by George Wolf
Stepping in for Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin was always going to be a thankless task, but while everyone was busy debating the casting of Will Smith, the director’s chair went largely unnoticed.
Could Guy Ritchie, who’s evolved from rough and tumble British crime capers (Snatch) to both big budget hits (Sherlock Holmes) and disasters (King Arthur), capture the magic of Disney’s best live action remakes?
Well, how many wishes does he have left?
The tale of “street rat” Aladdin (Mena Massoud) using the Genie (Smith) to get him next to Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) ends up feeling too stiff and self-conscious to ever let some real wonder out of the bottle.
The story arc has been altered slightly, leading to an earlier meeting between Aladdin and the Princess, and a relationship where the stakes don’t feel as high or the changes of heart as well-earned.
Reaction shots and choppy dialog (from Ritchie and co-writer John August) carrying an overly staged, exaggerated odor, while the Genie is plagued less by casting than by the less-than-cutting edge CGI.
Re-imagining the Genie character would have been a risky (but ambitious) move, and though Smith won’t make anyone forget Williams, he is hardly the big problem here. His charm is abundant and a valuable asset for the film, especially when the Genie takes human form.
His singing voice, though, is not strong. And strangely, neither is
Massoud’s, compounding the weaknesses in Ritchie’s bland vision for the musical numbers.
The Alan Menken/Howard Ashman tunes are still stellar, but the repeated addition of a new girl power anthem for Jasmine (“Speechless“) ranks as forgettable bait for an Original Song Oscar nod.
And while I’m ranting, maybe we could have an extra thirty second buffer to decompress before the ubiquitous cry of “DJ Khaled!” signals an oncoming pop mix for the closing credits?
Even the best directors have struggled with musicals (Attenborough’s misguided A Chorus Line and Eastwood’s limp Jersey Boys jump to mind), and though Aladdin didn’t originate on the stage, the music sequences demand a pizzazz that Ritchie is helpless to present.
He seems much more comfortable with film’s darker edges, and an intensely slimy turn from Marwan Kenzari as Jafar helps the villain’s quest for absolute power find some needed gravitas.
Look, the film still offers some perfectly fine moments of overly manufactured family entertainment that will make many parents nostalgic for the original. But after the live-action heights hit by The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast, this Aladdin is a carpet ride missing much of its magic.