Jacob Richardson | 23/05/2019
A sumptuous visual feast anchored in two incredible performances from relatively unknown leads, that stumbles and falters whenever a certain blue magical deity is on screen.
Retelling, largely like for like, the classic Disney tale of Aladdin, this film showcases the budding romance between Aladdin (Mena Massoud), a street rat and thief, and Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) of Agrabah. After some early sparks of romance, Aladdin is convinced by the nefarious Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) to retrieve a mysterious lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Little does he know that rubbing this lamp reveals a magical blue Genie (Will Smith), who grants him three wishes; wishes Aladdin will try to use to win Jasmine’s heart.
Guy Ritchie’s typical visual flair largely gets lost in this standardised take on the tale. Outside of one long take early scene, we don’t get to see any rapid fire editing; no cockney accents on display. Instead, Ritchie focuses on general camera work, only really pushing the boundaries in relation to positioning his characters in the castle and utilising the CG technology enabler to transition between them.
The interesting thing is that it isn’t missed. Despite the expected, unsurprising set design and the unadorned camera work, these scenes tend to work best. Indeed, Ritchie’s long take opening feels unceremoniously crushed into a tale that doesn’t fit, and the constantly moving camera, coupled with slow motion movement while singing is underway, creates an oddly disconcerting feeling as a viewer.
The great triumph of Aladdin is in its leads. As Princess Jasmine (thankfully one given more agency in this modern update), Naomi Scott crafts a kind, strong and fiery heroine. Despite a clunky Frozen-esque ballad in the back third, she makes us not only believe the romance between her and the street urchin, but also convinces us of her capability and power to rule.
Even more impressive is Mena Massoud as Aladdin. Massoud is not only immensely likable and funny, but utilises quite a lot of physicality in his performance. Whether it is the stunt work in scaling buildings or the hilarious dance scene, Massoud plays the entire spectrum of this piece between comedy and drama to great effect.
The issues really come down to The Genie. Certainly, part of that is in Smith’s performance, which too often feels like a slowed down, less intense version of Robin Williams’ Genie. And also some of that is to do with the CGI work on the big, blue, smoking Genie, which never stops looking absolutely nightmarish no matter how long it is on screen.
That being said, the more egregious issues stem from the over reliance on CGI for the role. The Genie is undeniably more engaging when in his human form; and indeed Smith and Massoud have some great chemistry, particularly in a scene where Aladdin is trying to woo Jasmine. When it cuts to CGI splendour, like in the ‘Friend Like Me’ sequence, the impact is absolutely lost - you’ll be sitting there shocked at what you are witnessing.
Nowhere is this more clear than in Prince Ali’s entrance into Agrabah, which is generally practical and incredibly engaging. Compared with the ‘Friend Like Me’ sequence, it is a masterclass, and shows that this movie works best when it relies on the magical chemistry of its leads and practical spectacle as opposed to CGI fireworks.
A generally serviceable remake, that loses some of the sparks around the magic of the piece, but finds much more heart in the romance between the two leads.