Aladdin Review: The Songs and the Story Are the Same, But There's Something Missing From Guy Ritchie's Aladdin
The live-action Aladdin (2019) from Director Guy Ritchie may feature Will Smith as the Genie and the same great songs from Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice as the animated classic, but a new magical spin is missing.
Release Date: May 24, 2019
MPAA Rating: PG
In the 2019 live-action Aladdin, a kindhearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Screenwriters: Guy Ritchie, John August
Producers: Jonathan Eirich, Dan Lin
Cast: Will Smith (Genie), Mena Massoud (Aladdin), Naomi Scott (Jasmine), Marwan Kenzari (Jafar), Navid Negahban (Sultan), Nasim Pedrad (Dalia), Billy Magnussen (Prince Anders), Numan Acar (Hakim), Alan Tudyk (Iago)
Editor: James Herbert
Cinematographer: Alan Stewart
Production Designer: Gemma Jackson
Casting Directors: Salah Benchegra, Lucinda Syson
Music Score: Alan Menken
Any movie fan who is paying attention knows that Disney is methodically working its way through its catalog of animated features and remaking them into live-action movies. Earlier this year, we got Tim Burton’s Dumbo. Now, we get Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin.
The story of Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin sticks closely to that of its 1992 counterpart. It’s about a street urchin named Aladdin (Mena Massoud from “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”) who accidentally meets and falls for the beautiful princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott from Power Rangers). Unfortunately, he has no hope with her since he is not a prince himself.
Meanwhile, one of Jasmine’s father’s most trusted (and mis-trusted) advisers, the shady Jafar (The Mummy’s Marwan Kenzari), is seeking a magic lamp so that he can seize power from the Sultan (Navid Negahban from “Homeland”). He captures Aladdin and, recognizing the combination of his good heart and thieving skills, forces him to venture into the Cave of Wonders and retrieve the lamp. Which Aladdin does – but he rubs it himself, releasing a Genie (rapper-turned-actor Will Smith from Suicide Squad and Concussion) who has the power to make all of his dreams come true.
With action-crime movies like Sherlock Holmes and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on his resume, Guy Ritchie may seem like an odd choice for a movie like Aladdin, but it’s actually a nice fit. There’s enough slight of hand and slick action on the streets of Agrabah to show off Ritchie’s high-octane tendencies, but the musical theater production values let the director spread his wings a bit. The screenplay that Ritchie wrote along with John August (Dark Shadows) is a little bloated (the original Aladdin clocked in at a brisk ninety minutes, this new one is over two hours), but it’s never boring. It just sometimes begs the question: What is the point of it all?
Of course, some will say the point of it all is to introduce the story and music of Aladdin to a new generation of movie fans. Others will say it’s a cash grab. And both camps are probably partially right. No one will accuse Aladdin of being a fresh interpretation, however. It’s the same old song and dance. Well, actually, the songs and dances are the high points. More on that later.
The point is that Aladdin is a well-made movie. We expect no less from a Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture. But there’s a sterility to the movie that isn’t there in the original. Aladdin even lacks the subtle humor and wry playfulness of Guy Ritchie’s other movies. It’s fun to watch while it’s on, but it will be forgotten as soon as it ends, despite it having those insanely catchy songs.
Aladdin sticks to the story of the original enough to keep Disney fans happy. Those who just want a straight retelling with live actors instead of animated characters will be completely satisfied. Those who are looking for a new spin on things might find themselves a bit disappointed. Those looking for “A Whole New World” from their Aladdin adaptations will feel downright ripped off. Any way you slice it, though, Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin will make money. Because it’s a Walt Disney joint.
It also must be noted that Aladdin features the best CG animated monkey in cinematic history. Jafar’s Parrot Iago and Jasmine’s tiger Rajah are also CG, but Aladdin’s simian buddy Abu looks like a real trained monkey actor. He’s worth the price of admission alone.
The smartest thing that the live-action Aladdin does is keep the same great Alan Menken/Howard Ashman/Tim Rice songs from the original movie. Of course, they’re all re-recorded with the new cast, and some are re-worked and updated for the times (“Arabian Nights” is fleshed out into a full introductory tune). And there’s even a new song (courtesy of Menken and La La Land lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), an empowerment anthem for the times called “Speechless” sung by Jasmine that is one of the few moments of real emotion in the movie. The versions are new, but the spirit of the original soundtrack is there.
Will Smith is more of a vocal stylist than a singer, and it shows. To be fair, much of the Genie’s “singing” is more like rhythmic talking with a discernible note tossed in here and there. And Smith (mostly) hits all of those notes, but there’s no energy or excitement to his performances, even during what should be show-stopping numbers like “Prince Ali” and “Friend Like Me.” Fortunately, both Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are terrific singers. Sure, there’s an air of Disney Theater to their performances, but why wouldn’t there be?
Most of the songs are accompanied by big production numbers, and the choreography exploits Smith’s hip-hop roots, even going so far as to sprinkle some tasteful break dancing throughout. The dance scenes also seem tailored to Guy Ritchie’s action filmmaking background, featuring pursuits through the streets (“One Jump Ahead”) and shimmying on cave walls (“Friend Like Me”) as well as indulging in old Hollywood style song-and-dance performances (“Prince Ali,” which features over two hundred dancers in a true “Disney Parade” spectacle). Some of the dance sequences are aided by CG animation, but even with the embellishments, the feats are impressive.