REVIEW: Aladdin

DJ Khaled presents… The Fresh Genie of Arabian Nights.

A street urchin named Aladdin has his fate crossed with a magic lamp homing an almighty Genie whom intends to help Aladdin win the heart of the Princess Jasmine via an exclusive trio of wishes.

… so that’s it, huh? We’re some kind of suicide-inducing, bland, uninventive, boring, flat, unnecessary attempt at remaking 90s Disney animated magic? Go figure.

In this endless stream of Disney live-action reboots which promise to torture audiences with nostalgia to the end of days, I never actually thought I would come across one that would literally make me feel sick whilst watching it. The “Guy Ritchie” directed live-action version of Aladdin may just be the worst movie I have seen in 2019 – actually, there’s no current competition… this is by far the worst thing I have seen in cinemas this year. By. F******. Far.

Now most people may genuinely like this movie, because, without any effort, Aladdin 2019 was a beat for beat remake of the 90s original. And sure, its difficult not to give in to the good vibes of nostalgia, considering there’s a sense of unmatchable pleasure when you reach that euphoric state. It truly is difficult to turn a blind eye when nostalgia is used to sell a product to you; trust me, even I have fell for the nostalgia trap before. With nostalgia, a studio does not necessarily have to “try” to make a quality production but instead rely on your familiarity to the brand in order to sell it. Two years ago now, when the live-action Beauty and the Beast was released, I genuinely didn’t mind it and considered it rather charming. You know why? Because Disney had me by the balls with nostalgia. Since then, I haven’t exactly grown to “hate” the new Beauty and the Beast but more-or-less come to completely forget it, because that’s what happens to shallow remakes. These remakes, they’re forgotten so easily because all they are, are piss-poor attempts from Disney to cash-in on nostalgia. The only time they’re even remotely remembered is when a group of friends may watch the original and say “hey, remember that time they made a live-action Beauty and the Beast” and then the other friend would reply with a “no” and that would be the end of it – nothing but an afterthought: a waste of time.

I guess that’s why I like Tim Burton’s adaptations of Disney classics a bit more then forgettable nonsense like Beauty and the Beast and others, because at least the Burton ones try to be a bit distinctive. Actually, “like” is the wrong word – I would preferably say, I respect them. You see, at least Alice In Wonderland took a different, darker approach and at least Dumbo attempted to tell a separate story. No matter what, I’ll stand by Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book because its clearly better than the original anyway, but that’s also because that film had genuine heart and compassion evident in the filmmaking. All these other live-action reboots are, at very least, competent and well-made… its just that they don’t leave a lasting impact. Nobody remembers them. All they are, are commercials for Disney to usher attention back to their past classics and make a buck whilst they do it.

So, that finally brings me to Aladdin which is, without a doubt, my breaking point with Disney.

What was the point? Like seriously… what WAS the point?

If Disney could give me a good answer to why they allowed this version of Aladdin to be released in cinemas (without any easy spots for me to poke holes in), then fair game… but I doubt there would ever be an answer. In fact, I know the answer. I think we all do.

As I said before, these live-action reboots are, at the very least, competent. They are adequately made with no real problems that could be found in their technical production. Aladdin, though, wasn’t even that.

2019’s Aladdin could have very well been a TV movie for all the budget that went into making this “film” look good. I heard this movie was partly shot in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan, but I wouldn’t believe that, even if it were fact. Aladdin was too clean, too polished. It looked like the stage musical but without the audience. Everything just appeared like a set. Nothing ever looked real. The extras looked like extras. The locations looked like sound stages. The costumes looked like they were made for a dress up party… ok, ok, ok, I know the costume design has received praise from some critics, but you could not convince me otherwise that these costumes just didn’t fit the supposed world Aladdin took place in. The characters lived in a desert and yet nobody had a spec of dust on them. You would think a peasant like Aladdin would at least look a little mucky and wear clothes that would appear ragged but, of course, he looked like Mr Middle East 2019 with that recently ironed Amani outfit and sexy white grin. The lighting as well did no favours whatsoever, to make this movie look remotely like it had a budget. Aladdin was lit like a midday soap opera with everything appearing glossy and bright in every damn frame…

Funny thing is, you know what else was shot in Jordan? Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and just take a look at that movie. Ever noticed how dusty, grimy and unpleasant that film looked, but in a good way? Its not impossible for a Hollywood production to actually use the settings effectively, the costuming effectively and the lighting effectively, in service of a more invitingly fascinating and real world. The Last Crusade looked like Jordan; Aladdin didn’t. Aladdin literally looked like a Hollywood backlot with CGI tweaks here and there.

I guess Aladdin appeared its most pleasant and visually arresting during its sequences shot in the dark, like say the “Whole New World” sequence or the Cave of Wonder sequence. Yet, considering this movie dragged audiences through the light of day for at least 80% of the runtime, trying to find positives in Aladdin‘s visual style is pointless.

Speaking of visual style… what the f*** Guy Ritchie?

If I didn’t know Guy Ritchie had directed Aladdin, I wouldn’t know Guy Ritchie had directed Aladdin. Long gone are the days Ritchie could even remotely be called an auteur. Remember the Guy Ritchie who directed Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels? Or Snatch? Or even those heavily underrated Sherlock Holmes films that were put on hold because Robert Downey Jr. was making too much money with Iron Man and therefore allowed himself to be owned by Marvel for a decade… sorry, little tangent there. You see, THAT Guy Ritchie was no where to be seen in Aladdin. Even Ritchie’s more recent attempts at blockbuster filmmaking like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword may not have necessarily been the best of Ritchie’s work, but at least they were exclusively in the style of Ritchie. Aladdin was almost like they hired Ritchie purely as a name to stick on the poster and then gave him a mountain of money to go on holiday and stay as far away from the project as possible so the producers could direct the movie in their vision. Problem is that a committee has no vision and as a result Aladdin looked and acted like a soulless product resulting from a board meeting where a bunch of old guys tried investigating what kids find “hip” nowadays and how they can incorporate it into their million dollar reboot.

Aladdin just looked and sounded so flat. Nothing at all stood out or felt like it was attempting to make a statement with its visuals. Even the musical elements struggled as a result. At least Bill Condon, director of Beauty and the Beast, understood musicals and therefore could make that element of the film work, but Guy Ritchie (the same guy who filmed Vinnie Jones slamming a man’s head in the door of car repeatedly) evidently had no clue where to start when shooting a musical. There was no wonder, no ore or any of the needed elements to make a musical a musical. There was no magic in the shots as the camera movements never appeared creative or fantastical but rather dull and stilted. A musical should be big and bombastic and so in your face it could be taken as kind of cheesy. Aladdin attempted to adopt a Bollywood feel, but even that eventually blew up in its face. The only time a musical number genuinely worked was ‘Friend Like Me’, but even that just felt like a repetitive riff on something audiences know to have already been done better.

In saying that though, I guess that’s a good Segway into my thoughts on Will Smith’s Genie.

Look… he was probably the best part of the movie.

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(Daniel Smith 2019)

Please, let me explain when I say, I’m not the biggest Will Smith fan. Thing is, I thought Smith was amazing during the 90s but as time has moved on he hasn’t exactly moved on with it. Smith acts as if he’s still this massive 90s persona, like a dad who considers himself still in with the youngsters, but he’s just kind of… well, lame. I have nothing against the guy, I just think he’s not as cool as he thinks he is. I was worried when Smith was cast as the Genie for Aladdin and like everyone else I found his initial CGI blue look in the trailers so unapologetically hilarious and off-putting. Yet.. in a surprise turn, it was everything I don’t like about Will Smith that kind of saved moments of Aladdin for me.

Smith was charismatic, colourful and an all matter of joyous in the role of the Genie. Although at times he felt as if he was slightly mimicking Robin Williams at points, Smith at least did good enough to inject a bit of “omf” into the film – some much needed character. Yet, to fuel my unflinching cynicism, I cannot help but think Smith’s Genie only worked because, well, everything else didn’t. Say you were to excrete in a pool of vomit, that’s what Smith’s Genie was kind of like – a pile of sh*t standing out in sick.

Speaking about sh*t and being sick, can we talk about the CGI and general character design for the Genie? The visual effects were so wonky and unpleasant as if there was an element of uncanny valley. I’ve said this time and time again, but I would like to refrain it again: somethings were made in animation for a reason. The Genie was a creation of animation and not for live action. The animated version had the freedom to take any shape, size and appearance without being too weird; the live-action version attempted to do the same, but managed to instead make Will Smith’s computer clone join the Blue Man Group in your freakiest of nightmares. You know what Will Smith’s Genie looked like? Say if the Hulk, instead of landing on the planet, Sakaar, in Thor: Ragnarok, instead landed on Pandora, from Avatar, and took the role of Sam Worthington, impregnating one of those tall weird aliens and pumping out a baby… that baby would then grow up in a swamp with a sentient donkey as his only friend. Now swap, the swamp for a lamp and the donkey for a carpet and you have Will Smith’s Genie.

As for the rest of the cast, Mena Massoud was fine as Aladdin, I guess. A little too cartoony at points, but he wasn’t terrible. Naomi Scott definitely stood out as one of the better performers in the film in her updated, more empowered role of Jasmine. The rest of the cast were honestly way too interchangeable… apart from one. I don’t know whom it was who said that Jafar should be played by Marwan Kenzari, but they should be removed from their spot on the Disney roundtable and kicked out of Hollywood immediately. Seriously? This was the best choice for JAFAR? Kenzari was all matters of awful in this role to the point I audibly cringed and laughed at 99% of his lines, especially towards the end of the movie. In Jafar’s very first scene, in fact, I turned to my friend in the cinema (very mild spoilers) and whispered, “Jafar will 100% lose his sh*t and kill the first henchmen who delivers him bad news”… and what do you think happened?

2019’s Aladdin was just laughable at the end of the day. I didn’t know what to do by the end of the movie but just laugh. I have never seen a movie go so downhill in a matter of seconds before even starting. By the end I was nearing stitches by the amount of clichés, bad writing, bad acting and piss poor direction that the movie showcased in a seemingly proud manner. And trust me, I wasn’t laughing at Aladdin in the way it wanted me to laugh at it. Aladdin tried so painstakingly hard to be funny to the point it would stretch out such painstakingly awkward “comedy” scenes that I was shocked someone was actually sitting behind the camera (and it couldn’t have been Guy Ritchie since he was evidently on holiday in Paris through the whole production) and happily said “yes” when asked if he or she got the take they wanted. For instance, Billy Magnussen was in this movie… why, you ask? Who the hell knows?! It sure as heck was not comedy relief since he appeared for a total of about two scenes, each five seconds long and each too ridiculous to even exist!

So yeah… I really did not like Aladdin. This movie nearly broke me, to the point I loudly, several times in the cinema, groaned or slammed my head into my hands because I couldn’t believe what I was watching. There’s so much more about this movie I wish I could tear to shreds, but I think I have stolen enough of your time by now. Speaking on time, let me just leave you with this: the original Aladdin was a 90 minute film – how long do you think 2019’s Aladdin stretched on for? 128 minutes! So there you have it: two versions of literally the same film and yet one was snappier, more succinct, cleaner and tidier… and that one was an hand drawn animation from the early 90s. Three wishes, my ass.

Aladdin, without a doubt in my mind, belongs in the… THEATRE OF DOOM!

 

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