As far as I’m concerned, Aladdin is the worst movie of the year. There is not one ounce of artistic value in this soiled remake ostensibly from director Guy Ritchie (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), not one element that was not a clunky and borderline offensive down step from the original 1992 animated film, no attempt to refurbish the material and put any semblance of fresh spin on it. This is “filmmaking” as black magic – the result of someone burying the original Aladdin V/H/S in a Pet Sematary, its shambling resurrected corpse showing up on marquees pretending to be a real movie.
In terms of Disney’s militant live action reduxes, Aladdin is no island in regards to spitballing old material with a “new” coat of paint but it’s the first of their slate that seems to actively devolve what was worked so well in the first place, replacing nostalgia with the bitter flavor of failed capitalism and stunning hand-drawn animated with an offensively chintzy blend of live-action and computer animation.
The CGI on display looks ungodly cheap and entirely unconvincing – there are times where human characters are rendered in the background with all the elasticity of Gumbo. It’d be a stretch to say it is even up to the effects standards of a decade ago and the observant viewer can glimpse no small number of huge VFX no-no’s. It’s enough to leave me with a sneaking suspicion that a bulk of that ballooned $180M budget went directly into somewhat’s secreted offshore accounts. But I digress.
Successful films have always navigated that tricky passage between art and commerce but rarely does one so actively feel like a thieving street rat, reaching into your back pocket and making off with an Andrew Jackson worth of movie ticket and popcorn money. I simply cannot imagine how anyone would opt for this over the 1992 original, seeing as this is little more than the Bodega-version of that esteemed favorite.
For years, Disney has treated their beloved catalog of animated classics as vaulted diamonds begging to be taken out and shined and the results have been entirely mixed. I found myself charmed by the likes of Cinderella, The Jungle Book and even Beauty and the Beast, while others like Tim Burton’s Dumbo and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland fell entirely flat and Maleficent turned a villain’s story into a repugnant and unwatchable trainwreck. Aladdin may not objectively be the worst of the bunch – but from a directorial, creative, and production stance, it might be in that it can’t even manage to make things look or sound nice and certainly has no soul to call its own.
Michael Wilkinson’s overblown and consummately cheap-looking wardrobe suggests that he went to a party store and bought out their Arabian Nights selection while the flat and threadbare cinematography from Alan Stewart fails to impress that anything was shot on location, despite, and this may be hard to believe once you see the finished product, the non-green-screen parts being shot in Jordan. The least impressive aspect though must be in Ritchie’s absolutely lifeless direction. Almost every shot feels static and uninspired, his Aladdin ten shades less frenetic and visually engaging as its animated predecessor.
If you told me that Ritchie was director in name only, handing duties off to the key grip while all the principals chugged Egyptian Syrahs and scarfed falafel, the movie would actually make more sense. Ritchie’s career has seen its share of diamonds and rough patches but even his wild failures (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) feel more like swing-and-miss attempts than lazy soulless bunts. Aladdin is a movie that reveals no effort, no imagination, no life, no art, no love, no inspiration, and its lazy attempt to put the genie back in the bottle and rub it back to life fail spectacularly at every intersection.
Just listening to the soundtrack caused me pain as this remake basically turns Aladdin’s classic tunes like “Whole New World” and “One Jump Ahead” into tacky karaoke beats with a hackneyed wanna-be-pop-star putting their “spin” on it. It just sounds…bad. Somehow devoid of the same emotional peaks that a fucking cartoon could summon. There’s a Jasmine solo track “Speechless” (part of Disney’s ad-nauseum attempt to land a “Best Original Song” nod) that’s painfully forklifted into the middle of a section that it has absolutely no business invading but, at the very least, there’s some attempt at revealing heart in that track, which stands in glaring contrast to the wildly flat renditions of Will Smith’s Genie’s signature tunes.
Which brings us to the former-superstar elephant in the room. Much hubbub was made regarding Will Smith’s flabby “I blue myself” Genie and it turns out the fandom had the blues for good reason. It’s not so much that Smith is actively bad in the role (though I would wager that he is) so much as his spin on the iconic character absolutely pales in comparison to what Robin Williams delivered. He’s the equivalent of a decaf coffee to William’s mound of cocaine. And the semi-nude, uncanny valley rendition of Genie makes him an awkward eyesore to boot. There’s just a different level of energy and creativity and cadence and variety, which helped make the character so much larger than life, that is just entirely missing here.
Similarly, the rest of the cast is…fine? If I’m being generous, I would say that they… weren’t awful? Mena Massoud offers a one-dimensional characterization of the titular street urchin with a heart of gold but he fails to impress much charisma as a lead while Marwan Kenzari’s unconvincing Disney Channel-level turn as evil sorcerer Jafar feels like a casting mistake more than anything. Naomi Scott’s turn as Jasmine is the only thing that came close to impressive but this is not a movie you want on your resume going forward and certainly not one to jettison anyone into stardom.
It’s not even worth mentioning the plot as there is literally nothing to distinguish this from the original, the only exception being the introduction of a new character or two who have virtually no impact on the story. In the Ford assembly line of movies, Aladdin is the worst kind of offender, one that mimics, apes, and plagiarizes, and a camel’s load of that blame ought to be laid at the feet of Ritchie and his “co-writer” John August (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). This is screenwriting as xeroxing, with what felt like a vast majority of dialogue lifted directly from Ron Clements and John Musker’s 1992 script. It’s the antithesis of creativity; it’s the death of art.
CONCLUSION: Guy Ritchie’s ‘Aladdin’ is an offensive and art-devoid “adaptation” that, by academic law, should be failed by virtue of gross plagiarism. Phony performances, cheap production design, bad visual effects, unpleasant remixes on iconic ditties, and zero artistic ambition make this opportunistic carbon copy the most abominable kind of remake.
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