The live-action Disney remakes are a curious thing. They’re making a shit-ton of money but, from what I can tell, nobody really likes them. I guess that not only means that we’re all suckers for going to see them but that Disney really is despicably good at business. We all love to get nostalgic and the curiosity of seeing how they’ve been updated is always going to get people buying tickets. It’s the reason that I initially bought so many of the books in The Austen Project. Of the live-action Disney movies that I’ve seen, only The Jungle Book really worked. I’m hopeful that Mulan will be amazing because it’s refusing to go down the musical line. It’s not that I don’t love a musical because I bloody love a musical. There’s a reason why my Spotify end of year round-up was mostly the Hamilton soundtrack. It’s just, Disney animated movies work as musicals because they’re animated. You don’t need to question why everyone’s singing because it’s not real. When the action starts to get realistic, that starts to be problematic. Stage musicals work in a similar way because you accept that you’re watching a play. Live-action films become a little tricky. It can work. I know I didn’t like Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables but, because there is no spoken dialogue, the singing at least makes sense. The live-action Disney movies raise too many questions. Especially when you add animals into the mix. So, when the new Aladdin film came out last year, I wasn’t convinced it would work for me. But, I have been a long-time lover of Will Smith’s musical career, so I wanted to give him a chance. It was time to find out once and for all.
So, there’s really no point in going over the story here because it’s pretty much the same as the original. Poor boy. Lamp. Genie. Prince. Princess. Evil guy. Parrot. Monkey. It’s all there. Except, this follows the trend with all live-action remakes of being about half an hour longer than the animated version. This means we’re treated to a really deep remake. Oh no, my mistake. We’re treated to a couple of extra songs, a really unnecessary dance routine, and some bullshit attempt to bring feminism into play before ignoring it completely for the rest of the film. Aladdin, like Beauty and the Beast before it, sets out to answer some of the criticism that the original film must have received over the years. We now have throwaway lines about genie magic making sure nobody recognises Aladdin and we see Jasmine’s desperation to become Sultan herself instead of just a beautiful object for men to fight over.
It just all feels so stupid and Disney are being truly cowardly for letting these types of opinions shape their writing. For years, people had poked holes into the plot of Beauty and the Beast so the new version decided to answer them all. It didn’t work. And it doesn’t work here. It just looks awkward and kind of breaks the fourth wall. But that’s just a common theme. Aladdin is a film that hopes to get by because of familiarity. There are in-jokes and references galore that stick out like a sore thumb. It’s the reason why Will Smith never nails any of the Genie’s songs. They’re almost straight copies of Robin Williams’ versions, which just makes it more obvious that Will Smith is no Robin Williams. Take his pitiful attempts to put on accents in ‘ Friend Like Me’. In the animated version, that song was perfectly tailored to the performer. The 2019 version could have done the same but, instead, it just leaves it. Poor Will Smith didn’t stand a chance.
Which is a shame because, actually, he’s really good in the role. He is fun and brings something different to the character. He isn’t a larger-than-life kind of Genie like Robin Williams but he’s funny. He’s more sarcastic and sassy. If he’d only been allowed to make the songs his own, the Genie would have been a complete triumph. Imagine if someone at Disney had thought to themselves, “hmm, Will Smith is a rapper. Maybe we could include some of that in this song instead of impressions and funny voices?” The worse thing is, we get a taste of what a Will Smith version could have been like with the song over the closing credits. Will Smith and DJ Khaled put their own spin on it and it’s incredible. Why was it not in the fucking film?
Although, I know the answer. Because they need the original songs to draw people in. Especially with something like Aladdin which has one of the greatest Disney soundtracks of all time. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit biased because I adored this soundtrack when I was a kid. I think Brad Kane is one of the best singers in all of Disneys’ animated films. The way he sang ‘One Jump’ and its reprise are beautiful. As a kid, I never wanted to sing Jamsine’s parts. I wanted to sing Aladdin’s. So it hurts listening to Mena Massoud’s versions. It’s not that he, or in fact any of the new cast, is bad. It’s just that Disney takes all of the emotion out of the singing. We’ve seen it in Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson already. Disney can’t stop digitally editing their singers. I know that these days all song performances in films are edited but these songs are so flat. They strive for technical brilliance over performance. It’s a shame when the most emotive song in this film is the only one that wasn’t in the original. Naomi Scott is by far the best singer of the bunch and it clearly means she was left to do her own thing a bit more. That’s why there is so much more emotion in her performance. It’s a beautiful song but it’s a shame that the ones we know were treated so badly.
So far, no reasons to justify this film ever being made, which is a theme with these remakes. Watching them just reminds you of how good the original films are. You sit there, mildly entertained but wishing that you were watching the original animation. I think Aladdin is more successful than Beauty and the Beast but that’s not saying much. Guy Richie is the wrong guy to be making this film. The big musical numbers are clunky and awkward, the action sequences feel out of place, and the characterisations haven’t really improved since 1992. I mean, I might give them props for giving Jasmine more to say but it’s a weak attempt at writing a strong female character that’s in the same vein as that all girl’s together moment in Endgame. You know another Disney exec is going to be patting himself on the back for it and feeling smug.
Perhaps the worst thing about this film, though, is the way it rearranges the narrative. The original story was told succinctly and logically. It made sense. Now the sequences have all moved around and it’s messy. Now, Aladdin and Jasmine meet earlier in the story. They have more contact and form more of a bond. It doesn’t work. The Genie gets a love story that feels weird and unnecessary. As if someone thought, “bloody hell, we’ve got Will Smith in this but he’s not got a lot to do. Let’s give him a love interest.” The film tries to flesh out Jafar and create more of a tension between him and the Sultan. It doesn’t really work. Jasmine works out who Aladdin is far too easily. It’s all just messy and stupid. I don’t understand why they changed it. This isn’t how you tell a story.
This film isn’t the complete disaster that I expected but I can’t walk away from it feeling happy. The only thing I was really looking forward to was Will Smith and I couldn’t even enjoy that properly. I mean who the fuck hires Will Smith in a role that includes songs and doesn’t get him to rap? It’s mental. None of the problems here are the fault of the actors. They did well with what they got. Nor is it the design or the costume or whatever. This film fails because of Disney. They got the storytelling wrong and they got the music wrong. Why would you bother with a pale imitation when you can just watch the real thing?