My main complaint about Aladdin (2019): It tries too often to be the 1992 production.
Aladdin (2019) Synopsis
The story is familiar to all. Aladdin is a penniless thief in the desert sultanate of Agrabah. One day, he rescues and befriends a beautiful girl, following which the girl tells him she is a handmaiden to the princess. After sneaking into the palace to meet the mysterious girl, Aladdin is apprehended and forced by Jafar, the evil Grand Vizier, to retrieve an oil lamp from a cave of wonders. The thief succeeds in doing so but is subsequently trapped in the cave. With no means of escape, Aladdin turns to examining the oil lamp Jafar so covets. What he then releases from the lamp will forever change his life and Agrabah.
Last night, right before stepping into the IMAX hall, I reminded myself not to compare Aladdin (2019) with the 1992 classic when watching.
It sounds silly, I know, with the movie explicitly a live-action remake of the ’92 animation and not a new telling of the Arabian Nights tale. But the way nostalgia works, I was convinced any comparison would result in me nit-picking on everything. I would leave the cinema hating every other thing about the new production because the old one felt sooooooo much better. Because I remember the old one being so much more superior …
What then happened? I did my part in refraining from comparison. On the other hand, the new movie insisted that I compare.
Let me put it this way. I thought Aladdin (2019) was on a whole, lovely, save for the many bits when it so feverishly mimicked the ’92 animation. The end-result of this, for me, was an Aladdin/Prince Ali sort of situation. There felt to be two movies, two personae playing out before me.
One was a cinematic, more modern, more sophisticated retelling of the original story. Which I happen to like very much.
The other was a religious stage musical adaptation of the ’92 animation, of sorts. With more songs and even a Frozen doppelganger thrown in.
The genie himself exemplifies this peculiar situation. To be quite honest, I felt Will Smith absolutely nailed it when in mentor/wingman mode. But when he switched to impersonating the late Robin Williams, not only did the gags felt out-of-sync, some actually bordered on cringe-worthy.
I ought to highlight too that by themselves, the “adapted” bits didn’t completely feel odd. Incongruous as it was at the moment, the Friend Like Me sequence was nothing short of exuberant. The same goes for the Prince Ali parade too.
On all these, I can only attribute the oddness to director Guy Ritchie distinctively working with two visions, and unable, or unwilling to reconcile them. Perhaps it’s the usual studio-director disagreement, or maybe Ritchie is just that inept with Disney-style romances. What’s interesting would be how the movie would feel if watched without the songs. I suspect for most people, it would come across a superior experience.