Aladdin

 

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Guy Ritchie’s reinvention of Disney’s 1992 classic cartoon fails to enchant.

 

Aladdin

Lampooning the lamp: Mena Massoud and Will Smith

 

It’s a whole new world. Time was when Disney’s animated classics remained untainted by the meddling engines of commercial re-invention. Much like the timeless tales from which the company took much of its inspiration, the films withstood countless re-visits on VHS and other media. Having said that, Disney has proved quite canny with its live-action adaptations, retaining the key ingredients of its originals while augmenting them with a modern sensibility and drawing on the magic of CGI. Thus, such favourites as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and even Sleeping Beauty – remodelled as Maleficent – have flourished, both critically and with audiences.

 

Disney’s animated Aladdin, first released in the UK in 1993, was a game changer in that it triumphed on the back of one vocal tour de force. The Arabian exotica and central romance were relatively conventional, but the Genie of the Lamp was something else. Once the idea of John Candy – as the Genie – had been ditched, Robin Williams jumped on board and ad-libbed the dialogue to his heart’s content, allowing the animators to follow his lead. At the time, actors received no credit for animated films – and Williams was only paid the Screen Actors’ Guild scale – so when Aladdin went on to become the highest-grossing film of the year and the top-grossing cartoon ever, the goal posts were rapidly shifted. Everybody put down the success of Aladdin to Robin Williams’ vocal work and so future cartoons, such as Toy Story, promoted the stars attached.

 

The original Aladdin, with the Genie’s phantasmagoric illusory riffs and the scenes of the soaring magic carpet, proved to be a gift to animation. So a live-action remake was bound to be problematic. And, perhaps inevitably, the new film is no match. Under the direction of Guy Ritchie – a controversial choice, considering the filmmaker’s background in hard-hitting crime escapades – the film suffers largely due to its poor pacing. The romantic centrepiece in which Aladdin whisks Princess Jasmine across her kingdom on a flying carpet – set to the Oscar-winning song ‘A Whole New World’ – is criminally rushed and is over in a trice. Besides, the carpet seems to be travelling at such a speed that one fears Jasmine might throw up. Likewise, the finale, which should guide the viewer to a satisfyingly moving conclusion, is tidied up in sixty seconds, followed by a silly Bollywood-style dance.

 

As the Genie, Will Smith is agreeable enough, but he’s no Robin Williams, while the young leads – the Canadian-Egyptian Mena Massoud as Aladdin and the London-born Naomi Scott as Jasmine – put on American accents but cannot pull off any sexual chemistry. The only standout in the cast is the American comedian Nasim Pedrad, who plays Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia with an eye for the human incarnation of the Genie. The rest of the humour in the film, particularly between Aladdin and Jasmine, feels forced, while any charm one might have hoped for is notable by its absence.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen, Numan Acar.

 

Dir Guy Ritchie, Pro Dan Lin and Jonathan Eirich, Screenplay John August and Guy Ritchie, Ph Alan Stewart, Pro Des Gemma Jackson, Ed James Herbert, Music Alan Menken, Costumes Michael Wilkinson.

 

Walt Disney Pictures/Rideback/Marc Platt Productions-Walt Disney.

127 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 22 May 2019. Cert. PG.