Released: 23rd May
When we think of the Disney Renaissance we think of this brief period between 1989 and 1999 when Disney was putting out hit after hit, some of the best films that appear in their catalogue. Right in the front end of that list, dropping in 1992 is the film Aladdin. Based on the Arabic folktale, Aladdin remains one of Disney’s most beloved films. It’s a simple love story, enchanting tunes and, of course, its legendary performance by the late Robin Williams has cemented it into cinema history. Even today the original film holds up with great comedy and award-winning songs that everyone knows. A Whole New World, Friend Like Me, Prince Ali, these are some of the best songs ever put on film. The movie was such a hit it led to two direct-to-video sequels (one of them is actually good) and a TV series that everyone who was a child in the 90s watched. There’s even an adaptation of the show on Broadway but one thing that there will never be is a live-action film remake… at least, that’s what I thought until we inexplicably let Disney think that it would be acceptable to plunder their vaults and turn their classic animated films into subpar live action drivel, but apparently we’re allowing that now so guess what I have to do right now? That’s right, weep and cry because I had to watch this bland lifeless thing that alleges to be a movie.
Aladdin (2019) opens with a man on a boat (It’s the genie so, Will Smith) telling his kids a story about Agrabah… like he was Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother or something. We jump to Agrabah where a street rat named Aladdin (Mena Massoud) who is randomly stealing jewellery that he can sell for dates (which somehow fits with his rule of only stealing to eat… for some reason). While out doing his petty thievery he bumps into a woman who stole some bread for children, a woman who later turns out to be Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Long story short, a bunch of things happen and eventually, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) gets Aladdin to find the lamp. Look, they follow the plot of the original for the vast majority of the film so me explaining the plot can best be summed up by me typing, in all caps, GO WATCH THE ORIGINAL FILM. That’s also just my advice in general because the original film is better.
We’re going to get the stuff that actually works out of the way so I can get it out of my system. Starting with the only unambiguously great thing about this movie, Naomi Scott as Jasmine. She is not only the highlight of this film; her performance might be one of the best I’ve seen this year. She is incredible, not only delivering on the emotion of any given moment but she has the kind of comedic timing that you can’t teach, a voice like an angel when she sings and so much charm that she singlehandedly makes any scene that she’s in worth watching. Her character has the mild change of not only wanting to choose who she marries but actually wanting to be Sultan and I completely believe this character is 100% in charge of everything that she chooses. When she is singing her part of A Whole New World, it’s enchanting and I’m so happy that she’s going to be in the upcoming Charlie’s Angels movie because that means I’ll get to see more of her comedic chops later on in the year. I also enjoyed Jasmine’s handmaid Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), that’s the one added character to the film that I’m OK with. We’ll get to the one I hate with a burning passion later. Spoilers, there’s a lot of ‘hate with a burning passion’ coming.
Also, the big question everyone has is “How is Will Smith as the Genie?” and to that, I simply state that when Will Smith is doing the portion of the movie clearly written for Will Smith, he’s pretty good. When he is delivering a Will Smith performance, which is basically whenever they have him looking like Will Smith in a fancy costume, he’s a lot of fun… however, when they try to make him into the kind of genie that Robin Williams created, it falls flat. Basically, any time he was blue, he blew. The comedic timing is all wrong, his attempt at breaking the fourth wall was weird, his attempt at changing voices was bland and… oh god, his singing. How is Will Smith not good at singing? Did he just always have no ability to hit the notes and I missed that? Friend Like Me is serviceable, but considering how big and bombastic that number is meant to be it’s a huge letdown. The worst number is Prince Ali where Will just sounds awful. So yeah, if he’s not singing and he’s not blue then we can make it work, but if he sings or he’s mostly CGI then we have problems. Oh, also, the CGI still sucks. I know everyone made fun of how it looked but it still looks awful, mostly because it is so out of place that it hurts and because the proportions are all wrong. It’s almost like doing a direct 1-to-1 recreation of a cartoon character into a live-action setting is hard and needs to be done with care, or just not done at all.
Everything else is awful. Everything. I have a lot to get through so I’m going to start off light, why is Prince Anders (Billy Magnussen) in this movie? Prince Anders is a random white guy who is thrown into this Middle Eastern story because… and that’s where I stop because there’s no reason for him to exist. He’s there to be a potential husband but he’s… not? Like, he’s not even a little suitable. He’s there to do a comical Norwegian accent and be the only white character in this movie and that’s it. He has no useful purpose other than to slow the movie to a goddamn standstill and actively irritate you with his bad accent. I say this as someone who has previously stated that Billy Magnussen is precious and must be protected and clearly no one listened because no one protected him here.
Moving on to Jafar now… holy crap, I have never seen a villain this boring before. There was an ongoing joke when the character was cast that we were going to be getting sexy Jafar. There is literally a Buzzfeed article called “Jafar In The Live-Action “Aladdin” Is So Hot That He’s Got People Rooting For Evil”… and now I’ve just told you the most interesting thing about the character because everything else is bad and boring and I hate it. Everything from how the character moves to how he talks to the fact he doesn’t even get a sarcastic mocking reprise of Prince Ali. We get nothing, no personality or anything. They TRY to make him into a Dick Cheney type where he’s constantly trying to talk the Sultan into starting a war with their allies but it’s not done well by any means. He doesn’t even look intimidating. I could goddamn kick Jafar’s ass and I’m fat and hate movement, what the hell is everyone else’s excuse? He’s not creepy, he’s not smart, he’s not funny and his parrot sucks. Oh, yeah, remember how the original version had the hilarious Gilbert Gottfried providing Iago with a personality and jokes and serious character development that would happen over the course of several movies and the TV series? Well… we have a parrot that sounds like a parrot and says parrot lines. It has as much personality as a sponge and even less uses. Also, it looks ugly and probably has the mange.
Aladdin… oh, oh Aladdin. Look, the actor seems like a nice guy and I’m sure I would enjoy him in other things, apparently, he’s in that Jake Ryan series and I might have to give that a go to see if maybe a different character makes me like him more, but he does nothing for me here. His singing never feels as lively as the original did, he’s never quite as fun as the original, he’s just… he’s there because the story bears his name and we’re meant to care about him. It’s almost like the writers knew that everyone mostly remembered the Genie and spent all their time on that character and had nothing left for Aladdin to do. I mean, he’s good at parkour, is that a character trait now? He’s not even painfully bad like Jafar, he’s just there. I don’t particularly dislike him, I don’t particularly like him, I just don’t really care about him and I should because he’s literally the title character. The original Aladdin was meant to look like Tom Cruise and was played by one of the guys from Full House… it should be easy to be cooler than that, and it’s a shame that he isn’t.
Out of everything that annoys me, the moments when the dialogue actively hurts the film or the weirdly performed songs or the bland performances, the worst thing is how it looks. Sure, the landscape is nice but everything is so drab and lifeless that any opulence doesn’t matter. A wall made of gold looks flat when there’s no detail, no sparkle. Bright colours might’ve helped but there’s exactly one time when we get that and it’s during a dance number that’s momentarily good, but then awkward once they push the joke too far. Part of why the big blue genie never feels right is because nothing else in the entire film is that bright or colourful. It makes him stand out because it’s a different world, he doesn’t belong here. The visual dullness leaks into the musical numbers, particularly in A Whole New World where we should be experiencing the most magical carpet ride ever but instead we’re treated to a lot of wide shots of landmasses at night while the shape of a carpet moves around. How hard would a boost in contrast have been? Some brighter lighting? Dress the rooms in more than one colour? Anything would’ve been better. Oh, also, someone please go into the editing bay of any film that Guy Ritchie does and remove the slow-motion option. Do not let him use a high-speed camera, he does it multiple times here and it looks bad and has no point. It’s a stylistic crutch that genuinely irritated me whenever I saw it because the film is already padded to fill a 2-hour runtime; we do not need more pointless stretching of this material.
Aladdin (2019) should be the proof Disney needs that they cannot make lightning strike twice. It’s a bland lifeless retread of the original that has no reason to exist other than the fact that the last few of these movies made so much money. It’s an indictment of the current corporate structure at Disney that decided to throw away what made them special and unique and replace it with bad remakes of their best work. Somewhere at Disney, they lost their way and decided to go all in on cheap cash grab movies that rely on nostalgia to get you into that seat so you will stay long enough that they don’t have to refund your money. I don’t even blame the actors for how badly this turned out, they were offered a Disney payday and a trip to Jordan so I can’t imagine I would’ve said no either… but the studio should care that they’re actively abusing the titles that made them a key part of everyone’s childhoods. Just go watch the original movie, it still holds up and you get one of Robin Williams’ best performances to enjoy. If I could have my three wishes, every single one of them would be to have the live action remakes go away and bring back the Disney that enjoyed making fresh unique takes on classic stories… sadly, I’ll never get that wish, so I’ll settle for being petty instead. Because yes, there is stuff I like… but I’m tired of this trend.