Unneeded Aladdin

This image released by Disney shows Mena Massoud as Aladdin, left, and Will Smith as Genie in Disney's live-action adaptation of the 1992 animated classic "Aladdin." Rotten Tomatoes is taking another step to verify that users posting a rating of a movie have actually seen it. The review aggregator says Thursday, May 23, 2019, that users who have purchased tickets on Fandango will get a verified badge next to their review, beginning with films out this weekend like "Booksmart" and "Aladdin." (Disney via AP)

There should be an award for the film no one asked for, the most unrequested remake. Actually, to be honest, it is even worse than that and more like the film remake no one requested and got anyway.

Disney has been on a live-action-remake mission since “Alice in Wonderland” in 2010. One of my favorites so far is “Cinderella” starring Lily James as Cinderella and Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine (the evil stepmother). There have also been more than a few that were pretty bad or subpar live action remakes like “Dumbo” or “The Jungle Book.”

The newest of these Disney remakes is “Aladdin.” “Aladdin” was always going to be one of the hardest Disney films to remake since the original is so beloved. The live action remake expectancy bar is higher when the film is beloved and the same will happen for “The Little Mermaid” when that is remade into live action.

The lesser known film remakes, like “Pete’s Dragon,” give Disney a little more leeway to make changes and try harder to just simply make a good film. The beloved ones like “Aladdin” are in between a rock and a hard place because the audience will be mad if Disney changes too much and they will still be mad if Disney changes too little but does not live up to the original. The ability to live up to the original was always the bar that was going to be used to define if “Aladdin” is good or not.

We all know the story of “Aladdin.” Aladdin, who is a lovable street urchin, has a chance encounter with the Princess Jasmine. Jasmine is the beautiful daughter of the sultan of Agrabah. When the evil sorcerer Jafar forces Aladdin into the cave of wonders to get a magic oil lamp, that unleashes a powerful, wisecracking, larger-than-life genie. Aladdin rubs the lamp himself and the genie comes forth to grant Aladdin three wishes. When the Genie and Aladdin start to become friends they both work to stop the evil sorcerer Jafar who is trying to overthrow Jasmine’s Kingdom.

There are four important roles in “Aladdin.” The role of Aladdin, Jasmine, Jafar, and most importantly the role of the Genie. Famously, Robin Williams starred as the Genie in the original cartoon version from 1992. In the live action remake, Will Smith stars as the boisterous Genie.

Will Smith is a wonderful actor and in most roles he succeeds. In “Aladdin” he is the star of the show. Quite literally too, since he is the only name anyone will recognize in the three lead roles. To Smith’s credit he is magical and magnificent in the role of Genie, with just one problem, he is also not good.

“Aladdin” is an exercise in asking oneself, What am I am watching? As an audience member, I never wanted and never asked for an “Aladdin” live action remake. The original is far superior, in every way possible. This leaves the audience wondering why they are even in the theater watching this version of “Aladdin.”

This feeling is even amplified by the performances of its leads, especially Will Smith. Smith’s Genie is likeable and loveable. This version of the Genie feels like a 2019 updated version with a hint of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Comparing Smith’s Genie to the Genie of Robin Williams is a little unfair. Williams was voicing a cartoon version and just by the nature of cartoons can be amplified and cartoony and that played right into what Robin Williams did best.

In a live action film you can’t be as cartoony as a cartoon and this should be obvious. This is something that was seemingly obvious to Disney, who in “Aladdin” gave the Genie multiple real world personality traits and situations. For one, He has a love interest.

Smith does bring life to this version of Genie and he gives this Genie a real world feel. There is just one very large problem. I wanted to love Will Smith as Genie and in some ways I did, in others I absolutely hated his version. Will Smith is great and terrible at the same times and his singing style proves this throughout the film. Will Smith can not handle or is not good in a musical. He mostly raps the songs of “Aladdin” and he very obviously can not hit a high note. “Aladdin” is defined by its musical numbers just as most other Disney films are and having a Genie whose singing is marginal, it makes the film itself marginal. The “Friend like Me” rendition by Smith is atrocious but he does redeem himself some with the films largest musical number, “Prince Ali.”

Naomi Scott, who plays Jasmine, steals the show when it comes to the musical numbers. Scott can clearly sing and carries the singing in the film. “Speechless” is by far the best song in “Aladdin” and it is not because the song is great but because Scott’s singing is, singing that is undercut by clear “MeToo” and feminist tones of the song “Speechless.” The song is great and the empowerment factor is high with Scott singing “Speechless,” but it feels forced and out of place, as if Disney said, “it is 2019, so we have to add this.”

The least empowering performance is that of Mena Massoud, the lead who plays Aladdin. Massoud’s singing is monotone at best and never carries as the lead in a musical film should but he very obviously knows how to dance and that seems like the skill he was hired to use. Massoud and Scott do not shy from being in a film with a movie star of Will Smith’s caliber, but they also never quite live up to him either. The whole film was always going to fall on Will Smith’s shoulders and that is unfortunate. He never quite lives up to the original or to Robin Williams. This, for me, is the fault of Guy Ritchie, who directed “Aladdin.”

There was a path for “Aladdin” to be great and that path is the “Black Panther” path and the film shows flashes of what it could have been had it chose that path. During the biggest musical number of the film, “Prince Ali” there are vibrant colors and set pieces and for the only time in the film, the film feels wondrous and magical. Disney used many actors of Middle Eastern descent, a wonderful choice and one that is not often made by movie studios. The overall Aladdin setting has an Ottoman cultural feel to it. Disney should have brought more culture to the film, just as they did for “Black Panther.” In the musical number “”Prince Ali,” the culture of “Aladdin” feels like it is on full display but it only lasts for that one musical number. I wish there was more.

The only role I felt like I actually got more from was that of Jafar. Marwan Kenzari, who plays Jafar, is fantastic. This version of Jafar is menacing and scary, maybe even more so than that of the original Jafar. Kenzari is the only actor who I felt did more with the role and added a mystique to it. Jafar and Kenzari’s performance are the biggest reason to go see “Aladdin.”

Otherwise, you may not find a reason to see it at all. This decision would not be a bad one either, even I was asking myself why I even went. When you ask yourself if seeing a film was even necessary, the film has already lost my attention. This may even be the legacy of the “Aladdin,” necessity. Disney going forward should ask themselves what films are necessary, because Will Smith’s genie and this “Aladdin” experience, sure was not.

IRATE SCORE: 2/5

Jason Guyer is an avid moviegoer and works in the graphics department at the Eagle Times. For questions or comments he can be emailed at guyerj@eagletimes.com.

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