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Aladdin (2019)  

Review: written 2019

Colourful, fun, but not exactly essential viewing

Disney’s latest live action movie tries hard to walk a line between following the original, and adding something a bit different to modernise it enough to warrant a new version. In doing so, we are presented with a world that is so colourfully and vividly created, while adding little new. Yes, Jasmine has a new song, and the storylines are tweaked to flesh some moments out, not least of which is a romance subplot for the genie, but it doesn’t feel like enough to make a new version. We now have a movie that purists wanting the original reincarnated might feel disappointed in… the changes are small enough that they stand out more than if a complete stylistic makeover had been employed, and doubtless some will feel the genie just isn’t Robin Williams. And yet, those looking to see what a live action can bring fresh to the table, will feel not enough has been done to make the world ‘real’. It’s still a fantasy non-specific world, which has an identity crisis – at times Arabian, at times Asian in character, the live action makes this uncertainty feel more of a problem.

And let’s address the big blue genie in the room. Since that first trailer, the whole discussion was driven by how similar or different Will Smith was to Robin Williams. Williams created such a vivid impression on that first movie with his freewheeling throw-away-the-script torrent of ad-libbing, that perhaps only animation could give life to. To be fair though, Will Smith isn’t trying to recreate that performance, but subtly do his own thing – Young Prince of Agrabah, if you will. His scenes trying to coach Aladdin in wooing actually work with Smith’s charisma and charm. Ultimately the difference is, this genie feels scripted, and therefore always feels just that bit smaller than Williams did. This version has lost that glorious mixture of Williams anarchy with Disney visuals, and ended up with something that feels much more manufactured. The modernisation of the tale giving Princess Jasmine a more acceptably PC control over her life feels like the right thing to do, and yet it makes the film feel manufactured. The song is a good one, with a good message about finding your voice, but it feels out of place no matter how great a production number is done on it. That said, I thought Naomi Scott was simply great as the Princess, and her rapport with Mena Massoud’s Aladdin was maybe the best thing about the movie, taking me along for the ride and leaving me with a smile.

I was really lost in the world of animated Aladdin. I merely enjoyed and admired the visuals of the live action Aladdin. It’s not a failure, but it does feel just a bit redundant.

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