VOD film review: Aladdin (2019)
Mark Harrison | On 24, Sep 2019
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban
Watch Aladdin (2019) online in the UK: Disney+ / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
As Disney continues to tear through its animated back catalogue with live-action remakes, Aladdin represents the middle ground of 2019’s offerings. It’s not as much of a departure from the source material as Tim Burton’s Dumbo, nor is it quite as slavishly reverent and repetitive as Jon Favreau’s The Lion King. Still, Guy Ritchie’s affable do-over is not without its charms.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one, but on the streets of Agrabah, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a streetwise young thief who steals a meagre living for himself and his monkey, Abu. However, chance encounters with Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) lead him to the legendary Cave of Wonders, where a wise-cracking genie (Will Smith) grants him three wishes and, yeah, you should know the plot by now.
If there’s any tonal disjoint here, it’s that the film’s striving to be a great big, part-Bollywood, part-pantomime extravaganza, while sometimes comes out looking like a PG-rated, CG-loaded Game of Thrones. Where Ritchie’s old mucker Matthew Vaughn nailed the arch-fantasy comedy with 2007’s Stardust, the director has a bumpier time with his most family-friendly film to date, precisely because it’s a cover version of an existing property.
Unlike his Sherlock, his U.N.C.L.E, or even his franchise non-starter King Arthur, the pop-culture weight of 1992’s Aladdin allows for far less wiggle room. At best, all but one or two of these Disney live-action remakes are “longer and less good” than the tightly scripted, vibrantly animated films that inspired them, but Ritchie certainly goes down swinging.
The film may be at its weakest when getting Will Smith to repeat throwaway lines that Robin Williams improvised more than 20 years ago or searching for new arrangements of the beloved soundtrack, but happily, it’s also strongest in its revisionist moments.
Massoud is a likeable enough lead, but it’s Scott who gives the real star-making turn here, making the most of a more active and nuanced Disney Princessp. The script, co-written by Ritchie and John August, gives the character more depth and the casting seals it – she’s the first, best reason to watch this remake. Elsewhere, Smith is a born leading man, but it’s delightful to see him give a generous supporting performance like this one, showing off his comedy chops without overpowering the young leads. Plus, he’s finally singing over the end credits again.
When it’s so closely intertwined with the original, there’s arguably only so far they could go wrong with it. But to give credit where it’s due, we’ve seen elsewhere how boring a mere rehash can be and barring a couple of speed-bumps in the back end, this is lively enough to transcend a rather dull creative brief.
Disney’s new Aladdin can’t hold a candle to their previous run at it, but it’s an easy film to like. By the grace of Ritchie and the cast, it’s not the empty nostalgia exercise that certain other remakes are. There’s already a sequel in development and this undeniably charming new edition leaves you wanting to see more.
Aladdin (2019) is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.
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Photo: Daniel Smith / Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.