I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would. Sure, the cynicism of these Disney live-action remakes/reboots (or whatever they are calling them) is pretty plain- the animated originals are perfectly fine, you would think, but Disney seem to think contemporary audiences need contemporary updates (or Disney+ needs a lot of content). I suppose I feel conflicted because while I accept that the movie business is, well, a business, I would also like to think its an artistic pursuit, an art-form. Its hard to reconcile film as a mostly creative, artistic endeavour when a studio like Disney is so plainly displaying its business-oriented mandate of making money from its own historic intellectual property. Films like Aladdin should be pretty abhorrent.
I know, calm down, Ghost- I should get off my noble high horse and get with reality. The cold truth is that artistic worth or brilliance is almost incidental to the pursuit of studios making money. Its not as if Ridley Scott or Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg or James Cameron made films for nothing, either (although I seem to recall James Cameron claiming he made nothing out of Titanic, incredibly, but that was probably just me misreading the headline or it just being more click-bait that I wisely ignored).
Anyway, I digress. Aladdin, then. Its the one about the street-urchin/thief Aladdin and the magic lamp with a Genie, only this is the Guy Ritchie version so its all violent and foul-mouthed and edgy and.. well, of course it isn’t, this is Disney, but yeah, Guy Ritchie does seem an odd fit. An interesting one at that, but alas, such intriguing possibilities are ill-founded. This is Guy Ritchie in ‘safe’, strictly-mainstream mode, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it does seem a bit of a waste. I couldn’t really tell you where in this film anything of Ritchie himself really shines, or what distinguishes his efforts here from any other director making a Disney title. I’ve heard that Tim Burton’s Dumbo bears the mark of its director quite distinctly (and not all for the good) but as I haven’t gotten around to that yet I can’t comment. I can’t remember if Aladdin bears the credit ‘A Guy Ritchie Film’ or not, but if it does, I have to wonder how they had the nerve.
But on the whole, I have to say I quite enjoyed this regardless. Can’t say I was ever really a fan of the animated original, so that may have some bearing on my opinion. As might be expected, the film looks simply ravishing (I’d love to see it on 4K UHD disc someday) with lovely production design and the cast is really pretty fine- especially Will Smith, as the Genie. Its a tricky role for him to take on bearing in mind how well-regarded Robin William’s original was in the animated film, and how odd the first images were of Smith in the part. If anything, the film largely succeeds on his performance alone, its a winning and emotive performance that shines above all the CGI stuff going on with it.
Mena Massoud makes a pretty decent Aladdin, and Naomi Scott’s lovely Jasmine is just terrific and is clearly an actress to watch out for in future. To be honest, other than some surprisingly sub-par CGI in places, the only real issues I had with the film was its ending, and perhaps most surprising (considering its director) the villain, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) who is so neutered he didn’t really seem to function as much of a villain at all. The film perhaps trying too hard to reign in the worst tendencies of its director perhaps? I don’t know, but it does seem odd- one thing you could say about all the Disney animated classics, is that the bad guys were bad ‘uns and the films weren’t afraid to give the littlest viewers a few scares alongside all the fun. Her, Jafar fails to have any real threat, an almost token villain and really quite forgettable. Odd.