PG – Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Family
Robin Williams was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Between his stand-up specials, television (“Mork and Mindy”), and film (“Good Morning Vietnam,” “Good Will Hunting), he was a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry. It’s little surprise with his vocal and impressionistic talents that he would also rule in the animated sector as well. 1992’s “Aladdin” cemented Williams as a brilliant and top-tier voice actor and gave Disney one of their biggest animated hits in the studio’s history.
It’s probably unfair to start a review on Disney’s new live-action “Aladdin” remake with the deceased actors name, especially when there is new talent attempting to make the story their own, but such is the impact the actor and his brilliant performance as Genie had. His loss still hurts, almost five years later.
So it’s an understatement that Will Smith has big shoes to fill. Smith is quite a diverse talent as well, mastering music (“Summertime,” “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”), television (“Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”), and film (“Men In Black,” “Ali”). If any multifaceted entertainer could make the role his own it would be Smith, right? Early reaction to footage of Will Smith as the Genie was not kind, delivering the type of ridicule that is sadly the norm on social media these days. The question was asked why remake a film that was damned near perfect in the first place.
For the money, of course! Disney knows how to shake their moneymaker, and even though they finally figured out that sequelizing their vault of classics (“Bambi II” and Cinderella II: Dreams Come True,” anyone?) wasn’t doing them any favors, nothing will stop them from remaking every last one of those classic stories. If Mr. Google’s count is right, we are at about 58 Disney animated movies. If they produce two a year that should take Disney until about 2048 to remake and re-monetize all the movies in the animated vault, right?
I jest Disney, and as a fan of the original classics from the studio I may not like it, but I completely understand the Mouse House’s desire to introduce these stories to an entirely new generation of film-goers that may not be particularly fond of the older animation style (too bad, it still looks gorgeous)..
Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly new or fresh in this take that justifies this remake’s existence. The exception being Smith, who is the best part of the picture. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with his casting, but I have to say, when Smith is let loose (and not a CGI Blue Meanie) he is a treat to watch here and has good chemistry with Mena Massoud’s Aladdin.
Speaking of casting, what we have is a pretty mixed bag. Massoud and Naomi Scott (Princess Jasmine) deliver the goods with their vocal talents (albeit little chemistry), but Marwan Kenzari (Jafar) is completely miscast here. A hero is only as good as his/her villain, and there is nothing villainous, scary or even particularly interesting about this Jafar. Disney/ABC had a much stronger Jafar on their “Once Upon A Time” television series (2011-2018) with actor Oded Fehr (“The Mummy, “The Mummy Returns”).
The run time is 30 minutes longer than the animated film and it feels it, seeming a bit sluggish in parts. That may have to do with the fact that I know the material like the back of my hand already, having grown up with this movie. What is strange is that even with the added scenes, new songs and a padded run time, some of the most memorable moments in the original film aren’t present here, particularly most of the final fight with Jafar. In the animated movie he turned into a giant snake. That is nowhere to be found here. The final confrontation is fairly streamlined, to be sure.
“Aladdin” is sure to make its $185 million budget back. It is not a bad film by any stretch and is sure to entertain families during the start of the summer movie season, but I have to wonder where these live action remakes go from here. I walked out of the theater feeling like director Guy Ritchie (a capable and competent filmmaker) didn’t have a lot of room to stretch his vision, making a film that is basically “by committee” with a Disney IP. I hope director Jon Favreau has a bit more luck (and a bit more creative freedom) with his “The Lion King” remake that comes out July 19th.