An Impressive non-white cast doesn’t save Disney’s latest live-action remake from sinking beneath the dunes.
This new Aladdin is an awkward and perplexing exercise in Disney recycling. A remake that leaks brief moments of wonder and then spends the rest of its life tied to a post. For every breath-taking musical number there’s a dreary interlude of crummy dialogue, failed jokes and ham-fisted politics. It’s not as bad as the recent Dumbo remake, but then again that’s not saying much. It’s also proof that humans don’t look good in CGI blue.
The story, we all know. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a crafty street urchin in the mythical land of Agrabah who only wants people to see that he’s really just a good guy. Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), meanwhile, is locked away in the palace tower, destined to marry whatever douchebag prince her father deems fit. Throw in a flying carpet, a genie and a villain, and you’ve got yourself an adventure.
Alas, this reimagined adventure, directed by Guy Ritchie, is not so much a whole new world as it is half of a reused one. From the very first shot of a CGI ship swaying on a CGI sea, there is a whiff of the unnatural about the whole thing (Will Smith dressed as an Arabian fisherman is particularly jarring). Sometimes I was in awe of the brilliance of the imagery and the sets, other times I was aware I was gazing upon a bunch of actors wearing costumes, posing in a green screen studio. It is an odd mixture of history and hyper-fantasy.
The oddest mixture of all, however, has to be the unholy magic that created the Genie out of Will Smith. When disguised as a human he resembles a mascot, then his face is digitally mapped and replaced, his body augmented and his skin tinted blue when he reverts to his true form. The result is entirely bizarre. Observe him closely. As the Genie, he doesn’t appear to occupy the same space as everyone else, as if Smith shot all his scenes in an empty room and was pasted into the movie, which isn’t far from the truth. I’ve seen the same process applied to apes, robots and cosmic beings, and Disney, I can tell you your Genie doesn’t look right.
There is also an issue with the villain, Jafar, who, you may recall from the original, was the serpentine vizier who wanted to undermine the sultan and claim Jasmine as his own. This time he’s played by Marwan Kenzari, who I’m sure is a fine actor but seems more like a wimpy kid forced by his mum to wear Jafar’s smelly robes. He spends most of the time sulking and throwing tantrums, which, however you spin it, is totally unbecoming of a villain.
Then again, characters are not part of Aladdin’s arsenal. The movie just barely makes it because it’s richly designed and the musical numbers bristle with enthusiasm. The choreography is well timed, though sometimes it lapses into bhangra despite having nothing to do with India. But hey, all Asian dances are the same, right?
Aladdin is available in Australian cinemas from May 23 2019
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures