Aladdin (2019) [a film review by Frank Ochieng].

Gather around in unison folks as the continuous chanting of ‘they should have left it well alone’ echoes against the Disney walls. Of course, when the first attempt to strike gold prevails then why not give it a shot the second time around? Unfortunately for the vibrant but lacklustre Guy Ritchie directed/co-written live-action take on ‘Aladdin’, this costumed affair does not seem inviting to ‘a whole new world’, at least in the sensible eyes of those that fondly embrace the more energetic, whimsical 1992 animated feature that deserved the magic red carpet treatment.

One cannot blame Disney for re-imagining the memorable and magical animated fantasy that served as their hot commodity and waiting until the millennium age to capitalise and turn this classic spectacle into live presentation armed with all the flourishing fixings that would make a deprived genie itching to have three wishes granted.

However, Ritchie has not done anything scandalous to the Disney brand that has not been done by others before him, namely to give a so-called fresh rebirth to praised familiar fodder. Gems such as ‘The Jungle Book’ seemingly made a smooth transition to live-action circles that proved effective. There is nothing wrong with the challenges of interpreting ‘Aladdin’ based on a new creative canvas but one cannot help but see this recycling of a beloved festive fable as nothing but an opportunistic money grab.

Inevitably, the comparisons are going to be made between the animated and live-action versions of ‘Aladdin’. From the late Oscar-winning Robin Williams’ take on his manic-minded genie to Will Smith’s bopping blue genie or the distinctions in the films’ musical arrangements the contrasts will invite speculation. When standing on its own flashy feet, Ritchie’s and co-screenwriter John August elaborate presentation on ‘Aladdin’ certainly needs some polishing on its limping lamp of predictable expectations.

‘Aladdin’ is okay in the safe, connect-the-dots conventional sort of way. Alan Menken’s musical score is thankfully back and included into the fold. The cast embodies all the majestic mystery one would anticipate in the luxurious ‘Aladdin’ landscape. Curiously, Ritchie, known primarily for his off-kilter, hard-hitting British crime capers such as ‘Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels’, tries to reinvent his big screen creativity by helming an innocuous family- friendly musical that is well-known to the devoted masses at large.

The trouble is that Ritchie approaches the spry material will all the exuberance of an unscented flower. Sure, the film has its share of gloss but there is nothing that distinguishes its bold freshness or originality. Ironically, Ritchie is more at ease with making a rusty shotgun in one of his deranged dramas more appealingly glowing than he does with the flowing Arabian wardrobe accessories featured in ‘Aladdin’.

“I’m not a blue meanie so do not mistake me for the Robin Williams’ genie”

For those that are not aware of ‘Aladdin’ mythology the story centres around a street urchin whose rescuing of a genie from a lamp results in his transformation as a prince named Ali. The prince has a mission in mind in winning over the heart of the breathtaking princess. The newly minted prince is Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and he has the wish-granting blue-skinned Genie (Smith) and his sidekick monkey, Abu, by his side to help him attract the attention of Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). The kingdom of Azkabah will never be the same as this duo collaborates in an effort for Aladdin/Prince Ali to cozy up to his desired object of affection.

Naturally, there are obstacles that Aladdin must overcome in order to seal the deal for his love Jasmine. For starters, it does not help a bit that Jasmine’s father the Sultan (David Negahban) is over-protective and keeps a watchful eye on his precious daughter. Importantly, the Sultan’s minion Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is a behind-the-scenes instigator whose misleading whisperings look to throw off Jasmine’s influential Daddy Dearest.

The method to the wicked Jafar’s madness is simple, he craves power and will stop at nothing to secure an exclusive trinket hidden away in the Cave of Wonders. The way to retrieve the artifact is quite self-explanatory as Jafar needs a special kind of talent to do his bidding. Hint…Aladdin, are you available for service? Specifically, Jafar wants to get his dastardly hands on the lamp. As Aladdin, in the form of Prince Ali, continues to court his beloved Jasmine, the unctuous Jafar has his cynical eye on the suave lad. Yikes!

‘Aladdin’ from nearly three decades ago was enjoyably fast-paced, impishly robust and obviously benefited from Williams’ infectiously zany voice-over work that gave his genie a dazzling high-wire act that stole the show. Ritchie is an adventurous filmmaker when in his turbulent element but his updated ‘Aladdin’ feels kinetically sluggish. As matinee idols, the attractiveness of Massoud’s Aladdin and Scott’s Jasmine sells well as the conflicted although charming exotic-looking young lovers front and centre. Smith’s blue Genie has his own brand of swagger but it never really uplifts the popcorn proceedings as much as his flamboyant characterisation should do effortlessly. Kenzari’s Jafar’s villainous portrayal has all the scorching tension of a paper cut. The supporting players are solid such as Nasim Pedrad’s comical spin as Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia.

The aforementioned Menken along with songs from other composers do give ‘Aladdin’ its stimulating smoothness with its signature tune ‘A Whole New World’ and the introduction of the new song ‘Speechless’ is arbitrarily thrown into the mix. Otherwise, the overall confection feels underwhelming despite its upbeat strides to maintain the Disney-esque sheen of fluffy entertainment. Youngsters will not have any trouble accepting the inexplicable bland love story or nutty escapism that Ritchie’s ‘Aladdin’ eludes to so forcefully. For the rest of us, the nostalgic urge to revert back to the animated dynamo that gripped its giddy audience in the early 90s is quite understandable.

Today’s ‘Aladdin’ should have rubbed its own lamp and wished for the flavored footnotes of its legendary animated counterpart from yesteryear.

Aladdin (2019)

Walt Disney Pictures

2 hrs, 8 mins.

Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen and David Neghaban

Director: Guy Ritchie

Writer(s): Guy Ritchie, John August

MPAA Rating: PG

Genre: Action & Adventure/Family Fantasy/Science Fiction/Musical

Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

(c) Frank Ochieng (2019)


Frank Ochieng has contributed film reviews to SF Crowsnest off and on since 2003. He has been published in other various movie site venues throughout the years. Ochieng has been part of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and had written film reviews for The Boston Banner newspaper (USA) and frequently is a media/entertainment panelist on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM on "The Jordan Rich Show" in Boston, Massachusetts/USA.

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