de facto film reviews 2 stars

As Disney continues to remake every last one of their classic animated films, they are starting to dig into the films of the last Disney Renaissance. Many of their classics from the 80s and 90s are beginning to enter development for their own live-action adaptations. The first was 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, which was a massive success despite just being a so-so film. Now the next one to arrive in theaters is the live-action remake of the 1992 classic Aladdin.

In the fictional Arabian town of Agrabah, the young street thief Aladdin (Mena Massoud) spends his days mooching off the citizens and making the most out of his penniless life with his monkey Abu. One day, he meets a girl on the street, who turns out to be the disguised princess of the city, Jasmine (Naomi Scott). She wants to explore and help her people, something she can’t do since she’s trapped in the castle by her father, the Sultan.

Aladdin is soon dragged into a deal with Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the Sultan’s right-hand man, who offers him a chance at riches if he retrieves an oil lamp from a place called the Cave of Wonders. He fails to escape the cave, but with the lamp in his possession, he discovers it contains an all-powerful and eccentric Genie (Will Smith). The Genie offers Aladdin the chance at three wishes, and he sees the opportunity to win the heart of Jasmine by pretending to be a prince. But the journey will lead him to discover what truly matters in life.

Much like most of Disney’s live-action remakes, Aladdin does a great job translating the visual aspects of it’s animated original into the real world. Unfortunately, the end result feels all too close to the original, and it feels wholly useless. The production design, costume design, and visual effects match the look of the original, but the story fails to add enough new content to make any substantial changes to the film.

The problem begins with the story. The film feels like it’s nothing but a shot-for-shot redo of the original. It fully recreates several shots and scenes from the original with no changes at all. The story does introduce some new elements, but they all are so underdeveloped that they either feel shoehorned in or they really take you out of the moment. One of which being a new relationship between the Genie and a new character, which doesn’t do anything except set up a useless frame narrative that never comes back after it’s introduced.

Despite the ethnically appropriate cast, there are times where they stumble as well. As hard as she tried, Naomi Scott just didn’t cut it as Jasmine. It didn’t feel like she really became the character. She just feels like she is there to fill the role. Though she looked somewhat like the original character, her performance just didn’t cut it in the end.

Even Massoud’s performance as Aladdin tends to slip in places. He’s probably the closest when it comes to fully embracing his character. For the most part, it feels like he really is Aladdin, both in physical appearance and personality. However, it’s his singing that really messes him up. He doesn’t fully stick the landing during the musical numbers, and at times it feels kind of distracting.

Speaking of the musical numbers, that’s another area of the film that really takes you out of the moment. While the numbers in the original felt very natural and essential to the story, some of them in this new version don’t really blend with what’s going on at that point. The new renditions of the original’s classic numbers aren’t as good as the ones before, and the new songs don’t really blend with the film’s setting or situations.

It was also hard to buy Will Smith as the Genie. He did have to try and live up to the brilliant performance of the late Robin Williams in the original, which is a near-impossible feat. He does try to bring his own signature charm to the character, which works to a certain degree. But most of the time, it feels like he’s just recreating what Williams did, and even his own charm doesn’t work all the time for the character.

However, the worst performance of the film by far is Marwan Kenzari as Jafar. In the original, Jafar is an older, meaner sorcerer with a deep and menacing voice. That makes him a real intimidating villain. Kenzari’s high-pitched voice makes him sound like the nerdy guy who always tries to act cool, which causes people to resent his presence. He has a voice that just makes you want to punch him in the face. Disney was restricted with casting, but they could’ve done a better job finding someone more menacing for Jafar.

The use of CGI also tends to bring the film down. It’s really easy to tell that most of the film’s visuals are computer generated. There are portions where the CGI distracts from what’s going on, especially when it comes to the Genie. The cartoony appearance of the character in the original worked for his constant shape-shifting, but now that it’s Will Smith muscular body, the changing of his shape and size just looks weird.

Aladdin attempts to duplicate the original film, but it never feels like it wants to recreate the magic. The production and costume designs are beautiful to look at, but the over-use of CGI makes it feel very corporate. The cast doesn’t entirely work, and nothing of any real value is added to the story to justify it’s existence. Like the other Disney live-action remakes, it’s beautiful to look at, but all it makes me want to do is watch the far superior original instead.