Disney’s latest live action—or, more precisely, CGI-assisted—remake of a beloved animated classic hits perhaps too close to home in my case. The original Aladdin was the first movie I reviewed for a print publication, albeit in capsule form, and the memory of seeing it at my first-ever press screening is indelible, though that movie was so overwhelmed by Robin Williams’ participation that, other than the simple, crowd-pleasing plot, little of the film itself made much of an impression. Seeing the new version, I now attribute this perceptive gap less to the passage of time than to Disney’s generic storytelling style. Suddenly, all the things I liked and disliked about the original but had forgotten about came flooding back, but it was a weird kind of nostalgia. Except for Williams, have things changed so little since 1992?
So let’s address Williams and his replacement, Will Smith, right away. Generally speaking, the late comedian’s performance as the genie in the lamp, one that he reportedly improvised in the studio, thus compelling the filmmakers to fashion the animation around that performance, is probably the best thing he ever did on film; wryly spontaneous, gently mocking of both the Disney image and Middle Eastern stereotypes that today would probably be taboo. Though much has been made of those stereotypes over the years, the most egregious examples were built into the non-Williams scenes and into the drawings themselves. Will Smith, an African-American man playing a person of color in a winkingly obvious way, thankfully doesn’t try to copy or add to the Williams construction, but simply slips his sly, slightly cynical public persona into the mold. For sure, when he sings his centerpiece tune, “Friend Like Me,” he comes off as more sincere than Williams did, despite the con man subtext of the lyrics.
In other ways, Guy Ritchie’s new version is better than the original. The story about the “street rat” Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and his scheme to win the heart of the oppressed Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) is more fully realized and easier to enjoy, owing mainly to the fact that Ritchie has been given an extra half hour to tell it. And because he has to justify the CGI budget at his disposal, the action sequences work very well and are integrated smoothly into both the plot development and the musical numbers, of which several are brand new (and totally worthless as far as ear worms go). If the movie feels more superfluous than the original, it has more to do with the patented Disney mise en scene, which even Ritchie can’t overcome—flat, over-lit, painstakingly literal in design and look. At least Tim Burton’s Dumbo managed to slip in some chiaroscuro. This is like an 80s sitcom blown up to the big screen, which isn’t to say you won’t enjoy Aladdin, but you’ll probably wish it were all-CGI instead of part-CGI.
Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shinjuku Wald ) (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Picadilly (03-5367-1144), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002).
Aladdin home page in Japanese.
photo (c) 2019 Disney Enterprises Inc.