‘Aladdin’ Review

Utterly unnecessary, but not charmless

Aladdin

As someone who was expecting to hate Aladdin, allow me to say right off the bat: I didn't hate Aladdin.

Sure, it's a completely unnecessary bit of corporate cannibalism combining nostalgia for a beloved piece of intellectual property and a beloved Hollywood star. Yes, if it's a hit, it's likely to further diminish the universe of filmmaking by trapping us deeper within the cycle of reboots and remakes. Granted, it's at least 20 minutes too long, clocking in at almost 40 minutes longer than its predecessor. Yeah, you're probably better off staying at home and watching the original cartoon (assuming you own a physical copy; it doesn't seem to be streaming anywhere for the nonce).

If you're able to set all that aside, Aladdin is occasionally charming, especially when Will Smith is allowed to do more than imitate Robin Williams, who voiced the original cartoon's genie.

Assuming you're familiar with the 1992 original, you're familiar with the bare bones of the story here: Agrabah street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud) falls in love with Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and is convinced by Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) to enter the Cave of Wonders and retrieve a magic lamp, inside of which resides the genie (Will Smith). Aladdin and the Genie, who longs for freedom, conspire to win Aladdin the hand of Jasmine, yada yada yada, hijinks ensue, true love wins the day, as always.

It is, frankly, impossible to consider this film on its own merits, given that it is a remake of a beloved property—often a shot-for-shot, if not quite note-for-note, remake. And Aladdin is at its worst when it is trying to ape the jokes and songs of its predecessor. Why hire someone like Will Smith and then try to get him to sing like Robin Williams? It just sounds off. He's flat, or maybe he's pitchy, or maybe he's both, I dunno, I'm neither a singer nor a singing coach. But I do have ears, and he sounds all wrong.

But only when he's singing. When Smith's rapping—when he's in rhythm, when he's more natural—he sounds great. Likewise, when Smith is asked to do an impression of the Williams-voiced cartoon, it comes off as flaccid and insincere. But when Smith imbues the genie with his natural charm, the whole enterprise almost feels like it has a reason for existing: I laughed out loud several times when Smith played the Genie less like a Robin Williams impersonator and more like matchmaking expert Hitch. Will Smith's star may have dimmed a bit over the last decade, but he's still incredibly charming when director Guy Ritchie lets him be.

As are Massoud and Scott as the lovestruck couple; Scott in particular has a set of pipes (though asking her to sing a terrible grrrl power anthem about speaking her mind, an original song for this film, was probably a misstep), and the two get along famously. Kenzari is appropriately villainous as Jafar, and Nasim Pedrad is entertainingly deadpan as a handmaid for Princess Jasmine. The cast is top notch; no complaints there.

Considered all on its own, Aladdin might be a completely acceptable big budget family-friendly piece of entertainment: occasionally charming; a bit overstuffed. But, again, we can't really consider it on its own here. It's beholden to the past, a shadow of its predecessor. It can only be compared to the original.

And since that's the case: If you have the choice, why not stick with the original?