Sometimes things just don’t translate across mediums…
With the trend of remaking animated films into live action one’s now becoming a thing, we get to see if this is ultimately a good or a bad thing. With Disney’s new take on Aladdin we get a pretty looking film experience to be sure but with casting that while culturally sensitive is somewhat problematic and a variety of musical numbers and experiences in the film just don’t work nearly as well in the live action realm. It all ranges from questionably to mildly unsettling.
A thrilling and vibrant live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic, “Aladdin” is the exciting tale of the charming street rat Aladdin, the courageous and self-determined Princess Jasmine and the Genie who may be the key to their future.
When you’re creating fantasy in a live action world, you always need a slight wink and nod to the camera of what you’re doing is going to be a little over the top and that you just need to go with it. Aladdin doesn’t have that and when you combine with some casting that while culturally appropriate, it MAY have not netted the best performers as it makes Will Smith in “Blue-Face” possibly the best part of the film.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s a pretty looking film and relatively well made but in many instances it really feels like director Guy Ritchie (who also co-wrote the screenplay) tried a little too hard to stick to the original animated film and there’s a lot that just doesn’t translate all that well. I’d describe it as technically competent but very muted, feeling like he was under a mandate not to branch outside of the lines inside which he was colouring and it made some of the numbers and set pieces feel terribly rigid. There’s just a bit too much mimickery through out, which will be fine for the very younger audiences but could easily causing some injury inducing eye rolling for anyone over the age of 12. It’s hard to imagine material that is stiff and corny at the same time, but here it is. You can’t help that you’d feel like you’d be appreciating it more if it was at a theme park with shows every 90 minutes, rather than as a part of a major motion picture and sadly most of the casting is on par with a theme show or community theatre troupe.
Yes, the casting was all done in a culturally appropriate fashion…which is obviously a good thing, but with material like this that features some genuinely show stopping musical numbers, the people doing the singing were at very best…OK.
Toronto’s own Mena Massoud is working hard here and he makes for a likeable young leading man, but he’s too far out of his element on this one to really make a captivating performance. The same goes for Naomi Scott as the Princess Jasmine. They both have decent chemistry together but at best they are moderate singers and don’t have the natural charisma either vocally or in their stage presence to command attention during a scene. The musical numbers that had together just didn’t work as the direction was too busy with distracting action all around them while they were being too static and singing into each other’s eyes. Combine all that with the fact that seeing “A Whole New World” performed by actual actors rather than animated characters plays out as unwittingly creepy. This disconnect between the live action and the animated source material is way too prevalent through the film.
Ironically enough, the one element of this film (which is the one people were the most up in arms about when the trailer dropped) that actually worked was Will Smith as the Genie.
Will Smith is such a skilled performer that he basically saves the movie from being an out and out disaster. It only takes a minute for us to realize that he’s not trying to mimic the great work of Robin Williams from the original and he’s simply being Will Smith with his own take on it. He makes the rapid fire comedy his own and while he’s obviously not a singer he’s got enough stage presence in spades to make up for it in the entertaining musical numbers that he carries.
The 4K Blu-Ray obviously looks and sounds fantastic with the music coming alive at every turn while the special features include deleted scenes, a deleted song, a video journal from star Mena Massoud while making the film, a look at the role of the Genie and the big shoes that Will Smith had to fill and a look a Guy Ritchie as director.
Ultimately, Disney’s Aladdin is a bright and fun affair that young kids will enjoy but it sticks a little too close to the animated original which just doesn’t translate entirely over into a live action world. Where something like Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book managed to tell a similar story in the same world, Aladdin is trying way too hard to recreate something we’ve already seen which makes it feel stale and a little too lifeless.