ALADDIN – A Not Entirely New (and Largely Unnecessary) World

It is with big thanks that Lady Claire attended the pre-screening of ALADDIN this week, I was taking my granny out to RED JOAN and I could not get out of that promise, although would have preferred this one haha. It is great to see the Kernel back in action and she presents a wonderful review of this Disney live-action remake. If you aren’t a fan of the live-action movies coming then brace yourself – there is a lot of them….

  • Aladdin (May 24, 2019) …
  • The Lion King (July 19, 2019) …
  • Mulan (March 21, 2020) …
  • Maleficent 2 (May 29, 2020) …
  • Cruella (101 Dalmatians) (TBD) …
  • Peter Pan (TBD) …
  • Tink (TBD) …
  • The Sword in the Stone (TBD)

The thing I am most gobsmacked about is the fact this is directed by Guy Ritchie – that is so weird haha – just not his type of film.

ALADDIN is released from Disney, runs for 128mins and is rated PG.

The Aladdin Lamp
The Lamp

BY CLAIRE SMITH

ALADDIN SYNOPSIS AND PREAMBLE

ALADDIN is the classic “rags to riches” story of the little boy who could and the big blue genie who helped. Before I start this review, I want to get this out of the way:

Yes – the 1992 cartoon release was a masterpiece.

Yes – it was a VHS staple of your childhoods.

Yes – there is NO replacing the incomparable Robin Williams as the genie.

(Yes – we cried when we heard the news of his death.)

Yes – This is just a bit too soon to be trying to fill those genie shoes.

Yes – This ALADDIN simply can’t compete with the perfection that was the Disney original.

The original was perfection. This film is not perfection. Thus ends my comparisons of the two films. For the remainder of this review, I’ll treat the film as a standalone piece of work without using the original classic as a rubric standard.

As Budd (Michael Madsen) puts it in Kill Bill 2: “If you’re gonna compare a Hanzo sword, you compare it to every other sword ever made… that wasn’t made by Hattori Hanzo.”

Aladdin Mena Massoud image
Mena Massoud

PERFORMANCES: WHERE TO START:

Firstly – I didn’t realise the streets of Arabian dunescapes and marketplaces were so filled with wholly-American accents back in ye-olden days. The sharp Yankee twang of the main and supporting characters are a real fourth-wall breaker to the vibrant and colourful streets of Middle-Eastern Agrabah. Although it’s notable that Disney didn’t make the blunder of white-washing the cast, they sure went ahead with Americanising them.

ALADDIN is played by relative newcomer Mena Massoud who chews through the expository dialogue admirably. Worth mentioning that his initial musical chase sequence has some strange stylised playback speeds happening. It’s unclear whether this was intentional but it appears that the performance was filmed in a slower range and then sped up so that each movement or placement could be set to the song’s beats. The result is disorienting – with action being sped up onscreen but the vocals remaining strangely smooshed into time. My guest and I wondered if the projector was malfunctioning during this sequence but it seemed either an intentional directorial choice or a reparatory post production work. Either way it was jarring and strange. (Ed’s Note: most likely a Guy Ritchie thing, it’s definitely a signature pacing move.)

Massoud’s solos are autotuned to within an inch of their lives but he fills the screen with a huge, toothy grin and you can’t help but love the street-rat just a little bit.

Love-interest Jasmine is played by Naomi Scott, who teenage boys may perhaps recognise as the pink Power Ranger from the 2017 Power Rangers film. Jasmine yearns to be Sultan but the law only permits men to be Sultans of Agrabah. Scott works well with Disney shoe-horning the women’s rights movement into an ancient fable, but it does seem out of place. The onscreen chemistry between Scott and Massoud is tangible, even though their Americanised accents are confusing in their Middle-Eastern setting.

Villain Jafar (Marwan Kenzari – BEN HUR, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS) isn’t as ominous a villain as he could be. More of a toothless Rajah (that’s the name of the tiger, for those of whom 1992 was a long time ago). In general, the performances from the entire ensemble could do with a sprinkle more theatricality and Jafar is no exception. He’s realistic as a villain in his desires to rule Agrabah/the world but it’s no more interesting than watching politicians vie for power on the news. More of an issue with the scripting/directing than his actual performance.

It felt like Kenzari had more flair available in the tank but wasn’t granted the means to unleash it. Even the ooey gooey damp-eyed Sultan (Navid Negahban – 12 STRONG, HOMELAND) could have done with some more vibrancy and flair to his character depiction. The love for his daughter was wholehearted and beautifully performed by Negahban, but the character lacked oomph.

Aladdin Will Smith image
Will Smith image

WILL SMITH, THE GENIE

As I mentioned, there’s nothing to gain from comparing this Genie with our cartoon beloved version. There truly is no comparison.

Like the rest of the castings, this performance lacked that showstopping, heart thumping pizzazz that’s wholly necessary for such a flamboyant, all powerful presence as the Genie. Picture Barack Obama trying to give it the ol’ razzle dazzle and that’s about where we’re at for this one. Will Smith seems like a great guy – he really seems genuine and present in all that he does – but the Genie needs to be this huge, screen grabbing, scene stealing figure and we just don’t get that from Smith.

He’s stiff and straight-backed and wooden – a wingman? Yes. A genie? No.  His singing voice isn’t up to snuff and although he tries his best to Fresh Prince the classic Menkin/Rice melodies, it just falls flat. There’s some diamonds in the rough. I’ll admit to laughing out loud at a few quips such as Smith joining the harem of ladies to announce being weak at the knees at the handsome Prince Ali. Perhaps after a syringe-shot of adrenaline, his performance would command more presence.

Where Smith shines in the role is when he’s a genie masquerading as a human and doesn’t have to wrestle with CGI blue or false, unmet eyelines as the CGI genie. Even his giant “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” numbers lacked energy. Though they have spectacular color and chorus lines, they’re ensconcing this dorky, stiff, pandering, politeness that is Will Smith’s Genie. He had such big shoes to fill and sadly just didn’t quite get there with his calm, collected character.

Aladdin Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud image
Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud

SONGS: ARE THEY ALL THAT WE REMEMBER?

For the most part, the songs really keep the pacing snappy and energised for this film.

The run time flew by and at no point did the storyline lag or dull.

There’s a couple of new songs to watch out for – most notably from Jasmine with her aforementioned, out of place “stuff the patriarchy” flag-flying agenda.

The musical numbers are colourful and vibrant. A Whole New World sees some lovely gooey-eyed moments between the two leads and their excellent onscreen charisma. For the most part though, the large-scale musical numbers involving chorus-lines and backup dancers feel a little too green-screened or visual effects edited to feel overwhelmingly positive and punchy.

Aladdin Mena Massoud and Marwan Kenzari image
Mena Massoud and Marwan Kenzari

IN CONCLUSION:

ALADDIN feels unnecessary. It’s a retelling of a story we already know, and I’m not certain that by translating it to live action, we’ve brought a new voice to the story.

I found myself asking “who is this being remade for?”

The inclusion of the women’s rights movement was a nice gesture. It’s the thought that counts, right? It was just handled a little strangely, and a little out of place for ancient Middle-East.

It’s not a film that I’ll be rushing out to recommend to everyone, but if I’m home with a winter cold and have a doona wrapped around me, it will be a nice “Chicken Soup Movie” to make me feel better.

It’s light, it’s snappy, it’s colourful. You’ll have fun, even if it won’t take you to a whole new world.

YOUR REVIEWER:

Kernel Claire retired from the Salty Popcorn cob in 2014 with full honors, but was lured back to the shine of the silver screen and the Salt of the Popcorn a mere four years later. When not hand-modelling for Kernel Jason’s food-reviews, Claire can be found scootering through Sydney at a reasonable, defensive driving speed; or fussing far too much over her little black rescue cat Baxter.

Claire has worked in the Australian Cinema Industry for over 13yrs and loves it the most when she can report “sometimes I get paid to watch movies”. She’ll pretty much attend any event that includes a lanyard.