think it might’ve been better and allowed another female director (Preferably Kathryn Bigelow of The Hurt Locker or Lexi Alexander of Punisher Warzone) to take this project because Guy Ritchie doesn’t seem to be here.
IS GUY RITCHIE HERE?
Oh yeah…it’s a Guy Ritchie film…and the least stylistic of his works. I know people have somewhat gotten annoyed of his style in how he shoots/edits/structures a film, but there’s an energy in that that makes somewhat messy films like Revolver or Man from Uncle somewhat entertaining and like he’s trying. Here, his energy that would make the One Jump Ahead song really great is rendered rather stunted. Maybe it’s because Disney told him to calm down, or some CGI heavy scenes made him have to be restrained, maybe he wasn’t the best choice for a musical, or maybe he just wanted to try this. About the most interesting his filmmaking gets it a fairly elaborate edited one shot early in the film and about two scenes where he does his cut away from the main thing schtick. It honestly makes his voice rather quiet and relying more on his effects team as this is cinematographer Alan Stewart’s first major film in this position and he feels a little lagging in energy, but does create some great visuals in conjunction with the effects team and production design departments. Honestly, I know this will sound weird as I did a giant dissection on why it didn’t completely work…but I prefer Ritchie’s King Arthur film as it was a big bloated mess trying lots of new things. Hell, Aladdin might’ve been better if Ritchie was able to make it his usual crime comedy spin.
WHY NOT BORROW FROM THE STAGE SHOW? OR THE ORIGINAL TALE?
Most of this Aladdin feels like a stage show…which makes sense as Aladdin has been a popular one for years. I saw one in Brisbane recently and it was pretty good. Two changes I liked for the stage was establishing Jafar got his powers and information from a Snake God (awesome) and Aladdin had a street gang he was friends with instead of Abu (which added to the “Be Yourself” theme and allowed for multiple handmaidens to flirt with). Honestly, I don’t know WHY they didn’t copy this stuff as it adds more cool stuff, lets Guy Ritchie do his thing more and I KNOW they borrow the Genie’s human form and clothing from the show-so it’s silly to not have borrowed more. Hell, Disney could’ve tapped into the original Aladdin’s Chinese connection (As it took place in the Middle East and China) and have Aladdin played by a Chinese actor and get Disney more clout with the Chinese market they’re so keen to please. Instead the only new influence appears to be Bollywood…which doesn’t make that much sense as Aladdin is an Arabian/Chinese tale…not Indian, the cultures might be somewhat regionally close…but it’d be like saying Hinduism and Islam are similar faiths or Mayan and Aztec culture is the same. It either feels like Disney might try to get into the Indian market with this or Western filmmakers are making mistakes again. I’m not of Indian or Arabian descent (Though I do have Chinese ancestry if you can believe) so it’s not my place to say if it’s appropriative, but I wouldn’t argue if that was the case.
I HAD FUN
I wasn’t angry in this movie like I was with Beauty and the Beast, or bored like Pete’s Dragon. It’s about the same as The Jungle Book in that I enjoyed myself. Smith and Scott were great actors, the songs were fun (especially Jasmine’s new one), A Whole New World was the best part and just as magical as the original, Dalia (played by Nasim Pedrad) got the biggest laughs from me, a new dance sequence was a lot of fun, the effects were mostly great, the stunt and dance choreography/performers were excellent, the music (especially orchestral side) was great in even the adaptations and I just had fun with it. I’d recommend seeing it with someone who either really wants to see it, or who you know will love it. It’s fun, but when we talk about Aladdin-everyone will still think of the original and this will be less known than the 3rd animated film.
DISNEY’S BRAND GENIUS
I actually think Disney doesn’t care if you love or hate this film…because you’re still going to love Disney. If you love this film…then you’ll buy the soundtrack, the merch and see Disney’s next remakes while buying and watching the original Aladdin films. If you hated it…you’ll still watch and buy the originals if you haven’t seen them in a while, try to compare the trailer to the film and just talk about how great the original is. Disney wins, no matter what…unless everyone doesn’t go to see this film. And that’s not happened, it’s a big budget Disney film based on one of their most popular films with a popular actor and is coming out after people already saw/didn’t see Detective Pikachu and mature films like John Wick 3 and Brightburn are out. It’s probably the nostalgia trip and family audiences who’ll see this…I’m just hoping Godzilla: King of the Monsters will do well at the end of the month.