1:01pm PT by Graeme McMillan
'Aladdin': What the Critics Are Saying
Does Disney's live-action Aladdin honor the beloved 1992 animated film (while also improving some of that title's more regressive bits)? Is Will Smith's genie destined to remain an internet meme? How was the latest version of "A Whole New World"?
On Wednesday morning, critics answered some of these questions and more as they weighed in on the latest in Disney's live-action adaptations of animated classics. The verdict? It's Will Smith's movie, and whether audiences will enjoy it beyond what he brings may depend on how familiar they are with the 1992 version.
In The Hollywood Reporter, critic Frank Scheck was ambivalent about the story, as directed by Guy Ritchie. The casting proved successful, he wrote, with Mena Massoud (who plays the film's namesake) and Naomi Scott (Jasmine) demonstrating successful chemistry as the film's central couple and Will Smith's Genie "easily makes the role his own." Scheck adds, "His infectious personality shines throughout, and he even manages to infuse his martini-swilling Genie with moving emotional moments."
Overall, however, the film's lackluster musical numbers and semi-edited versions of classic Aladdin songs, retrofitted for 2019, didn't impress Scheck. "The combination of diverse casting and female empowerment themes results in a perfectly politically correct Aladdin for these times," Scheck says. "The only thing that seems to have been left out is the magic, which is a bit of a problem considering that one of the main characters is a genie."
The lack of magic is also bemoaned by The Atlantic’s David Sims, who called the movie “a garish, special-effects-laden extravaganza that still manages to feel tossed-off and half-hearted,” adding, “The film is entirely devoted to the property it’s adapting, but its mimicry underlines just how pale an imitation it is.”
Similarly unimpressed is The New York Times critic, A.O. Scott, who writes, “The visuals are tired and perfunctory green-screen placeholders. Similarly, the genie’s showstopper, ‘Friend Like Me’ undermines its own premise. We’ve had an awful lot of shape-shifting, motor-mouthed ‘friends’ like this one.”
Perhaps the problem is the format, argues Aja Romano of Vox. “Turning a blue cartoon into a flesh-and-blood human being imposes a sense of realism that the glib, fantastical storyline of [the animated] Aladdin was never really meant to reckon with,” she explains. “The original ‘Aladdin’ tale, after all, was most likely written by an 18th-century French writer, a fantasy story made up whole cloth and drenched in exoticism. The 1992 film, in turn, succeeded on the basis of its sheer disconnect from reality, which kept it fun and magical. The cartoon was divorced from its story’s real-life connections, something the live-action take can’t evade.”
Not everyone was left unmoved, however. After listing some of the movie’s drawbacks, RogerEbert.com's Matt Zoller Seitz adds the caveat, “That’s not to say that it’s never fun, because it sometimes is — just that it’s more often lumbering, patchy, meandering and generally bereft of inspiration. It’s a dancing elephant of a movie. It has a few decent moves, but you’d never call it light on its feet.”
USA Today’s Brian Truitt knows where some of those decent moves come from. “While there’s a certain charm missing from the revamp, Smith goes way over the top to make up for it. For those who've ever wondered what the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air would be like as a middle-aged guy plopped into a bevy of belly dancers and hoofing swordsmen, here you go.”
Kate Erbland of IndieWire feels the same. “The most surprising part of Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin isn’t that it’s far better (more fun, more frisky, more coherent) than a string of maligned trailers have let on, it’s that no one ever got the bright idea to rename the whole thing ‘Genie’ and turn all of the film’s attention on Will Smith,” she writes.
“Aladdin is at its best when it ventures out to form its own interpretation and while not all of the choices necessarily work, it is refreshing to see Ritchie and the ensemble attempt a genuine reimagining,” suggests The Playlist’s Griffin Schiller. “Arguably more so than the previous live-action remakes, Aladdin feels fresh, distinct and modern as it aspires to be more than a simple shot for shot retelling — something that shouldn’t go unnoticed despite its shortcomings. Sure, the execution can be a bit cartoony at times, some of the musical numbers feel a bit too ‘Broadway,’ and they certainly could’ve used more dynamic and creative camera work, but this reimagining is ultimately a magic carpet ride you won’t mind experiencing.”
Maybe the most representative commentary comes from Anne Cohen of Refinery 29, who writes, “It’s not that the film is good, exactly, but rather it’s not as bad as I’d spent months worrying it would be. (Ritchie impressively limits his trademark slow-motion sequences to a number that can be counted on one hand. None of them are essential, but he just can’t help himself.) Kids who are unfamiliar with the animated classic will most likely find it magical, and even adults will surely be charmed. It is a version of Aladdin, after all.”
Aladdin opens in theaters Friday.