Aladdin is not quite a whole new world, but it’ll do


Disney’s new live-action take on the 1992 classic will hold the attention of a new generation, but the abundance of spectacle isn’t enough.

In 1992, Disney’s animated Renaissance was on the upswing. The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast had not only grossed the studio millions but had also garnered serious awards attention, with Beauty nominated for Best Picture.

Aladdin would continue to showcase the studio’s penchant for blending big Broadway-esque numbers with exquisite animation and plots that appeased both adults and children.

Now, with the studio gripped in the thrall of remaking all their animated works, it was only a matter of time before they returned to one of their buzziest features. Their newest take on Aladdin seems like it should have a lot riding on it, and with a production design and costuming that shows off the feature’s budget, that’s true. But as we saw in 1992, Aladdin also feels more like a lead-in to a project the studio cares more about, their upcoming Lion King reboot.

Mena Massoud as the street rat with a heart of gold, Aladdin, and Will Smith as the larger-than-life Genie in Disney’s ALADDIN, directed by Guy Ritchie.

Lovable “street rat” Aladdin (Mena Massoud) wants to become a prince in order to woo Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). So when he’s given the opportunity to enter the Cave of Wonders by Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), he takes it, hoping to find a magical lamp and be rewarded with riches. Things don’t work out as planned but Aladdin’s woe ends up putting him in contact with the genie of the lamp (Will Smith), and the two must work together to help Aladdin get his princess.

Aladdin continues to present diminishing returns, a criticism lobbed at their last live-action remake (remember?), Dumbo, released just two months ago. Despite an initial clip of Will Smith singing the lyrics to “Prince Ali”, the film isn’t nearly as terrible as many assumed. Still, there’s a severe lack of passion, as if Disney presented Ritchie with a list of things he had to include right at the start. Typical Ritchie gimmicks pop up here and there — including a few Sherlock-esque slo-mos and handheld camera shots — but this is easily the hyperkinetic director’s most sedate feature.

At least 75 percent of the original 1992 feature is retained. Aladdin is a street urchin struggling for survival, giving food to orphans, and making trouble with his lovable monkey companion, Abu. In fact, compared to the other characters here (both new and original), Aladdin changes the least between mediums.

Mena Massoud is Aladdin and Naomi Scott is Jasmine in Disney’s live-action ALADDIN, directed by Guy Ritchie.

Massoud makes his debut in a big way and his appeal is obvious. He’s sweet and sensitive, just as able to charm Jasmine with a “do you trust me” as he is able to make the audience laugh with a weird prostitution joke. He sings the original Disney songs like “One Jump” and “A Whole New World” passionately, but he never really inhabits the character enough to make it his own. You like him because he’s playing a character you’re familiar with, not because he’s doing anything particularly unique.

The enhanced characterization lands at the feet of Naomi Scott. Upping the agency of their female characters is Disney’s predominant go-to, and thankfully they’ve moved off the “STEM as personality” train.

Scott’s Jasmine is a progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-esque princess who wants to be Sultan but can’t because patriarchy. The film ends up completely revising Jasmine’s motivations towards wanting to rule first, with Aladdin offering generous support. There are a few elements that don’t work, such as a haphazard dead mother storyline that should go further but doesn’t. The inclusion of a new song for Jasmine, the Pasek and Paul-penned “Speechless,” also sees Scott waving her arms around like it’s High School Musical, but these are negligible.

Will Smith’s character is the most vastly changed and it’s a double-edged sword. Having to follow-up Robin Williams’ animated performance is a tough act, made tougher considering the animated format was a vital component alongside Williams’ impressions. With Smith not able to throw out celeb cameos, he gives us the Genie as the Fresh Prince of Agrabah.

He has fantastic rapport with Massoud, crafting a back-and-forth banter that’s humorous and reminiscent of Watson and Sherlock Holmes. His singing of the songs is a bit weird. His rapping seems slower than the music’s tempo, and the film’s desperate attempt to set him up with a girlfriend seems silly.

Aladdin is a feature wrapped up in beauty, courtesy of production designer Gemma Jackson and costumer Michael Wilkinson, but that’s relied on as a key difference in why this movie exists. The cast is good but, as with Dumbo and the last three live-action remakes, Aladdin too often leaves you asking why you’re just not watching the original.

Ritchie never truly makes this movie his own, but leaves the entire affair feeling like a hollow retread. This movie isn’t terrible, but that’s the bar we’re at with these.

Next. 10 best animated films from the Disney Renaissance. dark

Aladdin comes to theaters on May 24.