FILM REVIEW: “Aladdin” is Far from a Whole New World
I don’t remember much about Disney’s original Aladdin. What I do remember, vividly, are the feelings of warmth and fun that it inspired. Sure, it was filled with narrative elements that were cliché in 1992. And we don’t really have time here to go over its many racist elements. But there was something magical about that film. Maybe it was Robin Williams’ beloved Genie, a role specifically crafted for his comedic sensibilities. Maybe it was the beautifully fluid animation. It could be any number of things. The point is that, as much time as we spend trying to analyse filmmaking and art, the way we respond to these things isn’t mathematical.
The Aladdin remake, on the other hand, is pure mathematics. For 13 dollars a ticket, you are given an almost two-hour smile and some filmic memories you’ll probably leave behind on your way out of the cinema.
The film is exactingly constructed so as to not surprise. It’s as by the numbers as it gets; an expensively made product spawned by an algorithm dreamed up by a legion of accountants, aimed at some imagined audience who are clamouring for this stuff. And it works. In the financial sense. Forgive the rant, but I don’t see the point of these “live-action” Disney remakes if most of them are made in thousands of computers anyway. They’re still cartoons, ultimately, but with their personalities digitally replaced.
None of Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin is putrid or unbearable (though this is only a small mercy for the parents who are being dragged to it by their kids). Unlike 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, there are flashes and spazzes of life and giddiness and, yes, magic in Aladdin. It’s enough to make you wish all this talent could be funnelled elsewhere.
Naomi Scott gives a beautifully assured performance as Princess Jasmine. Will Smith is a delight as the Genie, imbuing the omnipotent blue creature with his timeless charisma. The recreation of the fictional city of Agrabah is impressively done, wonderfully ornate and even convincing at times, although it lacks texture and grit. Mena Massoud is perfectly serviceable as adorable street thief Aladdin, though he’s hardly the freshest prince in town (see Will Smith above). The same goes for Marwan Kenzari as the malevolent wizard Jafar.
If Aladdin could be typified by a single sequence, it would be the “A Whole New World” musical number. It reminds you just enough of the original scene to make you feel good. For a few seconds. But none of the filmmaking or acting really conveys that wonder of discovery; of falling in love. It’s a facsimile of that feeling; a not-so-cheap copy. And, weirdly enough, it inspired in me only a small sense of loneliness.
2.5 Stars out of 5