Please forgive the pun, but the new Disney “Aladdin” rubbed this critic the wrong way. This film – about a street urchin who frees a wish-granting genie from a lamp and transforms himself into a prince in order to win the heart of a princess – continues the studio’s highly dubious trend of remaking its animated hits as live-action extravaganzas. This may make commercial sense but in every other respect, the results don’t begin to measure up to the animated originals, some of which weren’t exactly classics anyway.
Take, for example, the rejiggerings of “The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” and “Dumbo.” None of these live-action iterations came close to the visual inventiveness or wit of their sources at their best.
The 1992 “Aladdin” was not even top-drawer Disney animation, but it showcased Robin Williams’ Genie in perhaps the best and funniest animation performance of all time. Guy Ritchie, who directed and co-wrote the new version, is a specialist in cacophonous, ultra-violent crime capers (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) so it’s not clear why he was chosen to direct a children’s classic, and a musical to boot. (Most of Alan Menken’s original score, plus a new, unexciting song, “Speechless,” are back.) No big surprise that the musical numbers in “Aladdin” are cloddishly staged by Ritchie. There are no speeding cars, no brass knuckles, no firepower to juice things up.
As Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are so flavorless and squeaky-clean that they might almost be mistaken for CGI effects, of which there are plenty in this film, almost all of them cheesy. As the princess’s handmaiden, Nasim Pedrad at least has the comic timing that the rest of the cast, including, surprisingly, Will Smith, conspicuously lack. Smith understandably didn’t want to compete with Williams, but as the big, blue, top-knotted Genie, he’s uncharacteristically bland. Even the magic carpet in this movie looks bummed out.
Next up later this July is the live-action “The Lion King.” I hope this film will be an improvement over these others, but until then, I’m withholding my roar.