Aladdin: This Live-Action Remake Lacks The Charm & Imagination Of The Original
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Disney has been relentlessly renewing many of its classics to be remade into live-action. While preserving such classics and making it relevant to the current era is an admirable task, it is also a challenging one. For one, cultural and racial discrepancies aren’t as glaringly visible in animation. While this Guy Ritchie live-action remake of Aladdin is visually splendid, it lacks the imagination to be as grand and rewarding a watch as the original. Whether it is in reference to the production design or the screenplay itself, this film lacks the charm and authenticity to be even nearly as entertaining as the animated classic. Sure, it is definitely not the worst you’ve seen, but this doesn’t mean that it is worth a watch either.
Director Guy Ritchie retains the plot of the animated classic. Aladdin lives in an abandoned terrace with his side-kick Abu. Together, this duo lives their lives on the street by stealing from greedy vendors and selling their stolen goods in exchange for money or food. A chance encounter in these streets leads him to the princess Jasmine and gradually, they find themselves falling in love with each other. Aladdin also meets with Jafar, who summons him to retrieve a golden lamp from the cave of wonders in exchange for a lump sum of money. But as fate would have it, Aladdin comes to know of Jafar’s real intentions and keeps the lamp for himself. On accidentally rubbing it, he meets Genie and is granted three wishes. Aladdin’s adventure from here on and the three wishes that take him to the princess’s doorstep forms the crux of the film.
When Disney announced a live-action remake of Aladdin, there was excitement in the air, but there was also an ounce of reluctance as remaking a classic like Aladdin poses one of the biggest challenges in history: Bringing back the charm and emotional investment the original sought, found and celebrated. As predicted though, the film struggles to find its identity. It is not like an animated film and yet, it feels like one, it is a live-action film and yet its premise is all over the place to convince you that any of its proceedings are real. The locations, the expressions of actors and even the props are exactly as they are in the animated classic. This is a problem because a wide-toothed smile from Aladdin in the animated version appear mischevious whereas, in the live-action remake, it is plain awkward. The film could’ve been better if it was infused with a much more stunning imagination and a deeper emotional density.
Culturally too, Aladdin is all over the place. Its Arabic origins don’t feel rooted enough and there are too many American inferences that simply do not belong in this film. Throw in a few more American jokes that Will Smith’s Genie brings to the mix and you have yourself a film that couldn’t be more culturally confusing if it tried. When the cultural premise in itself lacks clarity, how can the audience establish a connection with the film?
The lack of authenticity is one of the larger problems faced by the film. None of the characters look the part they play. For example, Aladdin appears to be too groomed to play a boy who is referred to as the ‘Street Rat’. Aladdin, the place he lives in and his clothes definitely do not infer that he is poor or struggling like the screenplay wants you to believe. Even it’s notion to make its central female character Jasmine feel empowered is superficial. The song ‘Speechless’ never reaches the emotional notes ‘Let It Go’ did for Elsa from Frozen. Instead, it just comes across as melodramatic.
Aladdin also never brings alive some of the original’s big moments. The whole new world, for instance, is not visualized in a grand manner. The visuals in the song and the manner in which it is executed is shockingly ordinary.
At the end of the day, Disney films thrive on their ability to fuse magic with relatability and nostalgia. Aladdin, sadly, never achieves any of these emotional sensibilities. The film feels like an empty promise. It neither brings alive enough nostalgia to reinstill memories in the minds of the older generations that grew up watching the classic and nor does it preserve it by making it relevant to the current generation.
As Aladdin, Mena Massoud is reasonably good. But he could’ve brought in a few unique and imaginative nuances to his roles rather than blindly copying the animated character. He could have poured a little bit of himself to keep the character from coming across as plastic. As Jasmine, Naomi Scott is good. She is fierce and her acting skills are top-notch too. Sadly though, her character is underwritten and hence presents her with a limited scope to act. As the Genie, Will Smith is impressive. A few of his jokes do take off and make you laugh but there are a lot of moments where is spontaneity misses the beat. As Jafar, Marwan Kenzari feels like a misfit. He is nowhere even close to being as intimidating or ruthless as the animated Jafar. Even though he threatens Aladdin, you know he is not capable of causing actual harm. So, his presence is never threatening enough to make for a good villain.
The production design, cinematography, and music replicate the original flawlessly, but just like the screenplay, each of these aspects could’ve used much more originality, imagination, and realism too.
On the whole, this live-action remake of Aladdin isn’t bad, but it could’ve been a thousand times better. If mindless entertainment with a few re-furbished Disney songs sounds great to you, go for it.