Summary: A street rat with a heart of gold, a princess born to rule, and a genie whose life got flipped-turned upside down.
Well, gee! I had a really good time with this one that I wasn’t expecting. Like it made me appreciate Will Smith again, it made me more excited for other Disney live-action remakes, and I asked myself if I should go back to liking Guy Ritchie.
To get that out of the way, I’m a fan of Ritchie but I know he’s not for everyone because he has a tendency to get carried away. I think it’s a little similar to the Baz Luhrman thing- like a little kid when he needs to reel it in a little and if he doesn’t, he ends up puking all over himself. When I heard he was going back to a street savvy criminal movie (cough, for kids), I thought it might be in good hands and I was mostly right about that. He was Guy Ritchie just enough in this and where it counted. No random voiceovers (they would have felt really out of place), where people unfamiliar with his work would have been like, “Well, that was different.” There are a few moments of slow motion/time lapses here and there, and genuinely interesting technique for a movie geared towards a young audience. He was able to capture a sense of fantasy and wonder and I think kids will get a big kick out of all of it.
And, and, and- he made particular cuts on beat! I’ll argue about this all day- it really makes a noticeable difference, especially when emphasis needs to be made.
There are a couple of things I’ll nitpick over. Being a huge fan of the original 1992 animated version- specifically its soundtrack (I love you, Lea Salonga!)… yeah, some issues with that. The songs are overproduced, which seems to be a common theme of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul- composed movies, along with that “WHOOOOOOSH!” sound when the chorus kicks in (it’s a crescendo emphasized by an I-don’t-know-what). Maybe Guy Ritchie said, “I think I could have made Greatest Showman but like, better? So do something like that for me” and Pasek and Paul just recycled their process.
In general, Disney has turned up the volume on everything. Nuances and details are what makes Alan Menken’s music so memorable and worth revisiting in the animated originals- the cello in Something’s There in Beauty and the Beast, the trumpet’s countermelody in The Little Mermaid‘s Poor Unfortunate Souls, that piano intro for A Whole New World, the brass in Prince Ali, the light staccato in melody in nearly everything… the new arrangements take a lot of that away by making it louder. The details get lost.
But don’t get me wrong, there are some really good updates. The added percussion in Arabian Nights, the new verse, overall- this scene was spectacular in setting the tone. Mena Massoud (extremely charming and endearing) and Naomi Scott (appropriately vulnerable while displaying stoicism) as Aladdin and Jasmine are fantastic in their reprises.
But- and I get it, we’re coming from trained voice actors and Broadway talent, who have set the bar so high- there’s always this… flatness in these live-action remakes, when it comes to certain delivery and songs. No one is as noticeably as autotuned as Emma Watson, but there are moments that felt like the actors were singing rather than the characters. Massoud’s take on One Jump Ahead fails to really capture Aladdin’s cheeriness (and thus his quick-wittedness) in the moment. A Whole New World is noticeably slower and again- the characters just don’t seem to be that emotionally invested or excited. In particular, Scott seems a little forced in her line delivery, both speaking and singing, and at various times. Smith- who was SO happy to be in Miami back in the day- is a little lackluster in his lower register.
[I don’t want to get into the comparison of Robin Williams and Will Smith- it’s done, you have a Williams-Genie, be happy with it, go back to the original if you feel that strongly about it. I think Will Smith is a pretty natural choice for this one considering his resume in our generation, and he does a good job.]
Overall, it was just good to see one of these live-action remakes take a few risks in the changes to the story. Not all of them worked or were necessary (Genies have crushes? What?), but damn- all of those Jasmine updates were much welcome and very needed, my little Cersei in training. Oh and the vibrancy! It was so much fun to look at! Visually, I could spot the references to the original source material, but it felt much more like a new movie with an Easter Egg or quick reference than the “REMEMBER HOW GOOD THIS WAS!?” vibe of Beauty and the Beast. I’ll take the live-actions if it means something like Aladdin. Well done, Guy Ritchie! You are almost forgiven for The Legend of the Sword.