“If you don’t have anything, you have to act like you own everything.”
Originally released in 1992, Disney’s animated Aladdin was a global juggernaut that, at the time, continued the studios domination in the space. It comes as no surprise that they would revisit the classic for a live-action remake - though it should be noted that both its story and characters are far from a natural transition.
Guy Ritchie, who is equally responsible for such hits as Sherlock Holmes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as he is duds King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and RocknRolla, has been entrusted with the retelling of the Prince Ali tale. The choice was an unusual one given the director’s undeniable style and presentation, but alas, here we are.
Will Smith brings a certain level of name recognition to the film, embodying the Genie role made famous by Robin Williams’ incredible voice performance. But beyond Smith, Ritchie assigns the classic to relative unknowns, allowing the story itself to sit on its own. In a way, this approach is what enables Aladdin to flourish as it refuses to fall victim to the issues that plagued Disney’s most recent live-action adaptation, Tim Burton’s Dumbo. But also, the film itself is not much to get excited about.
Aladdin, in all its glory, hits on the key points of the story while offering up a unique, modernized version of the classic. Though wardrobes are profoundly altered, and a few secondary story arcs have been tweaked, audiences will be pleased with all that has remained untouched, including some of the story’s most iconic (and beloved) songs.
Smith’s Genie, heavily blue and a bit over-the-top, takes some getting used to. When he is first introduced after Aladdin successfully works his way into the Cave of Wonders, everything appears as a second-class rip-off of William’s enriching original performance. Thankfully, after a somewhat disappointing rendition of “Friend Like Me,” the group finds their way out of the cave, and both the Genie and the story can stretch their legs and show a bit of personality.
The film’s most faithful will be thrilled that many of the original songs are included here, as well as “Speechless,” a new track sung by Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Though none carry quite the same punch as the original, it is still a pleasant return to much better times. These tunes are classics, and even if none of the performers can match the energy or key, hearing the attempted harmonies of “A Whole New World” is sure to leave a lasting impression, regardless of how imperfect the notes are.
As with all of Disney’s live-action remakes, it is hard to analyze the experience thoroughly. While it never stood a chance against the original, it does offer up exposure to a new generation of movie fans. For that, I am thankful. However, it should be noted that though Aladdin possesses the occasional bright spot, it is nothing short of a hot mess.
There is no denying that kids will find the characters charming and the songs catchy. But many of us will know - this Aladdin is fine, but Will Smith is not Robin Williams, and Guy Ritchie misses his most important task in that his retelling lacks the heart and soul of a true classic. The 1992 film was near perfect. This one is not. Their association will frustrate many but also solidifies the theory that sometimes great stories are better left alone.