The latest yet far from the last live-action adaptation of a beloved Disney animated feature that fails to justify its existence, Aladdin goes through the paces of its infinitely superior predecessor and suffers by inevitable comparison.
Directed by Guy Ritchie, a head-scratching choice whose handful of familiar slow-mo shots and unfamiliar manipulation of film speed are the work’s lone auteurial qualities, the retread follows Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book with pricey CGI of its own that can’t match the rampant imagination on display in the hand-drawn original.
Its questionable presence aside, the film is entertaining enough at the start. Aladdin (Mena Massoud, Amazon’s Jack Ryan) and Jasmine (Naomi Scott, The 33) are cheery characters played by likable actors, and his Robin Hood nature is especially appealing.
Their efforts are fortified by a decent supporting cast of performers with Middle Eastern lineage playing power-thirsty Jafar (Marwan Kenzari, Murder on the Orient Express), well-intentioned yet oppressive Sultan (Navid Negahban, FX’s Legion), and Jasmine’s loyal comic-relief handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad, Hulu’s New Girl).
Atop this passable foundation, “Speechless,” Jasmine’s new “I Want” song (written by original film composer Alan Menken and the La La Land team of Pasek & Paul) is fine, and Billy Magnussen is amusing as a witless Scandinavian prince, Jasmine’s latest suitor.
Then Will Smith shows up and ruins whatever chance the film had at success. A dour onscreen presence in everything he’s done since Men in Black 3 (2012), the former Summer box office king’s interpretation of the Genie walks an awkward line between his former charismatic glory — only a sad shell of which currently remains — and Robin Williams’ magnificent vocal work.
The result is a bizarre mix of ill-fitting, sassy comments that land with a thud, and poor, studio-cleaned singing from the rapper, whose musical career turned cartoonish in 1999 and has yet to recover.
As the tale plays out to an overly faithful degree and certain well-worn beats nevertheless manage to tug at viewers’ heartstrings, the question remains of who could successfully play the Genie. The need for a pure entertainer with strong vocals points to someone like Lin-Manuel Miranda or an aware-of-his-whiteness Justin Timberlake — or perhaps Beyoncé if the filmmakers weren’t stuck on having a male in the role.
The struggle to identify a clear favorite, however, makes it abundantly clear that Williams was a special talent whose skills aren’t easily replicated, and that both his legacy and that of the animated Aladdin are best left untarnished.
Grade: D-plus. Rated PG. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Walt Disney Pictures)