Nobody told Disney you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, as Aladdin marks the latest entry in the studio’s aggressive push to repurpose their animated features as effects-driven live-action spectacles.
However, here’s the rub: Anyone hoping that this new version of the 1992 musical would match its predecessor’s enchantment and charm will find their wish wasn’t granted.
Instead, while it’s nice to hear the splendid songs again and revisit some of our favorite characters, this stylish remake from director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes) overall seems driven by financial rather than creative goals.
For those needing a refresher, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a streetwise petty thief in the kingdom of Agrabah whose constant companion is a resourceful monkey. The ruling Sultan (Navid Negahban) is trying to find a husband for his daughter, Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), a reclusive bookworm. Aladdin and Jasmine connect during a chance encounter, but rule out romance.
Later, he’s targeted by Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), a duplicitous royal adviser who wants the throne by any means necessary. So he tricks Aladdin into retrieving a magic lamp from a cave, and freeing the flamboyant and kind-hearted blue genie (Will Smith) to grant the requisite three wishes. Aladdin’s wishes are different, of course, which leads to a power struggle between good and evil.
Of course, the legacy of Robin Williams’ iconic portrayal of the genie in the original film casts a bittersweet shadow here. And even though Smith can’t replicate the same live-wire charisma as Williams’ voice, he admirably makes the character his own.
In fact, Aladdin gains steam considerably after the genie appears, impressively replicating his shapeshifting manic energy. As a whole, the film is a dazzling visual achievement, from sets and costumes to camerawork and choreography.
The production numbers provide some memorable highlights. Smith’s flat vocals hamper “Prince Ali,” but the wonder of “Friend Like Me” shines through, and the love ballad “A Whole New World” still resonates.
Despite the uneven pacing and stilted performances, the film generally remains faithful to the original from a narrative perspective. Its cartoonish approach is fine until the final act, when the screenplay bogs down amid lessons about greed, sacrifice, abuse of power, and believing in yourself.
Heavy on CGI glitz at the expense of emotional substance, this new Aladdin tends to feel more like sensory overload than a magic-carpet ride.