By Bradley Lane
Translating an animated film into live action is no easy feat, and the number of films that have smoothly made that transition can be counted on one hand. Animation is only limited by the imagination, skill and time of the people working on it, while live action restricts based on the budget for expensive CGI (computer-generated imagery), actors’ physicality, how much of the set they can afford to construct, and so many other factors. It requires a strong vision for the completed project, as well as an understanding of what worked in the original film. Unfortunately, Aladdin stands as a perfect example of what happens when these criteria are failed to be met by the filmmakers and reads as yet another soulless cash grab for Disney.
When you think of the original Aladdin, released in 1992, your mind instantly goes to the incomparable performance by the late Robin Williams as the Genie. The Genie is the selling point of that film. The role of the Genie was even written with Robin Williams in mind, and was pitched to him as a transforming stand-up comedian, with an accompanying animated short of the Genie synched up to an old Williams’ stand-up bit. Williams is the Genie and at best Will Smith’s Genie has a couple lines that might make you chuckle, but it feels like a hallow imitation of what was once a passion project.
Whether or not Smith was responsible for his performance falling flat is unclear, because the script ends up hurting his performance. A sizable portion of the dialogue is copied and pasted from the original, which in itself is not a bad thing. However, the original Genie had a lot of dialogue tied to visual gags in the animation, but in the live-action remake a lot of this dialogue remains without the accompanying visual jokes. This is just a complete lack of understanding as to what made the 1992 Aladdin so great to begin with.
Aladdin’s production value is very impressive and brings the fictional kingdom of Agrabah to life with vivid colors and a sense of excitement around every corner. Not every set conveys this perfectly, but the opening long take through the streets of the crowded marketplace do a great job of introducing the world to a new audience. The two main performances are also strong. Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine add a much needed sense of chemistry to their roles. Unfortunately again, the script does handicap their performance quite a bit, as they are not given very much material to work off and a lot of their interaction can seem awkward at best and downright incoherent at worst. Many conversations feel cut down for time, making them feel disjointed and awkward.
Aladdin is exactly what the Disney remakes need to avoid in the future, in order for them to justify their existence. The remake of the 1992 classic feels as though the filmmakers stripped the story clean of what made it so special to begin with and what remains is a shallow attempt at recapturing magic that has long since past. 1.5/5 Stars