WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES (2019)
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen
I can show you the world.
Well, if I can’t, then maybe Guy Ritchie can. Yes, that Guy Ritchie directing a live-action Aladdin movie for Disney. It still boggles me how that grouping came together especially considering Ritchie’s recent track record – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was horrendous, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. wasn’t a hit (despite being decent) and the Sherlock Holmes movies aren’t exactly universally loved. However, Ritchie remains a talented director given the right material, so, would Agrabah be where his success returned?
1992’s animated Aladdin was a massive hit – the number one movie of the year, over half a billion dollars in box office returns, two Academy Awards and giving us an iconic character in Robin William’s Genie – so this 2019 version already had a lot to overcome. Whether movies should be compared to their originals if up for debate, however, it’s near-impossible not to at times. Ritchie’s version keeps the main, classic story beats and adds a few more in for good measure – bumping up the runtime by a further thirty minutes and throwing in a few new songs too. The songs remain and the musical element too, so we haven’t gone full Guy grit this time and, you know, that’s what helps Aladdin to succeed…it doesn’t really feel like a Guy Ritchie movie. For this Aladdin isn’t some cockney geezer, all apples and pear, no, he’s still a street rat, Jasmine is still the people’s princess and Jafar? Well, he’s a bit of a weasel here. The main concern for audiences was Will Smith stepping into the curly-toed shoes of the Genie. A character and performance so beloved that it almost felt untouchable to some given the pre-release reaction. Thankfully, Smith is just fine as the blue lamp-dweller and isn’t quite as OTT as you might think. He’s big when he needs to be and restrained when required – there’s nothing to fear Genie fans. In the titular role, Mema Massoud is charming and playful though Naomi Scott steals the show with her take on Jasmine. She captures the beauty of the character, the fearsome attitude whilst also displaying a genuinely good vocal range during the songs. Kenzari’s Jafar didn’t capture the imagination, however, being too snivelly to be intimidating and, overall, not an improvement on the established character.
Agrabah itself is captured beautifully, Ritchie and DoP Alan Stewart bringing the world to life and having it teem with verve, colour, and excitement – a mixture of Surrey and Wadi Rum, Jordan combining to create a great backdrop to the well-choreographed dance numbers and vibrant costumes. Of the songs, the originals are re-imagined and injected with some modern spice, though, the new numbers aren’t up to their standards and are ultimately forgettable – and hearing A Whole New World again really was quite magical. Also hindering the movie is the additional story, the moments that didn’t occur in that animated flick are the least enjoyable moments here and only serve to bloat out the runtime. Trimming some of these and cutting away ten-fifteen minutes would have really helped the pacing and narrative and removed some of the unnecessary writing and dialogue that came with them. The rest of the time? The writing is fine and the jokes land well enough too.
I went into Aladdin with admittedly low hopes. The marketing hadn’t sold me, the controversies surrounding it didn’t help and I haven’t particularly been enamoured with Guy Ritchie since about 2000. However, the movie is (surprisingly) very decent and entertaining, the three leads are very good and visually Aladdin pops off the screen. It’s just a shame the editing hadn’t been more ruthless and the new songs weren’t more memorable. Still, having had no hopes, Aladdin surprised me by being fun and effervescent – though far from perfect.
May 25th 2019