Will Smith’s big blue Genie is the surprising highlight of the fair-to-middling Aladdin, the live-action remake of the Disney animated classic.
Smith does just fine in the role the great Robin Williams voiced in 1992, and the character gets fleshed out in a manner that is genuinely moving at times—even if his blueness is perhaps a bit creepy from some angles. (It also looks like he’s pushing a big poop out the top of his head, thanks to that hairstyle.) In fact, if they decided to make a horror spinoff where the blue genie starts biting off heads, that would be kind of awesome. He’s scary already.
Director Guy Ritchie goes the full musical route, and while he has a reasonably talented cast, the whole enterprise feels a bit unnecessary. This is not a bad movie by any means, but it is overlong—and one cast member in particular ultimately brings things down.
Mena Massoud is a halfway decent Aladdin, while Naomi Scott provides a luminous Jasmine. Both do good jobs singing the famous songs, and they certainly look the parts. Their magic carpet ride while belting “A Whole New World” is charming, and they make a cute couple. It’s a shame this is all in the service of something that, no matter how much money is being thrown at the screen, feels hollow.
Beyond the general been-there, done-that vibe, the film’s downfall is Marwan Kenzari being woefully miscast as Jafar. In the animated movie, Jafar was a demonic force. Here, he’s a little whiny guy wearing a goofy hat—and his parrot is nowhere nearly as memorable as the one voiced by Gilbert Gottfried in the original. If Kenzari’s Jafar registered even the slightest level of menace, it might’ve been enough to render Aladdin recommendable. But … man, this guy really stinks up the place. Each time he walks onscreen, it’s like a steel-tipped boot kick to the movie’s crotch.
Nasim Pedrad of Saturday Night Live fame is a welcome presence as Dalla, Jasmine’s handmaiden. She’s good here, and it would be nice to see her score some higher-profile roles, because she hasn’t been doing enough since departing SNL.
Many of the songs from the original make it into the new version, as do a couple of new tunes. Smith puts fun spins on “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” and Scott hits the post on “A Whole New World” and the new “Speechless.” Besides “World” and “Friend,” the music isn’t all that catchy. It wasn’t all that catchy in the original, either.
Disney is remaking its animated classics into live-action films like crazy. Aladdin winds up somewhere near the top of the bottom half. It’s not nearly as good as The Jungle Book or Cinderella, but it’s better than Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland. Disney isn’t stopping anytime soon, with The Lion King coming out later this summer and Mulan on the horizon.
So … Aladdin is not very good, but it’s not the travesty it looked like it was going to be. The blue Genie is indeed weird and a little scary, but Smith makes it a fun kind of weird. As for Jafar, he’s Jar Jar Binks bad—the kind of bad you just can’t get around. The film seems to be suggesting a sequel that would most assuredly include Jafar, so recast strategies should be put into play immediately. Recast Jafar! And get Gilbert Gottfried back as the parrot!
At this rate, Disney is going to run out of animated movies to remake somewhere around 2023, at which time it will probably start remaking the remakes. I’m expecting a live-action redo of the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake somewhere around 2025.
Aladdin is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.