Review: Aladdin (2019)

At this point, reviewing the Disney remakes and reboots feels as repetitive as the films being discussed; despite their narrative differences, they all follow the same design philosophy, largely falling back on simple film techniques as if they’re mere products instead of artistic productions. They ride off the success of their source material and rarely aspire to anything more, never exploring the possibilities provided by putting these stories in a new medium.

Aladdin does a good job sticking to its source material – Dumbo strayed and was worse for doing so, but a good writer could do something more. These remakes will never supplant the originals, so there needs to be some attempt to add a unique flavor; give a reason for these films to exist alongside the originals. Instead, Aladdin acts as an attempted replacement, which does no favor to either the original or this remake.

There’s plenty about this film that looks nice; it just doesn’t look as nice as the original. What could give these films an extra edge to coexist with the originals is seeing the world in a live action form; the sets and costumes are all nice enough. But because these remakes are so quick to fall into the routine of medium close-ups and shot-reverse shot editing, we rarely get a chance to just digest the visual design. There are a few moments where Aladdin attempts a longer take, especially during musical numbers, but they’re largely reduced by obvious reliance on CGI.

For whatever reason, Aladdin seems to have chosen Will Smith for an extra bit of star power to sell the film – I don’t think this film needed any recognizable star to sell. Is anyone going to see this movie due to his presence that otherwise wouldn’t? He’s passable, sometimes funny in his antics but really lacking when it comes to the musical numbers. Someone with a louder screen personality could have added an extra bit of flavor, but Disney appears resistant to anyone who might push these works past the familiarly pleasant.

It’s difficult to believe this is the same company that produced the originals; Disney has a history of playing it safe on a narrative level, being a company specializing in family films, but their films are marked by unique designs, distinct use of colors, and musical numbers that would sometimes fall into the surreal. These remakes are overly concerned with a sense of ‘realism’ that doesn’t match the tone or lend anything particularly charming to the experience. Everything appears muted compared to the original, similar enough to lack purpose and bland enough to lack inspiration.

One of the few notable changes between films is Jafar; like most classic Disney villains, the original is larger than life. The Jafar here is a lot quieter in his presence, and while this does work within the film, it also doesn’t particularly add anything. The original Jafar is striking and threatening; Disney doesn’t benefit by acting restrained. There’s also a notable new number by Princess Jasmine titled “Speechless,” which, again, is fine enough but doesn’t have the weight of any of the songs from the original.

Aladdin is acceptably average; nothing it does is particularly impressive or egregious. However, it will always be weighed down by the fact there’s an indisputably better version. This offers no reason to check it out instead of just revisiting the original, which has a tighter narrative and stronger presentation. I can mention that I did have fun with it, but that’s not worth much when I would have had more fun with the original. There are movies of lower quality this year that at least carry a sense of purpose, something unique to themselves.

Aladdin is exactly what we all knew it would be, Disney exploiting its own properties because they know it will make bank. The source material is good enough that this remake still carries many pleasant (if comparatively muted) moments. Disney knows how to make a functional film, but movies should do more than just function.

2.5 Stars Out of 5

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