Another day, another remake of a Disney animated classic. This time, it’s Aladdin (2019), the beloved smash hit that won Oscars for its music and millions of hearts with Robin Williams’ performance as the wise-cracking Genie. 27 years later, the House of Mouse has deigned to give audiences an extended extravaganza with some major star power in the form of Will Smith.
If you need a plot summary, odds are you’ve been hiding in a cave. Street rat and thief Aladdin (Mena Massoud) has been living a rough-and-tumble life in the bustling city of Agrabah, until one day, when he falls for Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). She’s escapes out of the palace for a day, chafing under the role society has set for her. There’s an instant connection between them, but the laws clearly state that a princess must be married to a prince, and nobody else can take her hand. Meanwhile, the wicked royal vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) has found a way to take the throne from the old Sultan (Navid Negahban): the lamp hidden in the Cave of Wonders. When Aladdin is caught by the palace guards, Jafar offers the thief a deal: retrieve the lamp, and he’ll be rewarded handsomely.
Of course, Jafar leaves him for dead after Aladdin’s monkey friend Abu (Frank Welker) causes the Cave of Wonders to collapse. The poor orphan is trapped underground, with only a monkey, a flying carpet, and that lamp. Needless to say, he rubs it, and out comes a larger-than-life figure with a lot of personality, the Genie (Will Smith). Now’s the time for wish-making – and to figure out how to stay with Jasmine. It’s a whole new world of possibilities now, and anything can happen in the magical kingdom of Agrabah.
There’s a chance this could have worked in the realm of live-action, but Guy Ritchie was not the man for the job. The musical numbers in particular suffer from his stylings: “Friend Like Me” is an overstuffed CGI nightmare, while “Prince Ali” is visually uninspired and lifeless. The only song that comes close to working is “A Whole New World”, and even then it’s hamstrung by the vocal performances and the environment. There’s a new song written for Jasmine, “Speechless”, but given how bland it is, don’t expect a nomination at next year’s Academy Awards.
The cast…tries. Will Smith doesn’t work as the Genie, but he manages to get in a few laughs whenever he’s not forced to act as a copycat of Robin Williams. Massoud is acceptable but forgettable as Aladdin, and though arguably Jasmine’s characterization is an improvement upon the original film’s character, Naomi Scott can’t sell it. The less is said of Jafar’s dramatic transformation from a charismatic and unhinged psychopath to a whiny little incel who could be defeated with one blow to the head. There’s no tension or suspense from his evil actions, and it sucks the life out of the film.
Arguably the only truly enjoyable part is the 100% original concept for this remake: the romance between the Genie and Jasmine’s handmaiden/best friend, Dalia (Nasim Pedrad). It really shouldn’t have worked, but there’s some irresistible about their cringy yet cute pairing, and it leads to some of the only laughs in the film. While Aladdin (2019) doesn’t deviate as much from the original film as Beauty and the Beast and Dumbo did, it makes the film feel more like a waste of time. If the biggest changes to the story is just some characterization and plot-specific details for the climax, then why go out to the theater and sit there for two hours, sipping on flat soda and munching on stale and salty popcorn while Disney flexes their ability to churn out hit movies by just remixing the old classics for maximum profit?
My recommendation: just stay home, make some snacks, and pop in the original. You won’t lose any money, and you won’t have to venture too far beyond your couch. If you must see this, wait until the eventual launch of the film on Disney+. The Mouse can afford to not get your coins this time around. They’ll be back this later this summer – and next time, they’ll be taking the power of nostalgia to a whole new level.
Aladdin (2019) opens nationwide on May 24th.