Although culturally dazzling, majestic in (swing-infused) score, and optically sumptuous, the live-action Aladdin suffers from a miscast Jafar, shaky romance escalation, and poorly-CGI’d WS-Genie lacking Williams’ comedic bijoux. 6.2/10.
Young Aladdin embarks on a magical adventure after finding a lamp that releases a wisecracking genie.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
A Whole New World?
Disney’s 1992 Arabian Folklore Classic Remade For The Big Screen
Aladdin. The Arabian folklore tale rising to pop culture-ubiquity after Disney’s soaring 1992 adaptation did wonders both for American film cultural-diversity representation, and the company the company building on their impressive animation empire. Now, almost 30 years later, there’s a live-action reimagining of the epic, complete with the visual splendor only mountains of money (try the tune of $183,000,000+) can buy. While this live-action rendition delivers a popcorn-worthy summer time at the movies passing by the skin of its sheer cultural/representational transparency, soaring orchestral score, and visual majesty, we deserved a better, more even retelling of the epic – with a better-cast Jafar, Shakesperean romance, and –dramatically– better Genie.
The Cultural Vibrancy In Score & Visuals
The cultural vibrancy in score & visuals. Starting with the positive end of the spectrum, the whole-hearted embrace and celebration of Middle-Eastern culture (and representation) is simply sublime. As an Indian wearing brown pigmentation my whole life, I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to see a landscape of people who look just like you on this massive a screen/stage – adding to a trend recently in giving more melanin-shades from the Crazy Rich Asians to Black Panthers their time in the spotlight and one I wholly endorse (as long as they’re given accurate criticism too). The authenticity I can attest it paints of the culture and vibes are sensational, and visuals painted of Arabian landscapes from night-lit midnight blue bazaars to magenta Mahal-like palaces adorned with the trinkets of royalty to the vast beige-hued openness of the desert are absolutely stunning. Mirroring its downright-arresting feast for the eyes visually is an equally-impressive sumptuous score soaring and packed with emotion – one of Disney’s specialties and signature hallmarks. The magnificent, triumphant power-driving soundtrack filled with ballads is matched with premium dance-choreographed sequences and broadway-like handling of both senses that (although perhaps a bit laid-on thick) alone make the film worth the price of admission.
The Maintenance Of Class-Differential Self-Worth & Giving/Taking Reciprocity Arcs
The maintenance of class-differential self-worth & giving/taking reciprocity arcs. What I’m surprised (dim) people has a problem with is how this live-action version doesn’t stray too far from the original. Why mess with a good thing?? People should absolutely know what they’re signing up for going into a film with the EXACT SAME name and story as its predecessor.. I have no gripe with wanting to stay close to the original while adding the splendiferous treat of a more-relatable tangible live-action visualization, and even applaud them keeping the core themes and arcs like Aladdin’s self-worth deliberation wrestling with the idea if he’s good enough for the girl he loves despite class dynamics and giving/taking psychologically-weighing what is morality when stealing for survival.
Phenomenal Castings Overall, Led By Naomi Scott & Mena Massoud’s Chemistry
The castings are overall-great too. Mena Massoud is absolutely show-stopping as Aladdin, a sheer perfection-riddled performance/portrayal feeling like a literal translation of the animated character to the big screen – complete with the earnest, sincerity-laden characterization. Naomi Scott is (overall)-sensational as well as Princess Jasmine, also being given a more fleshed out arc that, at times, feels forced and politicized like her breaking into song to yell “I won’t be silent!!!!!” (no one was forcing you to be if it was really that important to you) but is an overall-welcome rewrite giving her a good role. The rest of the supporting cast are serviceable, and that of course leads us to the main event: Will Smith’s Genie.
Flaws: Will The Real Jafar Please Stand Up?
Jafar and romance escalation. They got Jafar equally as wrong. Not even remotely scary or having a pulse for most of the film, I had to double-take to believe he was actually the iconic villain of Disney lore whose presence instantly sent chills in the animated original. Marwan Kenzari looks thoroughly wooden and somnambulistic in his sequences, with a played-out power arc rewrite that is a *huge* let-down until he finally gets his powers in the final act and becomes the powerful and intimidating, dark Jafar we knew – and deserved way more of on this big a storytelling scale. Beyond that, the romance escalation is extremely shaky. Jasmine looks visibly angry or indifferent for most of the film, with contemptuous comments against men and a more assertive role that’s a good addition on paper but comes across bluntly forced virtue signaling – thought Captain Marvel’s intense backlash taught them their lesson? Guess not. Suddenly though, she’s a completely different person, when – at the flip of a switch – she insantly falls madly in love with Aladdin after the magic carpet ride, despite giving clear signs of antipathy only seconds earlier..? Ill-planned, executed, uneven, and squandering one of, if not the most important thing of the movie in the equally-soaring romance is a big no-no and poor negative-by-addition rewrite here.
A Trainwreck Of *Incalculable* Proportions
Genie. This is where things get unconscionably bad. Will Smith does fine in the role charismatically – although he PALES in comparison to Robin Williams’ effortless proverbian charm and comedic panache, he at least decently pulls off the difficult role – he looks absolutely AWFUL. I cannot even put into words how positively abhorring he looks, and how thoroughly distracting (and impossible to take seriously) it is any time you have to horrorfully watch him speak or move for half the film. He looks like a blue thumb that’s strangely jacked as a body-builder with a face that feels plastered on by someone in their first day of CGI 101 at the local film community college. The rest of the film is discordantly stunning in visuals, cinematography, and even CGI creatures like Apu and the magic carpet, with an absolutely massive ~$200M budget too, so I cannot possibly fathom why/how they let the star of the show and most pressured role filling the iconic shoes of recently-passed RW look so bad. Shameful.
A Film Tremendously Important For Brown People Like Me, But We Deserved A Far-Better Product With This Level Of Resources
Overall, 2019’s Aladdin is an extremely mixed product. Although culturally dazzling, majestic in (swing-infused) score, and visually sumptuous, the live-action it suffers from a miscast Jafar, shaky romance escalation, and poorly-CGI’d Genie lacking Williams’ comedic bijoux. As an Indian myself, I so appreciate such a huge celebration of brown culture (and cannot say it was a bad time at the movies), but we certainly deserved a better film after all these years – especially with these kind of resources & budgetary freedoms only a genie could swirl up.
Official CLC Score: 6.2/10