Monday, June 17, 2024

EUR ‘Aladdin’ Review: ‘A Tragic Carpet Ride’

*Ever since the live-action “Aladdin” film was announced, the biggest question mark – and target of criticism – centered on Will Smith’s casting as the nigh-omnipotent genie.

After all, how could the increasingly serious-minded Smith hope to fill the role made absolutely iconic by the late Robin Williams in the 1992 animated, classic version? Williams’ portrayal truly became part of the culture, helping that 1992 film become the most successful animated film of all-time at that point and spawning two sequels, video games, novels, a theater production and eventually, of course, this live-action remake.

So how does Smith respond to the challenge of playing such a revered character. By taking his genie’s advice: Being himself.

This is the most charismatic and fun Smith has appeared onscreen in years.

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Gone are the lame jokes and blatant miscasting as Deadshot in “Suicide Squad”, the Smith determined to be taken seriously in films like “Concussion” and “Collateral Beauty”, the Smith who is involved in widely panned Netflix films like “Bright”.

Instead, gives audiences and his fans one of their most fervent wishes by seemingly going back in time and using a role where he can be virtually anyone to be his cut loose – as much as one can cut loose in a Disney film – and plays a charismatic, joyful imaginative, multifaceted character to the fullest.

Smith’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Naomi Scott also shines as Jasmine. She is both sexy and strong and has a smile that could illuminate a kingdom. However, director Guy Ritchie seems so intent on “modernizing” her, she loses a bit of the charm and vulnerability that made the character a fan-favorite in the first place.

When Jasmine is told by her father that “there has never been a female Sultan. It just isn’t done”, you pretty much know how this film will end and the tone that it will take to get there.

Ritchie’s direction is full of problems. The costuming and sets never feel like they take us to an exciting new place, but rather a bunch pf people cosplaying at a convention.

The villainous Jafar, as played by Marwan Kenzari, also gets the “woke” treatment. Instead of playing the truly evil Vizier we all love to hate, Jafar is reduced to a petty schemer and jilted second-in-command. Perhaps not wanting complaints about the portrayal of an Arabic character, Disney all but neuters him until the end and the film suffers for it.

But wait, isn’t this film called “Aladdin?

Yes, it is. The real shame is that as portrayed, he is easily the least interesting main character in the film.

as it opens, we see him expertly traverse the streets while cockily, easily taking what he pleases. At this point, it looks like Mena Massoud’s portrayal would be one for the ages.

Then, suddenly, he becomes a fumbling, stuttering, insecure mess. Yes, part of that was underneath the surface of the animated version. But here, it is in the forefront so often and he is portrayed consistently as having absolutely no confidence, you wonder why Princess Jasmine would want anything to do with him.

After all, as the script keeps shoving in our faces, she doesn’t need a man.

So why would she pick this one?

Oh, not only is Jasmine more covered up in this version, but any teen girls looking forward to seeing Menaud’s chest or pecs like in the animated version will be disappointed as well.

Disney and Ritchie have sucked so much of the intimacy out of the story that when they sing “A Whole New World”, it comes off as incredibly empty and hollow. There are more laughs and warmth gleaned from Abu the monkey and a Flying Carpet! It’s as if the scriptwriters and Richie thought a stronger, more amorous relationship would diminish Jasmine or give Aladdin “toxic masculinity” or other nonsense.

Much better served is is Nasim Pedrad, who plays Dalia, a handmaiden and confidante of Jasmine who develops a mutual attraction with the Genie. Smith has said the romance was introduced to “humanize” the Genie.

Why no one thought a more human, exciting, passionate title character would have been a good idea as well is beyond me.

Grade: B-

       

 

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