By Michael P Coleman
Disney’s Aladdin is a big budget, visual stunner that looks far better than it sounds. It left me wishing for a genie of my own who would grant me just one wish: that the film had a a better-suited director, and the actors had been better singers.
I guess that’s two wishes, but as the new film points out, there’s a lot of grey area with that genie wish fulfillment stuff. But is it too much to ask that the singing in a musical be beyond passable?
This new version of Aladdin was directed by Guy Ritchie, who had never directed a musical before. It shows. But in Ritchie’s defense, the new flick is saddled by the specter of one of the most cherished animated features in Disney’s cannon, and a score that would soar when performed by even the most mediocre of singers. Or so I thought before seeing this film.
Will Smith deserves a round of applause for taking on the role of Genie, following the late Robin Williams’ star turn in the 1993 original. Decades later, and until the end of time (to paraphrase another beloved Disney classic) Williams’ Genie will be the gold standard.
Will Smith is no Robin Williams, but in this tepid reboot, Smith isn’t even Will Smith. He gives it his best, trying to update Genie with some of that big eared swagger that audiences have loved over the years, and there are recurrent glimmers of what could have been. But Smith’s performance, overall, seems disjointed. In fact, in several of the CGI-enhanced scenes, Smith’s Genie and Aladdin don’t even appear to be performing in front of the same green screen.
Speaking of Aladdin, Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud certainly looks the part, and he’s charming enough, but he should have taken a tack from the animated original in which the speaking Aladdin hands the songs over to an accomplished vocalist. Listening to Massoud, I found myself, for the first time in my life, wishing a singer had been Autotuned. Both Massoud and Smith struggled — floundered, in fact — trying to deliver the beauty of Alan Menken’s melodies. Naomi Scott, who plays Jasmine, was a little better…but just a little.
I liked some of Disney’s Aladdin’s updates, including the Jafar backstory and Jasmine being even more of a rebel than she was in the original. Abu the monkey, Raja the tiger, and the magic carpet may have been computer creations, but they were great ones.
Nasim Pedrad as Jasmine’s handmaiden provided almost all of the film’s few, true laughs. But for the most part, the computer-generated monkey, tiger, and carpet out performed their human co-stars.
Writing that hurt, but not as much as my ears did as I grimaced while Smith half-rapped his way through “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali.” With a friend like that, who needs enemies?
I walked out of a late night showing of Disney’s Aladdin wishing it hadn’t been quite so late. If it had been earlier, I’d have dusted off my old DVD of the original, animated Aladdin to remind myself of what this new movie should have looked and sounded like. If my longed-for genie would grant me a third wish, it would be for the upcoming “live action” reboot of The Lion King to be much better.
Disney’s Aladdin is in theaters everywhere.