- Jo Berry
- 22 May 2019
Guy Ritchie's live action take on the animated original is a flawed but enjoyable musical adventure
This live action spin on 1992's Aladdin, from director Guy Ritchie, is Disney's latest stab at making flesh its animated classics. It's perhaps the Mouse House's riskiest reboot to date for a couple of reasons: Ritchie is coming fresh off the stinker that was 2017's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, while early sightings of a blue Will Smith as the Genie invited sniggering comparisons to the Blue Man Group and concerns that, even the talented Men in Black star, would struggle to deliver a performance as iconic as Robin Williams's in the original film.
Happily, while it may not have the directorial personality of Tim Burton's dark Dumbo or the musical majesty of Beauty and the Beast, this Aladdin is still an enjoyable take on the Middle Eastern folk tale, benefitting from terrific performances from a fun, fast-talking and scene-stealing Smith, alongside Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, as Aladdin and Jasmine.
The story sticks close to its animated precursor: Aladdin is the thieving street urchin with a heart of gold who falls for Princess Jasmine, daughter of the Sultan of Agrabah (Navid Negahban). Captured by nasty Jafar (Marwan Kenzari, a dead cert for the title of blandest Disney baddie ever), who has plans to take over the kingdom, Aladdin is forced to steal a lamp from a mystical cave. In doing so, he unleashes the Genie who grants him three wishes, one of which Aladdin uses to become Prince Ali to win the lovely Jasmine.
There's action, as you would expect – including a video game-like chase through the streets of Agrabah that only falters when our hero starts singing as he's running, and the impressive retrieval of the lamp as the fiery cave begins to crumble. There's music – including a sweet version of 'A Whole New World' from Jasmine and Aladdin on his flying carpet, and Smith's exuberant interpretations of 'Prince Ali' and 'Friend Like Me' that are so infectiously entertaining and grandly staged you won't be able to stop yourself from humming along.
If you're waiting for the 'but' to come, here it is. While it delivers likeable spectacle (the costumes are gorgeous, as is the scenery), Ritchie's Aladdin does have its flaws. One of the most distracting is, as suspected, the VFX version of Smith – you may get used to him blue, but his enormous computer-generated forehead is disconcerting to the point that you'll breathe a sigh of relief during the scenes in which he appears more human.
There are also some odd directorial choices: a slow-motion fall that, well, falls a bit flat; and clunky moments featuring snippets of stagey feeling songs, that would have been best left unsung and only serve to slow the adventure down.
Worst of all, however, is the addition of a major new musical number, 'Speechless', sung by Jasmine, that feels like a reject from Frozen and seems transparently designed to tick the female empowerment box on a 'how to make the movie more modern' checklist. However well-intentioned, if you're in the company of little ones (and, let's face it, this is really aimed at them) then this song provides the perfect moment for a toilet break. Missing it will improve your appreciation of 2019's Aladdin no end.
General release from Wed 22 May.