Guy Ritchie of all people co-wrote and directed this ‘live action’ remake of the beloved 1992 animated Disney musical, and the result is a weirdly charmless kiddie pic sorely lacking in any magic whatsoever.
The English Ritchie, who might never have worked again after the disaster of King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword, has said that he got involved with this anonymous studio product due to the fact that its street hustler protagonist is somehow like the characters in his own movies, but really anyone could have directed this thing. And, by the look of it, anyone did.
Drawn from that ancient Middle Eastern folk tale (to a point), this begins with an awkward set-up where a Mariner starts to tell the story, and then we’re off to the opening credits as star Will Smith sings the irritating first song Arabian Nights. We then meet the pickpocketing Aladdin (Canadian actor Mena Massoud), who’s introduced protecting a kind-hearted young woman from an angry marketplace vendor, which leads to an overextended chase sequence and some light flirting, although the slow-on-the-uptake Aladdin doesn’t realise that she’s actually an incognito Princess Jasmine (the British Naomi Scott).
The Princess’ wise Sultan Dad (Navid Negahban) rules Agrabah but is regularly hypnotised into being more warmongering by malevolent Grand Vizier Jafar (the Dutch Marwan Kenzari), who also uses a computer generated macaw named Iago for spying purposes (and it’s voiced by Alan Tudyk, who’s a bit bland compared to the animated pic’s Gilbert Gottfried). Circumstances dictate that Jafar must force Aladdin to enter a magic cave full of riches alongside his kleptomaniac pet monkey Abu to get his hands on a magic lamp, and this leads to the freeing of the blue Genie, who’s played, of course, by Will doing The Fresh Prince Of Baghdad.
He was the first person cast here and always wanted to play the role, and it’s impossible not to compare Will with the animated version’s Genie, as voiced by the late lamented Robin Williams who, back at the time, was surprisingly criticised for being overly wild and crazy, and filling up the script with too many improvised contemporary gags. Trying to follow in Robin’s footsteps was always going to be a tall order, and Smith works hard and is almost funny at times, but in the end he badly needed to be bigger, loonier and rather less smug.
Aladdin uses one of the Genie’s three wishes to make himself a Prince to impress the Princess and Sultan when, naturally, it has been established that she likes him anyway, and as Jafar increasingly sees through his magical disguise. The messages and subtexts about the need to be yourself are gooey, grating and oh-so-Disney, but the songs are even more annoying, even though a few have somehow become modern classics, especially the irksome Friend Like Me, which Smith and Co knock off several times until you almost want to scream.
Most strangely, however, the one tune that stands out has been deliberately added in the age of #metoo, as Scott’s Jasmine performs Speechless, an ode to defiance that feels contrived but shines anyway, mostly because she can truly sing.
But will the littlies like it? Well, it is a movie made for the young ‘uns, who will probably love the Genie, the monkey and the magic carpet (which has more personality than some of the cast members), but they’ll surely hate all the silly songs and sticky sentiment. And who could blame them?
Aladdin (PG) is in cinemas now