Disney’s Aladdin review: saved by Will Smith’s Genie magic

The magic carpet ride that was supposed to be Disney’s Aladdin started of with a slight cinema malfunction that proved to be more entertaining than the first 20 minutes of the movie itself.

When we sat down for the famed remake of the 1992 animated classic, we were treated to several minutes of black screen with a small Will Smith-sounding audio spoiler, which revealed that the Genie would be narrating the story.

The movie was then restarted so we could all see what was happening on a boat awkwardly placed close to a huge ship to emphasise one of Aladdin’s many themes – quality is not always the same as quantity.

And Aladdin certainly went for quantity, with a one-actor dose of quality.

The movie’s opening credits begin with Will Smith’s heavily auto-tuned version of “Arabian Nights”The song-narration then rushes us through Jafar discovering that only a “diamond in the rough” can enter the Cave of Wonders, before settling on Aladdin himself.

The “street rat” comes into life as a somewhat awkward but charming thief, with his own healthy share of auto-tuning in misplaced musical transitions.

In fact, one of my biggest peeves with the movie is the clumsy changes from dialogue to song.

After the rushed intro, the movie slows down considerably to map out Aladdin’s first meeting with Jasmine, who is equally awkward yet charming. More often than not, the love birds chemistry coupled with their singing left me feeling like I was watching a Disney Channel original.

After what felt like several hours of watching the cringe unfold, I couldn’t help wondering when we would get to The Cave of Wonders so Genie could show up and add some sass to the story.

First however, we needed to be reintroduction to Jafar, the biggest disappointment of the entire two hours and some minutes.

Jafar has always been one of the scarier, more sinister villains in the Disney universe to me, and I was expecting to be on edge in the presence of his live-action self. Unfortunately, the 2019 Jafar is barely evil and instead comes across as unrealistically ambitious, pretentious and largely big-headed.

I do firmly believe an older actor would have better suited the domineering role.

Even though Disney’s Aladdin was riding on a solid three out of 10 for a good few scenes, the movie wasn’t all that bad though.

To be perfectly honest, I was worried that Will Smith would be the worst thing about Aladdin, but he was by far the best Genie he could be in the shadow of Robin William’s iconic rendition of the same character.

The singing borders on the likes of High School Musical where it needed to be Frozen

Despite Genie and Aladdin’s meeting being the movie’s winning awkward moment, Smith’s on screen presence brings life and colour to the story in all his blue glory.

With just the right blend of wit, spice and innuendo, Genie is genuinely funny. Smith also brings an added emotional depth to the character, whose greatest wish is to be freed from the lamp so he can become human.

Smith’s personality does not overshadow Genie’s character either, and comes through in subtle hints. The actor, who admitted to drawing inspiration for Genie from his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days, incorporates hip-hop into speech, lyrics and dance moves throughout the movie.

This gives Genie a fun, revitalised flavour and something for a 2019 audience to relate to.

Once Genie shows up, the choreography in Aladdin scores the movie some much needed brownie points as well. The musical numbers, though still auto-tuned and acted out awkwardly, feature excellent dance sequences from all the actors too.

Even the music gets better in the second half of the movie, where melodies become vibrant and exciting. I also enjoyed the cultural nuances present in both the music and costume design, however found the mix of Arab and American accents among main and secondary characters distinctly inconsistent.

Jasmine gets upgraded from birthday-girl who needs to get married, to princess-seeking-to-rule-as-future-sultan who needs to get married

As comic relief, Aladdin’s side-kick monkey Abu and the Magic Carpet end up being two wonderfully cute elements in the story. In Fact, Carpet has one of the best personalities among the cast, and the animators do a very good job of personifying the rug using its movement and interaction with other characters.

Jafar’s parrot Iago, on the other hand, barely serves a purpose beyond randomly blurting out funny words or suddenly revealing important information. The bird often feels misplaced, and his humour forced, throughout the film.

In this version of Aladdin Jasmine gets upgraded from birthday-girl who needs to get married, to princess-seeking-to-rule-as-future-sultan who needs to get married. The shift in narrative is great for 2019, but the songs used to support the girl-power theme also feel misplaced in the overall story.

While this could be blamed on editing, Jasmine’s side-story features confusing songs that juggle with the movie’s pacing. Actress Naomi Scott, who plays the princess, also performs each song quite dramatically, taking the audience from remastered nostalgic classic to Demi Lovato music video real quick.

Carpet has one of the best personalities among the cast

If you’re wondering how “A Whole New World” fares in this Aladdin, don’t get your hopes up, like I did. The song, which is meant to be a key highlight, lacks depth and the sense of adventure I was expecting. The scene is beautiful, yes, but the singing borders on the likes of High School Musical where it needed to be Frozen.

Despite its cringey moments, clumsy pacing and questionable casting, Disney’s Aladdin nailed it when it came to Genie, choreography and comedy.

If you’re sentimental about the classic, this updated version will almost definitely get on your nerves, but if you push through there are some great funny, inspiring and emotional moments.

I’m certain, however, that most of the film’s budget was split between Will Smith, the CGI department and the costume designers.

Oddly enough though, Aladdin is worth the watch. Genie is, after all, far too brilliant to miss out on.

Feature image: screenshot, Disney via YouTube

Shereesa Moodley
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