By Tony Artiga
The Live-Action Disney adaptations have been a mixed bag thus far, with none of the films capturing the magic of their source material. In fairness, some like the Jungle Book and Maleficent, were more concerned with forging their own path cinematically. They were all the better for it as well, because the alternative is often lackluster offerings such as this year’s Dumbo. It’s in this area however that Guy Ritchie’s new Aladdin succeeds, in spite of its flaws.
It’s a visually appealing film with so much charm and applause worthy moments, that the flaws are more noticeable and ultimately all the more frustrating. Mena Massoud is earnest as Aladdin, but a bit underwhelming in such an extravagant production and Marwan Kenzari as Jafar is so bland, one wonders if he stumbled into the set of the wrong film. There are plenty of emotional moments that don’t quite land and some of the storytelling is choppy. The CGI is also a bit wonky at times, with the Genie sometimes falling into the uncanny valley, saved only by Will Smith’s sheer force of charisma.
The movie’s strengths, for me at least, outweigh its admittedly considerable flaws. The costume design is to die for, as is the production design and its musical numbers. Will Smith is magical as the Genie, striking a great balance between homage to Robin Williams and making the character very much his own. Nasim Pedrad adds a lot of charm and laughs as Dalia, a new character that in lesser hands would’ve run the risk of being a superfluous foil. But the real MVP is Naomi Scott, whose Jasmine anchors this film. The writing beefs up Jasmine’s narrative considerably and Scott is more than up to the challenge. It captures the energy and magic of its animated counterpart, at least in spectacle. The film calls back to the charms of Bollywood cinema, in its production design, choreography and even in musical arrangement. When the movie flies, it soars.
Ultimately, it’s a difficult movie to recommend in as much that while the flaws are hard to ignore, there’s so much charm and passion in this movie that it warrants consideration to see in a cinema. It truly is a diamond in the rough, with perhaps a tad more rough caked on.