“Aladdin” is Disney’s latest live version of one of its animated classics. Guy Ritchie directs, and Will Smith and some relatively unknown actors star. You don’t need a lot of story explanation. Aladdin lives in a fictional Middle Eastern country. He’s a thief with a trained monkey. The young man connects with the lovely Princess Jasmine and ends up as a major player in a palace coup.
Along the way Aladdin finds a magic carpet and a lamp with a genie inside. He gets three wishes.
In the last couple of days several people have asked me questions about the movie. Before I tell you my answers, let’s explore what isn’t being asked and that starts with addressing casting critics. For once they can rest easy. Except for Naomi Scott who plays Jasmine, Disney, the film’s producers and Ritchie did the politically correct thing and actually put actors of the right ethnicity in the leading roles.
As for the questions, let’s start with the music. These are the same songs you remember from the 1992 animated version plus a new one. It’s written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who did the music for “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.”
Not being a big fan of musicals, I’m not the best person to say whether the versions of the Howard Ashman, Alan Menkin and Tim Rice songs are as well done. None of them had me leaving the theater unable to get this song or that out of my mind.
As for the vocals and vocal quality, Smith may have been a star rapper in his day but when it comes to actual singing, he’s fairly monotone. Both Mena Massoud — who plays Aladdin — and Scott can sing. Sometimes the pumped up, overdone production gets in the way but at least they have vocal skills.
Fans also want to know if this Aladdin is the same story as the original. I’ve only seen the first film once. From what I remember, and from research, the answer is yes. Not much has changed.
It’s based on the script done by the original’s mind-boggling 20-writers and is written by John August whose body of work includes several Tim Burton films. While it’s not awful, the screenplay is stretched out. The 1992 movie ran 90-minutes. August and Ritchie give you 2:08.
Obviously, they padded the movie. The scenes are longer, the genie has a romance that wasn’t in the first film and Aladdin has more interaction with the lovely Jasmine.
The length of the film is my second highest criticism. An extra 38-minutes just doesn’t seem all that necessary to what is essentially a really fun adventure.
That leads to the most asked question and what’s most wrong with “Aladdin.” Everyone wants to know how Will Smith does as the genie? The simple answer? He’s no Robin Williams. Smith is adequate but not much more. To be fair, and even sometimes using lines from Williams’ original dialogue, he doesn’t have a chance in a million of doing anything close to what the late actor did in the 1992 classic.
Williams was so good, so funny, and so spontaneous that I would not only have nominated him for a best supporting actor Oscar and Golden Globe nomination, but I would have given him the awards.
Enough nostalgia. The question on the floor is about Smith. His version of the genie is blue and buffed up in — as Ritchie put it — a 1970s bodybuilder look. Except in a few instances, Smith’s genie — face, body and blueness — is almost totally CGI. While he’s not as good as Williams, Smith does have fun with the role. Or I should say he tries. He is a natural comedian and makes maximum use of his exceptional ability to toss off a witty one-liner.
He just doesn’t have enough of them.
Smith also doesn’t have the manic energy that helped make Williams’ performance and the animated movie so fun and funny. As for his co-stars? Massoud looks urchinly, street-wise and clever. Scott is drop-dead gorgeous and has that all-important regal look.
The reviews of “Aladdin” have been mixed. Ritchie is a clever director. Most of you know him for doing the three Sherlock Holmes movies that starred Robert Downey Jr. He did the last — and very dreadful — King Arthur film and gave us a redo of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” that had us crying uncle.
There is much to like about “Aladdin” but much not to like. In the end, I can’t really recommend the movie. Yes, kids will love it and the film is family friendly. But it’s overly-long and bloated.
Ritchie’s best films are his early efforts almost two-decades ago. They are the very, intense, pulse-pounding, quite creative and laugh-packed art house faves “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatched” and “RocknRolla.”
Ritchie would do well to return to his roots. “Aladdin” is too smooth, too polished and — in the end — just plain too much.
▪ Rated PG for mature themes. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Kennewick 12s, at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
▪ Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5