I am still not fully on board with the idea of Disney remaking their old films. On one hand it can inject new life into a property (The Jungle Book) but on the other, you risk stepping on the toes of a cherished favourite, and while that hasn’t happened to a disastrous scale, there have been a few mediocre remakes (think Cinderella or Alice in Wonderland).
In a business sense, it’s an absolute work of genius. Use your huge back catalogue to remake classics that many hold near and dear, with maybe a few extra additions, or new songs to shift soundtrack sales.
Sure, creatively it’s a black hole, but it adds another few billion for the official Disney money pile. Now they are moving onto their Renaissance films, since the kids of that generation now have lots of disposable income to make the most of, and in many cases, kids of their own, who have to be introduced to these films, so what better way than to remake them?
So, where does this film sit in Disney history.
Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a Street urchin in Agrabah, stealing food to get by, until he accidentally encounters the local princess, who has escaped her grand life, and soon finds himself embroiled in an adventure with genies and scheming viziers.
I’ll be honest, one of my big concerns of this film revolves mainly around one character.
My reverence and love of the late, great Robin Williams cannot be understated. Without him, the original would have been nowhere near as memorable or entertaining, he doesn’t just leave behind big shoes, he leaves behind clown shoes, which were to be filled by Will Smith. I have nothing against Will Smith, but I was sceptical.
To cut a long point short, no, Will Smith is not as good a genie as Robin, but what’s good about his performance is, he isn’t trying to be. Sure, I love Robin’s genie, but the last thing I would have wanted is a pale imitation of his performance. Smith brings his own charms and delivery to the role, and truthfully could have maybe done with being even more different, using even more of Smith’s personality, but I’m glad that he at least tried to bring his own interpretation to the character.
The elephant in the room of that statement is; however Will Smith was performing, he was fighting a losing battle with the effects department. You would think with Disney’s practically limitless resources they would be able to make their VFX look better than they are here. In some scenes it’s almost embarrassing how bad they look, and not just the genie but the animals too, Princess Jasmine’s tiger being the worst offender, who often looks like it’s being filmed on a green screen from the 1960’s.
Distractingly bad effects aside, does the rest of the film hold up? Well, it was always going to be a struggle bringing animated worlds to life in live-action, and for what it’s worth, this adaptation does an admirable job with its material.
The film really shines when exploring the world and it’s characters, getting a feel for Agrabah that we never experienced in the animation brings the film to life somewhat, as strange a decision as it seems to hire Guy Richie to do a Disney film, it seems his knowledge of places and people paid off very well.
If I were to aim a complaint at the direction it would be that some scenes were very dark and dingy, I got the impression that this was a stylistic choice, but when compared with the films more eye-catching visuals, it looks rather lazy.
The cast can be somewhat of a mixed bag however. I appreciate they’re probably all trying their bets but there were holes in their abilities to my eyes. They were a lot better than some of the trailers made them out to be. Mena Massoud seems comfortable as an actor, but his singing abilities are patchy at best, conversely Naomi Scott (Princess Jasmine) seems more at home on the vocal side of things. They both carry their own ends to the best of their abilities, but their shortcomings opposite each other are apparent.
Speaking of singing brings me neatly to the music, and it’s all the same winning material that impressed us first time round with little extras. A Whole New World has lost some of its sparkle after nearly 30 years but it still remains an impressive set piece for the film, and new song Speechless really sees Princess Jasmine come into her own, in fact I’d go so far as to say the second part of that song was a highlight of the film.
Although the spectacle of the songs is what carries it, there seems to be an occurring editing method of speeding up the movement on screen that just throws everything out of whack. I noticed it mostly in One Jump Ahead, where it looks like the guards are running in fast forward, but it’s also apparent in Friend Like Me, it’s distracting and most certainly not a good look.
Other reworked classics like Friend Like Me and Prince Ali remain mostly the same, except for different delivery with Will Smith, and as I said earlier, could have done with a bit more of Smith’s own voice, as here is where the comparison to Williams is most damning, as this was his big showcases for his version of the character, it doesn’t feel like enough has changed.
While this updated Aladdin has its charms and it’s highlights, it doesn’t really do anything better than the original and therefore can’t really be seen to serve much purpose. The performances are good but it doesn’t feel like enough was changed to warrant a remake, especially when the original hasn’t gone anywhere. It may be worth a watch, but I doubt it’ll stick long in the memory.