It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to recapture lightning-in-a-bottle (or, more appropriately, magic in a lamp). The ‘lightning’ in this scenario being, of course, the masterpiece that is 1992’s Aladdin, a true showcase of the very best that animation could accomplish; filled to the brim with wonderful characters, stunning colors and artistry, and a gorgeous soundtrack. Aladdin is the latest film to get the ‘live-action remake’ treatment that has been occurring at The Walt Disney Company, sandwiched between Dumbo and The Lion King this year, but unlike some of its predecessors that work spectacularly (see: Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon, and even just a little bit of Beauty and the Beast), Aladdin struggles to recapture the unparalleled magic set before it.
Perhaps the case for this is that for much of its runtime, Aladdin has a difficult time choosing whether it wants to be its own unique film, or if it wants to be a complete remake of the original Disney film. This is where the film struggles with its identity, as it feels like there’s a really great movie underlying what appears to be segments of their own films. Whereas most of it feels like a rehash of the 1992 movie, there’s a lot of original ideas laying just at the surface, but instead of allowing those ideas to flourish, Aladdin chooses to hit the same story beats as the original, often lifting dialogue directly from the original, or playing out the exact same sequences, just out of sequence. Part of what makes The Jungle Book such an enamoring example of a great remake is that it pulls much inspiration from the original Rudyard Kipling tale while blending homage with the previous Disney version. As a Disney fan that wants to see these films succeed, I believe that if Aladdin pulled more inspiration from the original Middle Eastern folk tale or explored further new ideas, rather than just hitting on the same beats as the original film, it would have resulted in a far more interesting final production.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of new content to be found here. In fact, Will Smith’s iteration of Genie, for the most part, doesn’t really attempt to recapture the magic of Robin Williams, and that’s probably for the best. Instead, Smith has the freedom to create his own iteration of the character and once audiences can see that his Genie isn’t meant to recapture the magic of Robin Williams, rather than being something equally fun and fresh, the heart of the movie begins to click in just a little bit better. Smith offers up a refreshing take on the character that is by far the most fun element of the movie and is also the character who gets the most interesting arc. There are even a few surprising twists to be found in this movie to surprise fans of the original, some good and some that will leave viewers wondering if much of this was really worth exploring. The songs, despite being from 1992, feel fresh and new, including a new song written by Alan Menken that even if feels a bit out of place, still works quite well.
Elsewhere, the new content is quite a mixed bag that seems to borrow almost everything from its predecessor from the mundane (his name is Prince Ali from Ababwa, not Prince Ali Ababwa) to changing entire character traits (i.e, turning the goofy clumsy Sultan into a gloomy dull one). It seems there is no room for colorful animal sidekicks in this one, turning fan-favorite Iago into quite a boring parrot, which little to do in the plot. While it shows that Iago never really had much of an impact on the story, it’s an example of what makes this movie feel slightly less fun than the last endeavor, and why the story that worked for one medium doesn’t always translate into a new one.
Considering the weight of the work that must go into creating a live-action remake of a beloved piece of Disney heritage, it’s impossible to imagine the work that must go into adapting a story from one medium to another, but one can’t help but draw the comparisons from the original animated one to the live-action one, because that seems what the film is preoccupied with. It adds story elements that fall flat and drags on, dedicated most of its time with Aladdin trying to please impress Princess Jasmine leading to questionable sequences with an odd showcase of dancing skills that are a few centuries ahead of its time, that would even give Marty McFly’s rock n’ roll scene from Back to the Future a run for its money. Ultimately, you’ll be reminded that somehow the original managed to cover all of its bases in ninety minutes, while the new film, while not to unfairly misjudge it, still takes quite long to get there clocking in at 128 minutes, despite hitting all of the same story beats.
Aladdin is far from the best from this new era of Disney live-action remakes, which seem to be green-lit at rapid speed after the release of each one preceding it, making these films feel almost manufactured. This new movie is a testament to the legacy of The Walt Disney Company and the rich heritage it so proudly holds. As Disney fans, we only want these movies to succeed, but as The Jungle Book has shown us, the heritage that brought you to this point can only be valuable if the ambition to push the medium forward continues to survive. Aladdin seems to not really know if it wants to be the old movie or break free from it, and that’s why it never stumbles at times. We’ll surely be there to see the next Disney remakes, with The Lion King and Mulan out within the next year, but our only hope is that they’ll maintain the same dedication to originality and ambition like the original films that cemented their legacy in Disney history.
2.5/5 Magic Lamps