'Aladdin' - The same old world, just in live-action

Aladdin

Please, close your eyes.

Aladdin came out less than a week ago and it already feels like this movie never even existed and was just kind of some weird fever dream. Mark my words, a couple of years down the road and you’re going to have to remind people that this abomination — yes, abomination — was real.

Strap in folks, because here we go.

Aladdin is another Disney live-action remake of one of their original folks. Yes, we’ve already had Dumbo earlier this year (which, all things considered, was fine) and, for some unknown, God forsaken reason, we have a Maleficent sequel coming this fall, but apparently the powers at be thought we needed THREE of them this year.

Some quick background, for those who might be unfamiliar with the property. The tale of Aladdin was originally told in “One Thousand and One Nights,” which is a collection of Middle Eastern short stories.

In 1992, Disney adapted that into a feature-film, Aladdin, which really needs no introduction at this point. Not only was it huge tentpole film for the studio, but it also gave us one of the best-animated performances of all time — that being Robin Williams as the Genie.

Aladdin
credit: YouTube

Instead of just, you know, leaving the property alone and respecting our childhoods, Disney thought it was time to bring Aladdin back into the limelight, just like they did with Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and Jungle Book.

That’s not enough for you? Don’t worry, because a live-action remake of Lady in the Tramp, The Hunchback of Notre Dam and Lilo & Stitch are on their way, too!

Can someone please stop this train? I want to get off.

At this point, you probably know the story, but here it goes anyway. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a young Agrabahan thief who travels around the market with his monkey, Abu, stealing literally anything he can get his hands on. Bread, jewelry, other people’s personal belongs — it doesn’t matter. If he can grab it, he’s going to take it.

And yet, we’re supposed to be rooting for him just because he’s, quote-on-quote, nice. I mean, maybe they could have made some kind of social statement here, right? About how Aladdin is forced to steal because the kingdom is so corrupt, or something like that? But, nope, it’s just because that’s who Aladdin is and we’re expected to accept that.

Aladdin
credit: YouTube

One day, Aladdin is out causing mischief when he bumps into Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) — a woman he instantly decides he’s going to marry without ever asking her if she’s okay with that. I mean, he does eventually get called out on that, but it’s played as a joke that is then never brought up again, so……

This movie, guys. It’s not good.

Aladdin can’t marry Jasmine because he’s not a prince, so he heads back to his hide-out spot when he bumps into Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari). Jafar promises to give all the riches and power that Aladdin wants should he just do one, teeny-tiny favor for him — he’s got to go into a cave and fetch a lamp.

All of us audience members are aware (you know, since we’ve already all seen this movie before hghjkkhgk) that inside the lamp is a magical genie — who is very creatively named, “Genie” (Will Smith).

That Genie grants whoever the lamps three wishes and, since Aladdin figured this all out before he gave it Jafar, now means that our hero possesses this power and yadda, yadda, yadda. At this point, you either already know the whole story to this movie or you don’t care.

Aladdin
credit: YouTube

It goes without saying that the 1992 Aladdin is a classic. Despite some racial dynamics that probably don’t hold up to modern day audiences (Aladdin himself is practically white, while several of the supporting characters fall prey to stereotypes) it’s a movie many of us grew up watching and loving. Plug it in now and it’s still a tight 90-minute thrill ride with some good humor and heart.

Despite the annoyed tone, I don’t even hate all the Disney live-action reboots, either. Cinderella and The Jungle Book are both good. Beauty and the Beast is fine. Alice in Wonderland, Pete’s Dragon and Christopher Robin, well, the less said the better.

The difference between the good and bad films, in this case, usually comes down to the director and crews freedom/vision. If they set out to make as faithful of a remake as possible, we usually get a bland, forgettable movie that didn’t need to exist in the first place. If we get a director who actually has his own spin on the property, we get something like Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella — a movie that knows when and when not to pay homage to the original animation while also telling its own tale.

Aladdin easily falls into the former category and, quite honestly, might be the worst offender yet. This is nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the 1992 version with practically nothing new to offer (and yet, this still somehow has a runtime over two-hours long and boy, oh boy, do you feel it).

Guy Ritchie — yes, THAT Guy Ritchie — directs this movie and you’d never really know it apart from a few slow-motion shots. This is a corporate machine, through and through, that was made just to cash in on people’s nostalgia.

Aladdin
credit: YouTube

I mean, I know King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a major bomb and all, but I’d still way rather see a PROPER Guy Ritchie telling of this tale rather than this lifeless incarnation. Or, better yet, just come up with something entirely new. There’s, like, all kinds of stories inside “One Thousand and One Nights” — why can’t we tell a different one of those?

I will give credit to the cast, as you can see they’re trying as hard as they can. Massoud and Scott are both relatively new actors (Scott was in Power Rangers, but not a whole lot before that) who I really hope get more work after Aladdin. Neither of them has much to do, here, but you can see them putting in their best effort nonetheless.

Will Smith is playing Will Smith. Granted, that’s better than him trying to carbon-copy the Genie and he can even be entertaining at times, but at the end of the day it still just feels like we’re watching a version of Hitch that’s set in the desert.

Take a look at that cast and it seems like a positive step forward for diversity. On one level, it is. It’s great that a big blockbuster like this is dominated by people of color (Billy Magnussen is still thrown in there just because the studios said they needed at least one white guy) and it’s something we should see more of.

Yet, on another level, there’s a question that needs to be asked — that being a question that I am in no way qualified to answer, but it’s a topic that still needs to be addressed. Does this movie, really, represent Middle Eastern culture in a fair and accurate kind of way?

Aladdin
credit: YouTube

Maybe it does — I’m not Middle Eastern so I really can’t say. Yet, I think of something like Crazy, Rich Asians, where you watch any five minutes of that movie and you can clearly tell it was made by people who know, understand and have lived in Asian culture. Watch any five minutes of Aladdin and it looks like a very American interpretation of Middle Eastern culture — meaning it really doesn’t feel authentic, to say the least.

The fact that this was was directed by a white guy and written by two white guys really doesn’t help their case, either. And does anyone remember a couple of years ago when this movie was making headlines for using white actors in brown makeup as this film’s extras? You’re telling me that is, in any way, sensitive towards the Middle East?

Again, I want to tread lightly because it’s great to see a diverse cast like this take the number one spot at the box-office. Yet, I watch Aladdin and it just makes me angry, more than anything. At it’s best, this movie will make you think, ‘Oh yeah, I remember and liked it better when they did that in the animated movie.’ At it’s worse, well, you’ll wind up typing a heated 1,450-word review like this one.

Just, please, do better in the future, Disney. If you’re literally going to buy out every other studio and completely dominate all of entertainment, at least give us something to latch on to before you completely break Hollywood forever.

Watch the trailer for Aladdin here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!

'Aladdin' - The same old world [REVIEW]
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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.

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