Movie Guru: Will Smith better than expected in charming, imperfect ‘Aladdin’
Rated: PG for some action/peril
Screenplay by: John August and Guy Ritchie
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen and more
Guru’s grade: Three stars
A lot of movies these days are pretty pictures without a good story. It’s rare to find one with the opposite problem.
Disney’s live-action adaption of “Aladdin,” however, somehow manages to be that movie. It has the best script of the live-action adaptations thus far, keeping the magic of the original and making changes that only improve upon it. It even has a good cast, especially if you can forgive Will Smith for not being Robin Williams and just appreciate him for who he is.
Unfortunately, huge chunks of the movie look as fake and closed-in as one of those “live” musicals filmed for TV. The CGI is also not the best, especially if you look beyond the cute non-human sidekicks. This is most obviously a problem with Genie’s blue form, which already looks weird and artificial enough as it is.
The movie follows the animated storyline pretty closely, following the adventures of a young thief named Aladdin. The biggest ways it expands on that story is by bringing in another significant female character and giving Jasmine more action and character motivation. It also gives Jafar a lightly sketched-out backstory that actually increases the thematic significance of the entire movie.
The film also plays with some of the scenes that were mostly ignored in the original, transforming an awkward moment into what may be the most hilarious scene in the movie.
The cast is fun, with Mena Massoud embracing Aladdin’s true nature as a charming, good-hearted idiot and Naomi Scott giving Jasmine both dignity and a sense of humor. Nasim Pedrad is a treat as a new character, Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia.
Then, of course, there’s Genie. There’s an inevitable period where you mourn the fact that Will Smith isn’t Robin Williams, but once you get past that, he does a good job. He even has a nice rapport with Massoud, which is important.
But the flatness and artificiality is dramatic enough to be a constant distraction. The credits say some of the movie was filmed on location, but most of the scenes scream “sound stage” so loudly that I can practically see the tech crew scurrying around. Some of the camera choices only add to the effect, constantly framing characters like we are watching them on a stage.
The CGI was hit or miss, but some of the misses were dramatic. It was bad enough at one point to leech the drama out of what should have been a frightening moment.
But if you can look past appearances, the live-action “Aladdin” has plenty to recommend it. Like the titular character, you might even call it a diamond in the rough.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.