Cinema Dispatch: Aladdin

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Aladdin and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Guy Ritchie

The Disney money train just keeps on rolling, doesn’t it!?  With nowhere else to go but back to the well, they’ve been pumping out remakes, reboots, and even sequels for some time now with… let’s say MIXED results.  In fact, Dumbo might have been the last straw to finally knocking these into MOSTLY BAD territory; and I’m not liking the way that Lion King movie is shaping up despite its solid casting!  Still, Aladdin is probably the film BEST suited for the big budgeted live action retelling considering how cinematic and adventurous it is, and the fact that the story’s already been done in live action in the past!  Can Disney pull off another remake of a beloved nineties property, or are we gonna have to wait for Maleficent 2 for things to get back on track?  Let’s find out!!

In the wondrous city of Agrabah, there once lived a thief known as Aladdin (Mena Massoud) who spent most of his days stealing apples and talking to his monkey Abu; presumably because he gave up on forming attachments to other humans and find that monkeys are less likely to stab you in the back.  I mean they COULD what with apposable thumbs, but that’s beside the point!  What’s important is that one day he meets a woman in the local bazar who doesn’t seem to understand how money works which you’d think she WOULD considering she’s Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), the one and only daughter to the Sultan (Navid Negahban), but I guess when you’re THAT rich possessions and currency don’t hold much value.  Thankfully Aladdin is there to smooth things over, and by smooth things over I mean help her run away, and the two hit it off almost immediately which would normally be good news if it weren’t for the fact that she can only marry a prince.  That’s where the Sultan’s Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) comes in who sees something in this street rat and wants to use him to get his hands on the Magic Lamp for clearly nefarious purposes, and so spins him a tall tale of how doing this one job for him will get him all the riches he could dream of and become a prince in his own right!  Well Aladdin at least holds his end of the bargain up, but things inevitably go wrong and he’s stuck there with nothing but his monkey, a magic carpet and oh yeah THE MAGIC LAMP which houses a TERRIFYING Genie (Will Smith) that promises him three wishes for finding his lamp!  What will Aladdin wish for, and will it be enough to win the heart of the Princess?  How long can he keep up the ruse he concocts, and will he be able to fool the sharp witted Vizier; even WITH the Genie’s magic?  More importantly, who needs a Genie when you can capitalize on people’s nostalgia?  That ALREADY gets you all the riches in the world!!

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“Do you trust me?  To tastefully pay homage to an animated classic?”     “Well…”

If nothing else, at least it’s better than Beauty and the Beast!  Yeah, this is a total mess of a movie that feels like it’s held together with silly string and bull headed determination, but somehow it’s an ENDEARING mess that I had some genuine fun with despite its many MANY flaws!  The parts where they mix things up and make changes to the source material are actually rather welcome, at least for the most part, and while they fall WOEFULLY short of the animated film whenever they try to touch on it, the blundering is so blatant that I ended up enjoying a lot of that as well!  It really is one of the better SO BAD ITS GOOD movies we’ve gotten in some time as it juggles crass commercialism, copious hot fixes for half thought out nonsense, and JUST enough sincerity to the overall package that it’s hard to stay mad at it even if I can understand why it may end up turning a lot of people off.  Heck, the last time I think I enjoyed a movie THIS bad to this degree was… well the last time Will Smith was in a big budgeted disaster! No wait, not Bright; the OTHER one!

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“Come on, man!  We’ve got James Gunn on board!”     “Ehh…”

Before we go all in on what’s wrong with this movie, let’s try to muster up some genuine praise for what this movie gets right, which is a lot more than I expected!  Where Beauty and The Beast came across like a snide pedant trying to “fix” all the problems with the original film, this one takes a much more… let’s say good faith approach to smoothing out some of the rough patches of the original film.  For instance, I REALLY liked what they did with Jafar who was just a goatee twirling villain in the Disney film but is given a bit of a backstory as well as a clear sense of pathos for his arc.  I mean it’s nothing EXTRAORDINARY, but the fact that he and Aladdin have a lot more in common here than they did in the Disney film makes for an interesting dynamic throughout the film.  Along those lines, I also like how Jasmine has more to do in this movie and how her relationship with Aladdin is much more develops throughout the movie; especially in the first act.  Better yet, it makes the romance a bit more believable that he spends MUCH longer in this film unaware that she IS indeed the princess and this lends a lot more credibility to his claims about loving her rather than just being infatuated.  I mean… it’s still like three days they knew each other in this film, but that’s three times longer than the original!  Instead of trying to FIX THINGS with the plot, there’s a sense of IMPROVING things; making tweaks here and there to make it shine a bit brighter while never really losing the charm that was there to begin with.  Okay, there’s ONE bit about “Genie Magic” in regards to a secret identity that was completely unnecessary and felt like fixing a nit-pick, but other than that they do a decent job with the changes!  In that vein, yeah it IS important that this is a cast of mostly nonwhite actors while the voice cast on the animated movie was more or less all white people.  I may not like EVERYONE’S performance her better than the original film (I think Navid Negahban’s portrayal of The Sultan feels a bit bland) but overall I think this is an important change that’s been a long time coming.

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“For my first wish, I no longer wish to sound like a surfer dude.  Also, maybe a hat that fits better than a fez?”

Some of these fixes however create a few problems for the movie, and overall the script is what’s holding it back the most; at least in the ways that aren’t hilarious.  After a very solid first act, the second is where they have to start tying things back up and it gets a bit messy.  I like the changes with Jafar, but they end up complicating things during the Prince Ali segments.  The extended courtship between Aladdin and Jasmine is great, but they then felt the need to add that “Genie Magic” contrivance to try and have it not become an issue later on.  On top of stuff like that, not all the new material works here; particularly the humor which falls rather flat and feels like padding.  It’s mostly just jokes about being awkward around Jasmine or being unfamiliar with Princely customers which is fair enough I guess, but the animated film managed to get it across just as well without being as blunt about it taking up this much time.  Perhaps the most disappointing addition though, if not necessarily the worst one, is the framing device which portrays this as a story being told to children by SOMEONE (I won’t say who!) and in light of just how ridiculous this movie gets, I was kind of hoping they would do a Princess Bride thing where the framing device informs the story.  Maybe an awkward transition into something from the movie could be commented on by the kids, or if they wanted to do Meta humor than the kids could comment on something in the story.  I don’t know how WELL it would have worked, but without something like that for the framing device, it just feels completely superfluous.

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“Did I ever tell you about how I had to walk across the ENTIRE Sahara desert?  BY MYSELF!?”     “You sure have-”     “WELL IT’S A GOOD STORY!!”

But now we get to the FUN stuff!  What about this movie isn’t just bad, but GLORIOUSLY bad!?  Okay, so I’m probably not gonna shock that many people by saying that The Genie in this movie, at least whenever he’s a CGI creation, is utterly horrifying.  That’s the FIRST thing we need to talk about!  Will Smith is a lot of things, most of them awesome, but he is NOT Robin Williams and him trying to BE Robin Williams while an animation studio tries to translate the exaggerated cartoony mannerisms to something APPROACHING a realistic character is about as terrifying to sit through as that Sonic the Hedgehog trailer.  I can’t remember the last time I physically CRINGED in a movie theater the way I did during the Genie’s first appearance and the subsequent musical number, and to a certain extent it’s KIND OF compelling because of it!  What’s also fascinatingly out of place are the musical numbers.  HOLY HECK did I start giggling the moment they started busting out One Jump Ahead (the Street Rat song), but I’ll give them credit for as RIDICULOUS as it looks, the staging is actually pretty great!  It’s funny to watch these stone faced guards who don’t look goofy in the slightest just start bursting into song, but then it’s also pretty cool to see Aladdin’s parkour routine on top of it!  Similarly, there’s a LET IT GO moment for Jasmine in this movie that is also ludicrously executed and frankly feels like it comes out of nowhere (not so much her motivation but the decision to shoot it in this specific way), and yet it’s kinda fun too!  The movie’s FEMINIST MESSAGING is ultimately shallow and lacks any real bite to it, but at least in this moment it gave that subplot a bit of catharsis which was nice!  The over the top moments are still tempered with enough sincerity that you can get into them in the moment instead of just laughing at them for their absurdity which is the best kind of SO BAD ITS GOOD material, at least in my opinion.  Frankly the one part where I think they don’t go camp ENOUGH is with Iago where they decided to only KIND of anthropomorphize him instead of just leaning into it.  Frankly if it was up to ME I would have just gotten Gilbert Gottfried to do it again and animate him the exact same way he was in the original film!  What, the Genie gets to be a terrifying blue monstrosity but a perpetually irritated bird-man thing would have been too much!?

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Are… are there Will Smith Genie dolls?  Can I buy them?  Like… ALL of them!?

I’m as shocked as you are that this movie isn’t as terrible as some of Disney’s other live action remakes (do any of you even remember that Dumbo came out like a month ago!?), but I’m also not too surprised that it’s a frenetic mess that’s barely held together by its charm and absurdity.  I mean, why else would you get Guy Ritchie to direct the thing, other than as penance for making that terrible King Arthur movie?  Is it worth seeing in the theaters?  Eh… I’m feeling a bit generous here, especially with what the competition is as far as Disney remakes (and with that boring looking Lion King just over the horizon), so I’m gonna say yes!  A tentative yes with a few asterisks at the end, but if you can groove on its particular blend of over the top spectacle and reckless abandon, then it’s worth checking out on the big screen.  Besides, don’t you want to tell future generations that YOU were there when Will Smith turned into a horrifying blue giant with subpar comedy skills!?

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