by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday August 27, 2019


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From the get-go, Guy Ritchie's "Aladdin" saddles itself with responsibility it's not capable of shouldering. In the opening sequence, a man, who shall remain nameless, sits down with his two young children to regale them with the tale of the street rat who was able to rise above his social caste and find a beautiful life with a royal princess. But right before the end credits, we're brought back to that man only to discover that he was an integral part of the tale after all.

More of a metaphor for Disney's future creative output than much else, "Aladdin" is perfectly representative of the current slate of remakes that try to do something new with old material only to go back on that promise in an attempt to assuage the nostalgia machine. As far as these shot-for-shot recreations go, there's still enough to satisfy lifelong fans and new listeners alike. Who can we thank for that, though? Writers John August and Guy Ritchie? Or, can we assign the acclaim to the very game cast of performers? In these expansive studio projects, it's kind of futile to assign any authorial intent. Such is the plight of making a blockbuster under a corporation that treats their intellectual properties as sacred texts.

Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a kindhearted thief in the fictional city of Agrabah swept off his feet during a chance encounter with a beautiful woman who turns out to be the kingdom's princess, Jasmine (Naomi Scott). The evil Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) uses Aladdin as human fodder to enter a mystical and dangerous cave to find a magical lamp. That magical lamp would give Jafar the power to become the ruler of Agrabah, a job that he'll never get because he is not of royal blood. Naturally, things don't go as planned and Aladdin ends up making friends with the Genie (Will Smith) who lives in the lamp. Together, the newfound friends team up to stop Jafar's nefarious plan.

As for the musical numbers littered in the 1992 animated version, they function as somewhere between Broadway and Bollywood in this remake. Sure, they're fun, but "Aladdin" is very clearly saddled with a finite imagination unlike the original animated film. Finite not because of genuine ideas, but because it's imagination is working within strictures it'll never be allowed to break free of.

For some context, the source material this is ripping from is also ripped from the grandest of fantasy classics -- "The Thief of Bagdad." The film from 1940 (which you should watch if you haven't already) ushered in design and effects work that changed filmmaking of that sort forever. And in a way, so did Disney's initial version. Porting animated hijinks over to live action is almost never an achievable proposition when there are safeguards put in place by corporations that serve the masses. You may be allowed to riff on a few things, but these projects must barrel toward the same conclusions as a sort of capitalistic manifest destiny.

That doesn't mean "Aladdin" isn't a wash when it comes to pure entertainment. Director Guy Ritchie seems to be stripped of his usual flair here, even though his deep understanding of scope helps enliven the more action-filled sequences. Even when there's no wit or verve behind the camera, the cast has some genuinely good comedic timing to keep things bopping along. Jasmine's handmaiden played by Nasim Pedrad not only supplies the narrative with the comedic irreverence it so rarely employs, but her bit part threatens to steal the film away from the two stars. As for Will Smith as Genie, the performance is fine but stands an example of a star's own brand of antics clashing with material it doesn't really work with.

Massoud and Scott prove themselves to be more than capable of carrying the narrative heft, too. The two really shine in the scenes that aren't directly harkening back to its source, but their genuine chemistry almost vanishes when the film realizes it has a third act to get to.

If we were to assign a points-based system to Disney remakes like this, what would we give "Aladdin?" Maybe some points for trying something new with a framework that doesn't look kindly upon new influences? Rather, let's celebrate the fact that small moments of irreverence provide viewers something to chew on instead of being fed microwaved leftovers.



Genie/Mariner :: Will Smith
Aladdin :: Mena Massoud
Jasmine :: Naomi Scott
Jafar :: Marwan Kenzari
Sultan :: Navid Negahban
Dalia :: Nasim Pedrad
Prince Anders :: Billy Magnussen
Omar :: Jordan Nash
Lian :: Taliyah Blair
Omi :: Aubrey Lin
Jamal :: Amir Boutrous
Hakim :: Numan Acar


Director :: Guy Ritchie
Screenwriter :: John August
Screenwriter :: Guy Ritchie
Producer :: Dan Lin
Producer :: Jonathan Eirich
Executive Producer :: Marc Platt
Executive Producer :: Kevin De La Noy
Cinematographer :: Alan Stewart
Film Editor :: James Herbert
Original Music :: Alan Menken
Production Design :: Gemma Jackson
Supervising Art Direction :: Peter Russell
Art Director :: Richard Selway
Art Director :: Steve Summersgill
Set Decoration :: Tina Jones
Costume Designer :: Michael Wilkinson
Casting :: Lucinda Syson