Friday, 28 June 2019

Movie Review: Aladdin (2019)

Movie Review: Aladdin (2019)

Move. Away. From the jams. (Yam jam!)

Aladdin (2019): ★★½

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Y’know what? It’s not bad! It’s actually pretty enjoyable. But let’s get the elephant outta the room right off the top: How is Will Smith’s version of Genie? It’s actually pretty good!

Smith’s Genie is not nearly as manic and cartoonish as Robin Williams’s version, which makes sense since this isn’t as cartoony of a movie. Smith has more of an attitude of having just discovered an unused hammock strung between two palm trees on a beautiful beach at sunset: “Hey, this ain’t bad; a guy could get used to this.” He’s more laid-back and amused, and much less like a kid experiencing Disneyland for the first time. I also actually like that they gave Genie his own subplot; he has an awkwardly brewing romance with Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia (a new character for this movie), and Smith is charmingly, shyly smitten (while Dalia is much more brazenly smitten).

Mena Massoud is pretty likable as the titular character, and Naomi Scott is appealing as Jasmine. Speaking of Jasmine, the filmmakers desperately tried to update the character to have more agency in the film. Rather than just being a bored princess who wants to get out a bit more, this Jasmine wants to get out so she can see how the citizens of Agrabah are faring, and is pretty appalled by what she sees: children going hungry, Jafar’s guards everywhere, etc. Her motivation is less self-centered and more about trying to do what’s best for her people, and being justifiably frustrated that nobody will listen to her. In her big moment (and new song) in the third act she actually convinces Hakim to commit treason against the new Sultan Jafar (though it ends up going nowhere because Jafar just overpowers everyone).

Marwan Kenzari is also very good as “Hot Jafar” (Kenzari is a rather attractive man). I really appreciated that the film delves into Jafar’s backstory a bit, so that you understand why he’s such a bad guy. His obsession with not being in 2nd place really makes his final wish land better than in the original cartoon.

The sense of scale in this movie is much, much smaller than in the original cartoon. Agrabah seems like a kind of smallish city instead of a huge, sprawling metropolis. The palace, which looms inspiringly/imposingly over the city in the cartoon is instead just the size of an actual palace (pretty big, y’know, but not gargantuan). The throne room set seems downright dark and cramped compared to the huge, white, vaulted-ceiling stadium that it is in the cartoon. And the “Whole New World” carpet flight just takes place in and around Agrabah itself; they don’t go from Egypt to China (which makes it kind of strange that they’re singing about a whole new world when they only see a few square miles, but it’s more metaphorical because Jasmine’s been cooped up her whole…aaahhh, you get it). I did like that Agrabah is now a seaport town instead of a town that was built a mile away from the sea for no discernible reason.

The first act has very problematic pacing, being extremely condensed. Thank Allah that I’d seen the cartoon so many times or I would have been completely lost. The scene where Jafar sends a chump into the cave of wonders happens during the opening song, with no exposition about what’s going on. We don’t see Jasmine in the palace before she escapes into the marketplace; we first see her when Aladdin does. The “One Jump Ahead” musical number takes place with Jasmine. It’s all very rushed and confusing. Once Jasmine goes back to the palace, though, things settle down into a more manageable rhythm, and there are some interesting tweaks to the basic plot. I especially like the scene where Aladdin breaks into the palace to return some of Jasmine’s jewelry that Abu stole without Aladdin’s knowledge.

A choice that really fascinated me was the change that Aladdin started to go through at the end of the second act. In the cartoon, Aladdin starts to panic that his whole charade will come crumbling down and goes back on his promise to free Genie because he can’t keep up the charade by himself. This devastates Genie, who goes off sulking. In this version, Aladdin, having lived a princely life for a little while, starts to feel a bit entitled (he’s “drinking from that cup,” as Genie puts it), like he deserves to actually be this prince character. Genie isn’t really upset that Aladdin goes back on his promise (“It ain’t even about that wish,” Genie actually says), he’s just upset that Aladdin isn’t being true to himself. I don’t know which version is better or worse; the movie is just a bunch of interesting choices like that. Like instead of a giant snake fight at the climax, there’s a chase scene with a giant Iago. Better? Worse? Just odd? Who’s to say?

So, yeah, everybody in my family enjoyed this adaptation way more than we thought we would. It’s not great, but it’s not bad, if ultimately a bit forgettable. Oh, and, holy crap, the “jams” scene (as in spreadable fruit, not music) is worth the price of admission alone. So unbelievably funny. Yam jams!

Categories: Movie Reviews, Reviews.

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