REVIEW: “Aladdin”; Some Things Old, Some Things New, Some Things Borrowed, and Will Smith Is Blue
I have to say that I was a little disappointed. After seeing the trailers and TV spots for “Aladdin”, I was convinced this was going to be yet another dismal live-action remake of a Disney animated classic, and I was going to rip it to shreds. But, to my surprise, I actually enjoyed this version of “Aladdin”.
Before I watched this new version of “Aladdin”, I decided to go back and re-watch the animated classic by Disney. That movie is still perfect, has really aged incredibly well and it really deserves the word: classic. There is not one bad scene, not one bad song, and it was perfectly cast with wonderful voice actors. Robin Williams has done a lot of movies that range from comedy, to drama, to thriller. But without a doubt, the role of Genie is the role that everyone will always remember him for. Williams really put his heart into the role of Genie, and a ton of it was Williams just being himself and improvising through his wonderful comical mind. The original “Aladdin” also made me realize just how much I miss traditional hand-drawn animation. Disney was second to none when it came to that beautiful art form displayed in their animated classics. Now, everything Disney does is computer animation. I just wish they never abandoned what originally made them famous.
Now, let’s get right to what is on everyone’s mind. How is Will Smith as Genie? Smith actually did a pretty good job. Nowhere near as good as Robin Williams, but he brought his own style to the character, and I felt it was very respectful to Robin Williams too. And what I liked about Smith’s performance is that he did not try and do an imitation of Robin Williams as Genie. If he would’ve attempted that, he would have failed. I was expecting him to go really big with the character, but for the most part, he plays the character in a rather low-key way… and that really worked for me. You won’t see any impersonations of Robert DeNiro or Jack Nicholson in this one. Those impersonations really only belong in the original and performed by Robin Williams.
I have to give credit to the screen writers and director Guy Richie for this next one. This movie is, at times, the same as the animated film, but it is also very different, too. Meaning, they make slight changes to scenes that we’re all familiar with so that they are not exact carbon copies of the original movie. And I really enjoyed that because it kept me guessing as to what they were going to do next and where the story was going to go. Like, the scene where Jasmine is accused of stealing from a merchant in the original movie. That scene is there, but the way that Aladdin helps Jasmine get out of her predicament is now different. And I think that is what makes it enjoyable. For the most part, you are really seeing something new.
Another strong point was the performance of Mena Massoud and Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine. They really had great chemistry on screen together, especially when they first meet on the streets of Agrabah. Both Massoud and Scott have moments where they have to sing a song or two, and they both demonstrate that they have excellent singing voices. The only negative is they added a new song called “Speechless” for Jasmine to sing, and although Scott does a fantastic job, it really was not needed. The song was noticeably a “Let It Go” ripoff, and it felt like it was in there to push a message that they really did not need to push so hard.
I was kind of concerned about Abu when I saw him in the trailers, but he was surprisingly fun and very lifelike. Like Genie, they did not make him duplicate what Abu did in the original movie, and he was not over the top. There are times that you will forget that Abu is CGI and you will be convinced that he is a living, breathing monkey on the screen. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Jasmine’s tiger and sidekick, Rajah. He looked very CGI throughout the movie and it just felt like he wasn’t there.
There were also some negatives. I would say the biggest negative was the casting of Marwan Kenzari as Jafar. He just did not come of as evil or intimidating, like the original Jafar. And his voice was just too soft for a villain. Kind of boring. The other big clunker was Jafar’s parrot, Iago. If it wasn’t for Robin Williams’ performance in the original, Gilbert Gottfried would have been the standout with his voicing of Iago. This new Iago barely talks. In fact, he barely mumbles, because for the most part, you can’t understand half of what he’s saying. His sentences are limited to just typical parrot sayings like, “Polly want a cracker”. Another negative is Will Smith’s singing voice. It just feels like he phoned it in and you can’t help but think about the excellent job that Robin Williams did with “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali”. Williams was not a singer, but he put so much life and enthusiasm in those songs that they really became instant classics. Smith kind of sing/talks his way through those songs and his words just seem slow and dragged out at times. Finally, the climax is probably the weakest part of the movie. It is very bland, slow and uninspiring. At that point, I wish they would have duplicated the animated version’s climax, because that part was awesome.
Hands down, the animated version of “Aladdin” is in a completely different league than the live version. The animated one will forever be a classic, but this new version isn’t bad, either. For the most part, the Disney’s live-action remakes of their classic animated films have been hit or miss. And in my opinion, mostly miss. But this “Aladdin” is actually one of the few enjoyable adaptions, and it is way better than the recently released “Dumbo”. There is no way you can watch this movie without comparing it to the original, but I think you will find that this movie is quite different and enjoyable at times too. If you have kids, I think they will really love this film, and I think the adults will, too. But please, if you have the chance, make sure your children’s first experience with “Aladdin” is with the original animated version. Then go see this one.