Starting off a summer of nostalgia and sequels, Disney’s live-action remake of beloved animated movie Aladdin is very familiar for those of us who grew up in the ’80s and early ’90s.
The studio was clearly dedicated to matching the original, right down to the songs, dance moves and dialogue. It deviates only slightly in terms of plot and, of course, has replaced the magnificent Robin Williams with the so-so Will Smith as the Genie.
As with most revisits of past films, despite the best of intentions, it’s missing the magic. You’ll know the words to most of the songs, you’ll sing along in your head (and perhaps out loud!), but it just won’t feel — or sound — the same.
But, surely, my child will love it?
That’s definitely what Disney is banking on, and I will say, in the public screening I attended, the audience’s reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Both kids and adults alike let out exclamations of joy (more adults, since they anticipated what was coming next), and for the most part, people seemed rapt.
Unfortunately, the movie drags around the middle point, and as with other remade classics, when you know what’s going to happen it’s less exciting. Children who have zero knowledge of Aladdin or his adventures will most likely find this version entertaining enough, if not a touch slow.
How is Will Smith as the Genie? You said he was so-so.
Realistically, nobody was ever going to be able to replace Robin Williams as the Genie. It’s an impossible feat. In the 1992 animated original, Williams undoubtedly stole the film from the centrepiece, which is supposed to be Aladdin. In his place, Smith does his absolute best to grasp that unreachable bar.
Again, to the adults who’ve been on this magic carpet ride before, Smith is dead weight during the musical numbers. He is slow and wooden, and minus the freedom of animation, the performances feel heavy and restrained. He holds his own in the dialogue, which is laden with quick quips and jokes that Smith is totally equipped to deliver. His performance is ultimately saved by his comedic past.
And Aladdin and Jasmine?
Toronto’s own Mena Massoud may as well be Aladdin, his physical similarities to the animated character are so exact. He is boyish, fun and expressive and, again, does his damnedest to nail the songs. For the most part, he succeeds, but this version of Aladdin seems more demure and sensitive, not quite showcasing the “street rat” mischievousness one might expect.
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Jasmine’s storyline has experienced a modern makeover. Instead of being a passive princess subject to the activities around her, this time she has political ambition and is far more determined. The new song given to Jasmine to punctuate her determination, Speechless, is a touch bland, and I’m not sure it’ll reach earworm status like Frozen‘s Let It Go.
Let’s not get into the casting of Jafar, who appears to be the same age as Aladdin (which is weird) and doesn’t convey nearly enough scariness to frighten anybody.
So what’s the bottom line?
An arguably unnecessary movie for adults who lived through the original Aladdin, but it’s fun for the kids. The film succeeds in bringing you back to another time, and the familiar songs have a way of weaselling into your brain. With the live-action Lion King set to hit theatres in less than two months, it’s a great way to whet your nostalgic appetite for what’s to come.
‘Aladdin’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.