Let it be made clear: Disney’s 1992 animated version of “Aladdin” is one of the greatest animated films ever made. Vibrant and gorgeous animation and aesthetic, a swashbuckling story, and to make it all one perfect package was Robin Williams voicing the Genie of the Lamp. It felt like Genie was the viewer’s best friend as well as Aladdin’s — funny, goodhearted, noble and full of uninhibited personality, much like the man who voiced him.
Decades later, some idiot thought it would be a good idea to remake that movie.
Visually, the new “Aladdin” is incredible and spot-on. With a better director than Guy Ritchie, this rendition of Disney’s classic animated film could have been a swashbuckling adventure and as thrilling as the original “Pirates of the Caribbean.” But as Ritchie has no experience shooting musical numbers (all of which fall flat), and has no concept of sword and sorcery tales, the remake looks like a poor attempt at a cash grab for nostalgia, with a bunch of pointless nods to the better version and several Disney self-references that are groan-inducing.
The story is almost identical to the original: A homeless, thieving street urchin in ancient Arabia crosses paths with a princess, a genie and an evil vizier, all of whom change his life forever. Princess Jasmine (played by Naomi Scott) ends up being a far better and more interesting character in this film than the original, and her character is perhaps the only actual improvement upon the original film (even though Jasmine was one of the first Disney princesses to attempt to defy a patriarchy and own her own life). Here, she is fully fleshed out and given a much better backstory; and to top it all off, Scott is just fantastic.
The Genie character obviously has the biggest sandals to fill, and buzz has been swirling for some time as to how Will Smith, a legend in his own right, would step into them. Honestly, he does a decent job. While not nearly as good as Williams, Smith gives 110% as the Genie and gives this version his own identity. And though the musical numbers don’t come off nearly as grand or theatrical as they should, Smith’s rendition of “Friend Like Me” is actually a very bright spot of the film.
Marwan Kenzari is horribly miscast as Jafar, the evil vizier to the sultan. His delivery and performance of Jafar is one of the most uninspired and dull representations of a villain put on live action screen in a long time.
But the bigger letdown is Mena Massoud as the title character. Where the original had roguish swagger and undefeatable determination delivered fantastically by Scot Weinger through his voice alone, Massoud’s performance lacks any of that gravitas and devilish charm. He is clearly a capable actor, but this just wasn’t the right part for him — or the director gave him some very bad advice.
2010’s underrated misfire “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is a far more entertaining movie than “Aladdin,” despite the terrible mistakes in terms of casting white actors for Persians. If you took the visuals from 2019’s Aladdin and combined it with the plot and characters of “Sands of Time”… then you would have had an amazing “Prince of Persia” movie. As for 2019’s “Aladdin,” it has no reason to exist, except to hopefully launch Naomi Scott’s career into stardom.
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“Aladdin” is currently playing at the Riverside Cinemas, 1017 S. Boone St. in Aberdeen.
George Haerle holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing for media and lives in Cosmopolis.