It is understandable if it took people a while to come up with the idea of a live action adaptation of Disney's # 39; s Aladdin directed by Guy Ritchie. The musical songs of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken in 1992 Aladdin are iconic. They seem to be even more after the death of the original movie Genie, Robin Williams, who brought a memorable, very personal performance style to "Prince Ali" and "Friend Like Me." So the idea that Ritchie – who specializes in fast-paced crime dramas, and has never directed a musical – would come in and consider the nuances of staging songs in a way that was worthy of the original vision .
But if you remove all music, Aladdin is essentially a film about two men, a robbery and a large part of Ritchie's favorite dynamic. Viewed through a certain lens, Aladdin is about a poor orphan (Mena Massoud) and the evil visor of sultan Jafar (Marwan Kenzari, who misses Jafar's necessary sense of threat) chasing a valuable lamp from a mysterious location, and then spending the rest of the film to get back from each other. In the meantime, they both try to lead the girl (Princess Jasmine, played by Naomi Scott) through a series of extensive lies. All of this feels square in the wheelhouse in which Ritchie has lived through a career of fast-moving crime films such as Lock, stock and two smoke-free barrels, and as fast moving adventures as Sherlock Holmes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Problem is when you strip the music and animation gone, there is not much left for Will Smith and his cheerful group of Hollywood newcomers to work with. Aladdin adds a quick personal scene between Aladdin and Jafar, giving Jafar a hint of background story and purpose, and suggesting a meaningful connection between the characters. But that corner is quickly left out. The filmmakers are not very interested in developing these characters from their original two dimensions, or support the character dynamics that make Ritchie films distinctive. As a result, the entire endeavor feels unfinished and unresolved.
Like pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin opens with children in a boat on the open water, almost as if unknowingly reminding the public that there was once Disney did successfully creating a viable existing property franchise – and while critics considered the series unnecessary and unwise, it was still entertaining. "We do it again!" Aladdin seems cheerful to proclaim when the camera flies in to find a decidedly non-bluish-skinned Will Smith who man the sails.
Just like Williams before him, Smith opens Aladdin with & # 39; Arabian Nights & # 39 ;, a number that needed to change his lyrics for cultural sensitivity even in 1992. Songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, the greatest showman) have updated the words again for 2019, but for some reason they also make the song more than twice as long as the original version – a wild choice, given that it will ultimately be in the hands of Will Smith , who is actually not a singer, or even as a compelling "mouthpiece" like someone like Rex Harrison.
Ritchie uses two main devices to keep the story moving – a sweeping view of the beautifully displayed Middle Eastern city of Agrabah and additional swooping shots after Jafar's parrot, Iago (voiced by Alan Tudyk), flying around and spying on and reporting on other characters back to the palace. The former takes the film of "Arabian Nights" straight to the heart of the city to meet Aladdin, who rescues Jasmine from getting trouble at the Agrabah market. They immediately share a tender love at first sight (which doesn't work as well on real actors as their cartoon counterparts) and then they head out to the races with an interpretation of "One Jump" "that is less a jump and more a relaxed trot.
"One Jump Ahead" provides early clues to everything that goes wrong with Ritchie's Aladdin – mainly, that the musical numbers of the film fall somewhere between a very impressive Macy & # 39; s Thanksgiving Day Parade performance and one of ABC & # 39; s lesser Wonderful World of Disney made for TV movie musicals. The film has all the costs and the spectacle it needs, but the performances vary from dutiful and excellent to simply captivating. The world of Agrabah feels well (and practically) constructed, filled with such colors and shows that it is even stranger how arranged the musical numbers are. "One Jump Ahead" is slow and jerky and starts without fanfare. It is not helped by some funky frame rate choices, or CGI that robotize the movements of Aladdin and Jasmine during the song.
"Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali" also feel slower and stretched. The film serves Smith & # 39; s Genie much better when he interacts with Aladdin in human mode, without the bombast and with a hint of the charm that a Big Willie summer so damn fun. He even gets a romantic subplot of himself while falling for Jasmine & # 39; s servant Dalia (Nasim Pedrad, who brings pitch-perfect comic line delivery in her role) – a strong update of the story. In the true Disney fashion of 2019, Jasmine gets her own, freshly added musical showcase to ensure that the audience understands how empowered she is as a modern, independent woman. Her song "Speechless" sounds like a Jessie J-side that Hillary Clinton rejected as a campaign theme song around 2015, but it is one of the movie's more attractive songs. The only hint of vocal bravery in this otherwise lovable film comes when Naomi Scott opens her mouth to capture her musical expressions of purpose.
Jasmine & # 39; s solo song compensates for the way "A Whole New World" is performed, in a way that makes the world of the film seem smaller, and as if the lyrics don't matter. (Why sing "Don't you dare close your eyes" when no one closes their eyes? Where is the blocking?) But "Speechless" does not compensate for the best, most energetic musical song of the film coming to the final credits – a Will Smith / DJ Khaled version of "Friend Like Me" which may make the audience wonder: "Why go all the way to Pasek and Paul? Why not DJ Khaled for the whole soundtrack, given that the top-billed star is a rap icon from the 90s?
Maybe two white men rooted in traditional American tone music were not the best possible choice to update music that wanted to draw on music from Middle East and hip hop music, not when the Palestinian DJ Khaled was right there. It was particularly frustrating to see how the best number – the only true original statement of purpose for the film – came to the end of the film and showed what the film could have been if the creative team had stretched their imagination instead of the original mechanically reproduce film.
It is a shame that Ritchie could not implement the musical vision Aladdin required, and that the music itself was not more imaginative. The film has its positive elements, and with stronger numbers, it may have been gelled more effectively. It would be nice to be able to say more than: "Well, at least Aladdin is better than the flashy recent live action from Disney Dumbo. "But at least that's it is better than Dumbobecause Disney won't do that stop give us these expensive, unnecessary, generally über-profitable remakes.
Right now it's fair to look at Disney as the Michael Scott Paper Company of studios, and live action remakes as their paper. It doesn't matter how well these remakes do or don't do. It does not matter whether the directors are uniquely qualified or have relevant experience, because they are there to implement a generic corporate vision. It doesn't matter if they are released for a big shout and then are forgotten by the following weekend, or are released with hardly a whisper. And it really doesn't matter if they are there good. Just like Michael Scott, whatever happens, Disney just keeps making these things and pumping them to the theaters and Disney Plus.
Fortunately (perhaps) for the public, Aladdin"S the last set is the best film of the film. It may be that the drastic improvement of Dumbo to Aladdin, and that Aladdin was able to end up with a high tone, pointing to a trend of continuous improvement at Disney, as they run to the third cartoon remake this year. Maybe by the time they made it The lionkingin July they finally found the alchemy that would make these films more than hard, clumsy copies of classics. But probably not in view of their recent history. Bringing in Ritchie for his first musical was an enigmatic choice, but potentially justified. By having him make a film that generically and indiscriminately brings the project back to the mystifying realm.