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Disney has had repeated success remaking it's animated hits and the newest entry in the series is Aladdin. Like Beauty and the Beast before it, this version of Aladdin is a largely faithful adaptation right down to being a full musical like its animated counterpart. For the most part, audiences seem be getting behind the new version of the popular tale, but there are some notable exceptions.
Our own Eric Eisenberg is one of those exceptions. While Eric admitted the soundtrack to the new Aladdin is top notch, in the end, the movie fell victim to the sin of following its source material too closely, thus lacking any creativity of its own. Eric gave the film two and a half stars, saying...
The new Aladdin does have a fun energy and charm – not to mention one of the best soundtracks of any Disney musical ever – but all of these positives are simply borrowed, and there is a very real and notable limit to its creative energy.
The lukewarm to negative reviews are in the minority, the Rotten Tomatoes score for Aladdin is currently in the high 70s, but they are there. ScreenCrush gives the movie points for effort, saying that Will Smith works hard, perhaps too hard, to make his Genie work. In the end, however, the new Aladdin doesn't surpass the original in any way...
But there’s still nothing that this Aladdin does better — or as well — as the original. Even the parts pulled directly from the 1992 Aladdin by Ron Clements and John Musker, like the songs, have lost something in translation.
Aladdin is one of the movies that came out during what's called the Disney Renaissance. The studio's animation division, that had been nearly shuttered only a few years before, was riding high on a series of successes. Parents taking their kids to see the new Aladdin saw the original on the big screen as kids themselves. It seems some reviews don't think those adults are going to find the same magic here.
The decision to have Guy Ritchie, the man behind movies like Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, direct the live-action Aladdin always seemed like an odd choice. The Associated Press largely throws what doesn't work about Aladdin at his feet, saying...
It’s pretty clear after watching the new live-action Aladdin that doubts about Will Smith’s casting as the Genie are overblown. It’s the guy behind the camera who should be doubted. And stuffed into a small lamp forever.
If you've seen the 1992 animated movie then you know the story. Aladdin is a homeless beggar on the streets of fictional middle eastern Agrabah. He gets enlisted by the Sultan's villainous vizier Jafar to obtain a magic lamp, but ends up unleashing the Genie trapped inside himself. Aladdin then uses the Genie's magic to transform himself into a prince in order to try and impress the princess he's fallen in love with.
However, while some find the new movie weak, for the most part, critics are giving the new film, passing, if not stellar grades. Variety finds the melding of live-action and CGI to be a task uniquely suited to a stylish director like Guy Ritchie...
Where the director really shines is in melding practical elements with virtual ones. Whether making Smith’s computer-enhanced and cerulean-skinned Genie look natural sharing the screen with Aladdin or swooping the camera along magic carpet rides through virtual sets, Ritchie’s style embraces the kind of expressionism needed to pull off such a fanciful tale.
One of the hardest jobs that the new Aladdin had to accomplish was making the Genie work. Robin Williams' version of the character from 1992 wasn't just great, it was iconic. It became one of the great animation performances of all time. How in the blue hell does Will Smith try to take on a role like that, still make it feel like Disney's Genie, while somehow avoiding a comparison that is not going to go well?
Many reviews think that Will Smith did a good job, or at least a good enough, job, in that regard. THR says Smith infused the role with his own personality and made it work, even if the CGI maybe doesn't work all the time...
Smith, faced with the impossible task of living up to Robin Williams' iconic voice performance, easily makes the role his own. His infectious personality shines throughout, and he even manages to infuse his martini-swilling Genie with moving emotional moments.
The Genie does also get a bit more to do in this version of the film. He spends a large part of the story "disguised" as human in order to actually play a part in the story beyond simply being the source of magic when needed.
The top performances in the new Aladdin however, clearly belong to the two human lead characters. Mena Massoud who plays the title character and Naomi Scott's Jasmine are getting generally positive reviews for their performances. As the New York Post puts it..
Massoud and Scott make a live-action “Aladdin” succeed on a different level than a cartoon can — as a teary romance. “A Whole New World” is more moving than the original.
The one way that the new Aladdin does make significant changes to the original animated movie is in the way it handles Princess Jasmine. She has a lot more agency in the new film, and even gets her own song, an original tune written for the film called "Speechless." If we're being honest, many reviews don't think the song is all that good, however nobody is blaming Naomi Scott's performance for that.
In the final analysis, it seems quite clear that if what you want from the new live-action Aladdin is a slightly modified version of the movie you already, know and love, then you will likely enjoy the new movie. If, however, you are looking for a movie that tries to do something creative with the popular property, you'll find the film lacking.
Based on the success of the Beauty and the Beast remake from a couple of years ago, it seems like moviegoers are perfectly happy with just getting the same story over again and so the new Aladdin may be about to make a billion dollars.
The new Aladdin hits theaters Friday.