- Jared Huizenga
‘Aladdin’ plays it safe, probably to a fault
After just the first few minutes of “Aladdin,” it becomes obvious that it doesn’t hold a candle to its 1992 counterpart.
Despite that, when things wrap up a couple of hours later, you find yourself realizing that in terms of a (probably too safe) retelling, it’s actually not that bad. It may lack creativity, but it also doesn’t do disservice to its predecessor.
Mena Massoud is the charming scoundrel Aladdin in Disney's “Aladdin,” a live-action adaptation of the studio's animated classic. (Photo by Daniel Smith. © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
As the story goes, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a street-wise pickpocket living on the streets when one day he happens upon Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), whom he believes to be not the princess, but one of her handmaids.
The duo has instant chemistry (kind of, we’ll get to that later), but because of her royal status and the customs of their culture, their budding romance is nipped in the bud. It also doesn’t help that Aladdin is coerced by the nefarious Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) to help him find a lost treasure rather than meet Jasmine for a rendezvous.
While carrying out his task, Aladdin comes in possession of a magic lamp and the power to control the genie (Will Smith) that lives inside it. Aladdin now has three wishes to make his life everything he’d ever imagined it to be.
The first word that popped into my head after watching this was “safe.” Director Guy Ritchie stuck pretty much to the playbook for these live action recreations – familiar settings, characters, themes, etc., updated enough to feel current, but not so much as to alienate the loyal fan base.
Sadly, I sort of wish he hadn’t played it quite so safe. It might not have been as authentic to the original as it ended up being, but it would’ve been more authentic to itself.
Now let’s talk a little bit about the “chemistry” between the lead characters. Essentially, there wasn’t much of it. It felt forced and awkward – more like cousins forced to slow dance at a family reunion than anything romantic in nature. Individually, Massoud and Scott were fine, but together there really wasn’t much happening.
Naomi Scott is Jasmine and Mena Massoud is Aladdin in Disney's live-action “Aladdin,” directed by Guy Ritchie. (Photo by Daniel Smith. © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
Which is probably a good thing because it balanced out Smith’s over-the-top genie. Now, don’t get me wrong, the genie is and was (when voiced by Robin Williams) a loud, exuberant, boisterous force of nature. However, whereas Williams’ voice became the character, this version just seemed like Will Smith in everything Will Smith has ever been in. Except he was blue. At more than one point I sort of got the idea that he was cast for little more than his name, and to have him rap the genie’s singing parts so they can move more copies of the soundtrack.
Now, let me clarify: to my surprise, I didn’t dislike Smith in the role. He’s just too big of a personality that it was really hard to see past it to see the character.
Aladdin (Mena Massoud) meets the larger-than-life blue Genie (Will Smith) in Disney’s live-action adaptation “Aladdin,” directed by Guy Ritchie. (Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
Speaking of Will Smith movies… have you ever noticed how many similarities there are between “Hitch” and “Aladdin”? There’s a few (follow me here): shy, awkward bot meets girl who’s way out of his league; boy enlists the help of a charismatic charmer to help win girl’s affections; boy and his guru become friends and the humble attributes of the boy start to rub off on the guru; guru’s plan backfires and boy loses girl; guru convinces boy he just needs to be himself and things will work out.
It wasn’t all bad though – the music remained excellent; the action was fun; it was a visual treat throughout; and there was a thieving monkey, so that’s a plus.
In the end, “Aladdin” certainly gets an A for effort and for not “ruining” anyone’s childhoods, but overall it gets a C for playing it too safe and painting by the numbers.
★★1/2 of ★★★★★