Movie Review: 'Aladdin' Not Exactly a Magic Carpet Ride
'Aladdin' the 1992 cartoon feature with Robin Williams as the famous blue genie, may not be the best movie from Disney's, but like the others, it has durable charms and memorable songs. This past weekend the new 'Aladdin' soared through the box office with $113M during Memorial Day weekend. 'Aladdin,' is the latest live-action with a blue Will Smith popping out of the lamp, may not be the worst, but like most of the others, it invites a simple question: Why re-make it?
Aladdin is a thief plying his trade in the marketplaces of the vaguely, vividly Middle Eastern fantasyland of Agrabah, where he meets and falls for Princess Jasmine. Her father, the kindly old Sultan, is being undermined by his advisor, Jafar. Aladdin and his monkey, Abu, are joined by a magic carpet and a blue genie who grants wishes and also develops a crush on Jasmine's handmaiden, Dalia. Just in case you don't know the story on 'Aladdin'. The casting is admirable. There's a brisk, enjoyable early chase through the casbah — and a couple of Bollywood-inflected numbers that remind you, pleasantly enough, of the proud history of the musical as a film genre.
Jasmine was ok, even if she didn't completely lock down the cartoon character's resemblance. Smith was able to find a way to not only channel inspiration from Robin Williams' version of the genie, but Smith was also able to make the role his own. Smith's jokes, antics, and side commentary were the funniest moments in the movie. Surprisingly, all of the "magic" in the film also helped to propel his character.
Sadly, Aladdin's weakest points came from both the co-star and the villain, as well as the set. I wanted to care more about Aladdin's character, but the performance just didn't come off to be very strong. It was a bit forgettable, especially if we take away the musical sets. It's just unfortunate because he is supposed to be the lead or at least co-lead to Jasmine's character, and his performance wasn't engaging. I don't want to give the impression that he was terrible, though. There just weren't any standout moments that would make you empathize or care for the character as one would hope for with any lead role.
Now if we do want to talk about bad acting, then we need to look at the villain of the movie, Jafar. I think the whole character was a fail from the script to the performance. Since most of the film tries hard to stay true to the original cartoon, Jafar's role felt the most far off. While in the animation, we know Jafar to be conniving, and even charismatic, this new Jafar didn't showcase any of those traits in the movie. Instead, he was over acting as if this was a straight to DVD. I was so disappointed in how he made Jafar appear to be a stereotypical, nonsensical, mustache twirling villain. It didn't match the 1992 Jafar.
Lastly, there's a particular scene with Jasmine that I think went a bit too far with its message of female empowerment. The scene I'm referring to is a musical number by Jasmine called "Speechless." This is also not a criticism against female empowerment messages either. You know I am a feminist. Nevertheless, the issue with this scene is that I believe it was somewhat disruptive to the flow of the movie. Not only was it a new addition to the original plot, but it felt forced into the story rather than allowing the same message to be communicated organically. (Which I believe the movie was already doing quite well.)
Lastly, the set wasn't at all fantastic. It felt more like a stage play than, 'A Whole New World' (pun intended).
'Aladdin' is a family fun film that has just enough magic to entertain fans of the original despite a few flaws. I get the impression that 'Aladdin' will work for audiences who haven't seen the 1992 animated film. I also believe that if Will Smith weren't in this movie, this movie would fall completely flat. The real key in enjoying 'Aladdin' is not to see set the bar high with expectations for this movie to be equal or better than the animated film. Either way, feel free to check out 'Aladdin' in theaters.