'Aladdin' review: Shining, shimmering, empty

Still from the movie 'Aladdin'.

Stars: 2/5

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Nasim Perdad, Marwan Kenzari

When I first saw the trailer for Aladdin, I admit my heart soared when A Whole New World played. It looked magical, primarily because how my heart soared. But after watching the movie, it occurred to me that it wasn’t the song so much as it was the memories of the discovery of the song on MTV in the ‘90s: the Peabo Bryson-Regina Belle version.

While this live-action feature adapted from the beloved 1992 animated classic sticks to the story for the most part, it resorts to lazy clichés: flying carpets and patinaed lamps notwithstanding, there’s bejeweled headgear, scimitars, snakes, mounds of spices, song and dance galore. You name it, it’s there. Hollywood’s understanding of anything east of the Atlantic.

In this fantasy romance, safe enough for children, Aladdin, a “street rat” chances upon the lovely Princess Jasmine, seeks out the lamp for an evil vizier, befriends the genie in the lamp, takes the princess out on a magic carpet ride, comes back to fight evil in the land of Agrabah and learns a few life lessons in the process. No surprises there.

The leads, Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, are fresh-faced enough to sell another fairy tale (Massoud, in fact, looks uncannily like Aladdin the cartoon character), but for Disney, the biggest draw of this avatar of Aladdin was surely Will Smith. Most of us will remember Robin Williams’ rat-a-tat-a-tat prattle from the 1992 version of the movie, mostly for how effortlessly charming it was. Comparisons are odious, but the entertainment industry seriously seems to have run out of ideas, what with all the remakes that are being forced on us. (Perhaps I should stop reviewing musicals).

And so, we have this generation’s (previous generation’s?) campy and cheeky motormouth playing the genie in this. When you saw the incomparable Robin Williams, you saw the character he was playing. But when you see Will Smith in Disney’s 2019 Aladdin, you don’t see the genie. You see Will Smith. Who seems to be a galaxy defender. Spewing philosophies from the ages. In smoking blue with a trailing lower half. Trying to get jiggy with something or the other, sometimes with prancing llamas, other times with dancing extras.

Guy Ritchie’s directorial palette seems to have shifted from dark and misty and somber in Sherlock Holmes’s world to a smorgasbord of all possible hues on the eye-hurting spectrum in this eastern fantasy. Perhaps a director’s round table is in order with our own Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Why? All of the spectacle here, none of the grandeur.

Worse, the movie doesn’t heed its own advice. You can have all the means in the world to create unbelievable sights, but shining, shimmering, splendid diamond skies do not make up for a lackluster inside. There’s no heart in this Aladdin. There’s no soul. Just Hollywood’s attempt at coopting clichés it speaks out against in elite award ceremonies and talk shows, and its insistent adherence to LA’s nipped and tucked beauty standards and beefed up torsos. No magic carpet ride, this. Just a whole lot of liberal twaddle and yet another insufferable Disney princess song.

 

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