“ALADDIN” starring Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, and Will Smith is coming to theaters this weekend. Guy Ritchie is directing this latest Disney live-action adaptation that follows the same plot-line as the ’92 original. I would consider myself a casual Disney animation fan at best. Therefore, I don’t have a nostalgic connection to any of these titles being put through the live-action treatment. I always have an open mind going in but after seeing the first trailer and primarily Smith as the genie, I had some worries about this film coming across as cheesy. Or like something from a family show in Vegas. But regardless of my concerns I would say this new interpretation of “Aladdin” surprised me and delivered quality storytelling for long stretches, despite some noticeable issues.
First let’s get into the positives. I thoroughly enjoyed the production design as well as the wardrobe and make-up work. It was a beautifully crafted film that accomplished building an immersive fantastical setting. One that was rich with textures, stunning backdrops, and vibrant colors. I think the special effects overall, were top-notch and for the most part overshadowed some weak spots. There was a smooth seamless flow between real and artificial and it resulted in an immersive experience. Abu was extremely well detailed as were many of the magical effects, and from start-to-finish there was a great blend of digital and practical that did an effective job of bringing this animated world and it characters to life.
I also thought the casting of Massoud, and Scott was excellent. I’m probably not diving into the nuances as much as the common Disney buff would. But for me they were able to create some charismatic characters. Ones that had an inner appeal about them that connected with me. They were both likable, they were humble in their own ways, and I felt that both Massoud and Scott captured those traits. They also were able to capture the budding love, and that spark of passion that fueled the plot-line. I wanted them to be together to make beautiful babies, so I think they were successful in these roles. They were given stretches of melodramatic dialogue, but they carried it well and when the levity kicks in their comical timing was very natural.
Another positive for me was the collection of action set-pieces that I felt Guy Ritchie did a great job of capturing on camera to give the film a strong adventurous feel. He did the same with many of the musical numbers. These sequences were loaded with grandiose detail and flamboyant, energized choreography and I thought the height of the spectacle was captured effectively by Ritchie. Despite some having a music-video vibe to them. But regardless of the visual appeal it still felt like it was lacking its own heart. The lighting, camera angles, editing and much more all felt like many other fantasy movies. This one was able to create an atmosphere, but it was a slightly commercialized one. Which leads into the negatives I had.
The original film whether it was simply from being animated or not, just had a warmth and sincerity to it. The characters felt like themselves, it was all naturally authentic and unassuming in a way. This one had a clear intention, a strong tinge of self-awareness, and a studio polish that gave it a familiar vibe. Not from the recycled subject-matter but from the technical crafting. This remake is also close to forty-minutes longer than the original and the time for me did lag in the second-act. The story wasn’t always moving forward. It felt like unnecessary dialogue, and added musical numbers got in the way of progressing a rather simplistic narrative with the consistency it should’ve had.
The musical performances were nicely orchestrated, and it was fun to see some of the classics replayed in a live-action format. But not all of them worked for me, and some of the twists to the songs were a little too campy and a little too Will Smith themed. I think he’s a talented musical artist that has been pumping out hits since I was a kid. But I think his imprint on this one was too Will Smith focused and not enough genie focused which got in the way of paying homage to the original character at times. I have no doubt that in twenty-years we will be able to watch this movie and know exactly when it was filmed given some of the references and dance moves that were added, which for me is a slight drawback.
Finally let’s talk about Will Smith’s casting as the genie. The internet went wild when we first saw Smith in his blue form, and it was still a distraction in the film. I loved his voice-work and thought he carried a strong energy during his scenes as a human. But seeing his face on that digital genie was a miss for me. Many scenes I would catch myself simply looking at it, him, all of it. Taking it in and wondering why they didn’t opt for a full digital genie, with Smith’s voice. He would still get his face-time in the film through his human scenes to appease his contract and it would have been much less awkward. But still with the same amount of Will Smith. I can assume this is why so many conversations ran on making the run-time thirty-minutes longer than it needed to be. But in the end this film does have some positives in its corner, it was much better than I was expecting after seeing the trailers and I recommend checking it out on the big screen.