Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” has tested tunes (with a few new additions), a musical-ready star to play the genie and a good-looking pair lovers and an exotic location, but what it doesn’t have is a director who can handle the task of a musical movie. Guy Ritchie, who is making not only his first Disney movie, but also his first musical, has problems with the crowd-control and the color coordination design.
Timing, of course, is everything. “Aladdin” comes out a week before “Rocketman” which is helmed by the same man who directed last year’s rock musical: “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Unfortunately, “Aladdin” suffers in comparison. There is one musical number in “Rocketman” that handles the age transition of the pre-Elton John Reggie Dwight and mixes in dancers from different ethnic and social groups (Teddy Boys and Bollywood). It’s beautifully done with the choreography, cinematography and costume design creating an effortless flow.
This isn’t the case in Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin.” CGI-heavy in the worst way, “Aladdin” sinks under the weight of details in the architecture, interior design clutter and the rainbow of colorful garment.
You know the story, but this one starts with a boat–at first hidden by a much larger one. This one has one sail and a family–husband (Will Smith), wife (Nasim Pedrad) and two children. The husband begins to tell his kids a story from the “Arabian Nights.”
The audience is whisked away to Agrabah where we meet the pickpocket Aladdin (Mena Massoud) who with his monkey Abu first has someone attempt to steal from them, but Abu steals a necklace and is pursued (“One Jump Ahead”) which only yields one bag of dates. Before he can finish, Aladdin gives most of it to a poor starving family. That gives our rogue a Robin Hood goodness.
Another person concerned with starving kids, gives away two pieces of bread, but has no money to pay. Aladdin picks off her expensive bracelet and gives it to the bread merchant, but the merchant soon notices that he bracelet is gone. Aladdin is chased by the local law enforcement and escapes to his private hide-away with the woman who calls herself Dalia, but is really Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott).
From his rooftop view, Jasmine realizes that she must get back to her castle, but a misunderstanding leads them to part on bad terms–Abu has stolen her bracelet. To return it, Aladdin tricks the guards and does some parkour moves. He promises to return and takes her hair ornament to seal his promise,
Aladdin has caught the eye of the Sultan’s (Navid Negahban) most trusted advisor Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) via his scarlet macaw Iago (Alan Tudyk). We’ve already seen that Jafar has been taking lads out into the desert and sending them into the Cave of Wonders. The Cave of Wonders is entered through the mouth of the sand guardian who demands those that enter be worthy like “a diamond in the rough.” Jafar seduces Aladdin by reminding him that if he wants to court a woman used to life in a palace, he needs money to support her in luxury.
Aladdin goes into the the cave and passes all the treasures to get the lamp. On the way, he frees a magic carpet and just as he gets the lamp, Abu touches a large ruby, launching the curse. Aladdin and Abu almost escape, but as Aladdin is hanging on to the edge of a cliff, he hands the lamp to Jafar who instead of helping Aladdin and Abu up, stomps on Aladdin’s hand, sending him back down into the cave.
In the cave, Aladdin rubs the lamp and summons the genie, a blue Will Smith. Smith does his spiel about who he is and what he does (“Friend Like Me”), but the CGI is more cluttered and clunky than freewheeling and fun.
The genie gets Aladdin out and makes him into a prince after a few style decisions. Then he helps Aladdin make a grand entrance into Agrabah (“Prince Ali”). As a veteran viewer of many Rose Parades, I know what a good parade should look like and this scene wastes the efforts of many CGI artists. There are elephants, drummers and dancers, but the effect is not awe-inspiring.
Aladdin as Prince Ali from a fictional land is awkward and his first outing as a prince is filled with fumbled lines. He tries to make up with it by some genie-assisted cool moves at the dance, but Jasmine flees. The genie is interested in Jasmine’s handmaid, the real Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), and so both spend the evening courting with Aladdin/Prince Ali taking Jasmine for a soaring outing on the magic carpet (“A Whole New World”). This is probably the best musical piece in the whole movie.
Animal lovers will be disappointed. While Abu remains essential to the plot, Jasmine’s beloved Rajah is under utilized. Neither Abu nor Rajah nor Iago have good characterization and emotional pull.
Jafar gets the lamp from Aladdin and then makes himself all powerful and will force Jasmine to marry him. As this is a Disney princess musical, Aladdin will win back the princess and the genie will also have his happily-ever-after.
One wishes that this version might have used more modest costuming instead of going the belly dancing/cleavage baring route. Would it have been so bad to have lehengas or cholis? Am I the only one disturbed that live action Princess Jasmine’s costume emphasizes cleavage while Cinderella and Belle’s ballroom gowns do not? The dance at the palace could have better reflected Silk Route customs and that is a disappointment as well. That aside, none of the large cast musical scenes work and that’s an unforgivable fault for a musical on stage or on the silver screen. The colors, costuming and choreography are visual noise with a a rhythm or melodic center. Robin Williams made a great genie in the animated feature, but he wasn’t known for dancing. Ritchie had a musical star in the making with Will Smith, but totally botched his opportunity with the visually busy musical numbers. The big plus of this version is that Aladdin is played by a person of Egyptian descent (born in Cairo, but raised in Canada) and Jasmine is played by someone of Gujarati Indian descent. Massoud and Scott are a good looking couple, but rather bland although some of that might be the direction and exhaustive attention to set and costume details over nuanced performances. The leads are likable but the movie is a mess.
While there are some great costumes, this is a lackluster live-action movie and fans of “Aladdin” will be happier watching the animated feature.