Aladdin (2019)

ALADDIN. The 1992 Disney animated classic about a “street rat” who’s a “diamond in the rough” and gets three wishes from a hyperactive genie and uses the opportunity to try to marry the princess he just met. See, they come from opposite worlds, but if you think about it, having to sneak out of your gigantic palace in disguise to go to the market while your dad tries to make you marry a prince you don’t know for political reasons is very much the same experience as being an orphan who knows how to make crushing poverty fun with petty theft and parkour. So I don’t see why there would be any awkwardness there. They’ll do great!

Now we have a live action version, and legitimate reason to be skeptical. I’m very proud of my review of SAVING MR. BANKS from just six years ago, which I turned into sort of a manifesto against kneejerk cynicism toward Disney and happy endings and what not. But these days the corporation probly gets less pushback than it honestly deserves – they buttered us up with Star Wars and Marvel movies and then created a disastrous monopoly by purchasing Fox. There are many small, terrible things I could complain about, but it’s in the big picture that it seems to me they’re really doing the opposite of what their founder was beloved for. It seems less about telling great stories and more about trying to own the most popular “properties.” Not only have they entirely abandoned the classic hand drawn animation that was once their entire business, but they’re recycling their own animated stories in live action and/or realistic computer animation that’s sometimes well done but generally lacks the heart and soul of the drawings Walt helped breathe life into.

That fucking sucks. On the other hand, I can recognize that most of these movies are pretty enjoyable on their own merits. So I try to be fair.

ALADDIN is pretty fun, but it’s closer to the too-slavish BEAUTY AND THE BEAST than the expansive JUNGLE BOOK. It’s very close to the original story and musical numbers, though with some interest in evolving the gender politics a little – Jasmine (Naomi Scott, the Pink Ranger in the POWER RANGERS movie) has a new on-the-nose song by Pasek & Paul (LA LA LAND) about being “silenced,” and at the end she SPOILER THAT I DOUBT YOU CARE ABOUT becomes the sultan instead of just getting a marry-who-you-want pass. (I feel I should point out that in ’92 the emphasis on Jasmine’s struggle to be allowed to make her own decisions was in itself a progression from previous Disney princesses.)

The movie’s biggest success is in the casting of Aladdin and Jasmine. I actually think Mena Massoud (“Al Qaeda No. 2, one episode of Nikita) is more charismatic than the original animated dork, and Scott immediately has the screen presence of an actress we’ll be seeing much more of. They also give Jasmine a good rapport with a new character, her handmaiden Dalia (2009-2014 SNL cast member Nasim Pedrad), who has a subplot about crushing on the genie in his human disguise. And I guess Aladdin’s Dalia is Abu, the animated monkey who looks cool crawling on him and zipping around Agraba with the camera doing impossible moves to follow him. His eyes are kinda creepy, though.

Unfortunately I think the live action Jafar (Marwan Kenzari, BEN-HUR, THE MUMMY) is a dud. Lacking the cartoon’s deep voice and interesting features, he’s just some whiny dick with a big hat and a cool snake staff. I remember rumors Tom Hardy was being considered for the role, causing outrage. I’m sure they would’ve rewritten him as a Caucasian interloper, which doesn’t seem like whitewashing to me since HE’S THE FUCKIN BAD GUY, but I guess it’s for the bests since

  1. it’s amazing that Disney made a big expensive movie with this many opportunities for actors of color and
  2. Wikipedia says people were even offended there was a tiny role for white guy Billy Magnussen (“Steve McKee” in BIRTH OF THE DRAGON) as the dipshit prince she’s supposed to marry.

And yet there’s a 100% chance that Hardy, even if he was literally taking a nap during all his scenes, would’ve made them more interesting than this bland nothing of a villain. So I guess they should’ve found the Arab Tom Hardy, or figured out how to make this guy let loose.

Meanwhile, the pet bird Iago (now voiced by Alan Tudyk, I, ROBOT) doesn’t get to provide comic relief, because he doesn’t get to say much beyond normal bird-speak. And since it’s not Gilbert Gottfried you can forget about there being a deleted scene on the Blu-Ray where he tells a long filthy story with the punchline “THE ARISTOCATS!”

Oh, by the way, do you know who plays the genie in this? Obviously the center of the original ALADDIN was Robin Williams. It was built around his comic persona and the then-novel-for-Disney approach of the animators trying to keep up with his rapid fire jokes and wacky voices and shit, making him spin around and transform into all the timeless cultural references such as Arsenio Hall and a French guy with a beret or whatever. If it had been up to me the remake would’ve cast a comic with the opposite energy, someone laid back like Dave Chappelle. They chose Will Smith (WILD WILD WEST), who I always like less when he’s in trying-to-be-funny mode. And of course he spends much of the movie as some kind of weird mocap creation, a realistic Smith head on muscular torso that changes size and shape and does THE MASK style jokes. As much work as obviously goes into that, it’s an awkward substitute for the traditional cartoon animation it’s mimicking.

But he gets some laughs. There are some good jokes. It’s okay. His comedy is more natural than his singing – Grammy award winning rapper doesn’t necessarily translate to performing this type of stage musical songs. But I guess my problem is more with the style of music than his execution of it. And it’s not like the end credits rap song, something he’s more qualified for, is much better.

(That’s not a joke. Look it up.)

Note: There’s a part in one of the songs where he beatboxes for a little bit, and I was really hoping to see a “beatbox by Ready Rock C” credit, but I looked it up and apparently they had a falling out and lawsuit years ago.

The visuals during the songs are strong. There’s some good dancing and really elaborate choreography of many extras, props and FX. It looks like it would’ve been really cool in 3D, lots of layers, steady camera moves, things going toward the camera. Scenes like the “Prince Ali” parade make a decent argument for these remakes, since seeing real people in that kind of spectacle is impressive in a different way than seeing drawings.

A weird thing about this production that I have not mentioned yet: it’s directed by Guy Ritchie (who is credited as co-writer along with John August [TITAN A.E.] – uncredited polish by Vanessa Taylor [THE SHAPE OF WATER a.k.a. I FUCKED A FISH-MAN]). I think Ritchie is in kind of an interesting place now. He did mostly his stylistically influential crime movies until those two SHERLOCK HOLMESes got him into blockbusterland. Then it was the slept on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., possibly his best film in my opinion, and the interestingly weird flop KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD, and now this. I rarely felt he was Guy-Ritchie-ing it up here, but he does have fun with a ton of show-offy camera moves. I dug the energetic-but-not-spastic visual style.

I suppose one sort of Ritchie moment is when it reveals a trick Aladdin pulled on the genie by having the film sort of skip and go out of frame and pull back to show Aladdin and the genie in an audience watching the earlier scene to see how it went down. It’s like a meta Looney Tunes joke but also it’s like some of Ritchie’s usual storytelling gimmicks.

I’d like to see alot more of that – one thing I dug in KING ARTHUR was the audacity of putting so much contemporary absurdity and Ritchie-isms into such an old story. But I guess the people who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on these things prefer the ones like this (that make a ton of money) to the ones like that (that lose a ton of money). What is their fuckin problem in my opinion. But for what it’s worth it turns out Ritchie is pretty skilled at this type of expensive mainstream entertainment.

Anyway I’m looking forward to the live action AN EXTREMELY GOOFY MOVIE. Maybe Tom Hardy can play the Pauley Shore character.

P.S. Before you ask, no, I haven’t seen the new LION KING yet, but I’m still planning to.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 11th, 2019 at 11:03 am and is filed under Family, Fantasy/Swords, Musical, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses to “Aladdin (2019)”

  1. If this movie existed in this dojo, you make it sound like an entertaining movie I should maybe check out!

  2. Haven’t seen this (and never going to), but I did see the Prince Ali sequence on youtube, I think they tweeted it out as promotion. So I have to scratch my head at the line about how a scene like that parade makes a decent argument for the live action remakes. Maybe the version in the movie is different, because the parade in the promo was not very impressive at all. Except for the brief stampede of CGI ostriches and the one CGI elephant, it seemed like something they could easily stage in real life at DisneyWorld. In that setting it would probably be fun, but I think it rates pretty low even as a movie musical number (and obviously it pales in comparison to the spectacle of the cartoon).

  3. I want and saw Little Mermaid last night. That movie is all song, no sizzle. They’re going to have to add in a lot of stuff for the live action because there isn’t much of a movie beyond the great songs.

  4. Gotta disagree on the rap song. I thought it would have been an improvement– or at least, something actually creative – if more of the music had been reimagined that way instead of just giving us shitty cover versions of classic songs. Certainly it would have helped distinguish this from the original.

    Really, though, I like half the internet am sick to death of these remakes. I’ll be interested to see what you think of THE LION KING, but even if it wins Best Picture, cures cancer, and brings peace to the middle East, I will never, ever, ever watch it on principle. It’s just too much. I loved the orignal and they should have left it alone.

  5. I feel you. I was someone who often found myself defending Disney (as a historical filmmaking enterprise) before they put their logo over the planet, and now I wonder why everyone’s so cool with it.

    ALADDIN is my favourite of the Renaissance Era, so I should probably see this.

  6. Haven’t seen it yet, but nobody seems to like this version’s Jafar. In the Disney fanfiction remix TV show ONCE UPON A TIME he was first played by Naveen Andrews (in the short lived WONDERLAND spin off that also featured Iggy Pop as the voice of the blue caterpillar), then by Oded Fehr (in the main show, that featured in one episode Marilyn Manson as the voice of Peter Pan’s shadow). Neither are the equivalent to Tom Hardy, but both were really good choices for that certain character. I wonder if they were considered for the official movie version.

  7. The Undefeated Gaul

    September 12th, 2019 at 12:03 am

    Yeah, it’s a shame about Jafar. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a Dutch actor was cast for the role (honestly hadn’t heard of him before that announcement) but then immediately had doubts once I heard him speak for the first time in the teaser trailer. Having seen the film now, my fears were confirmed – that whiny, high-pitched voice doesn’t work for the character at all, and there’s just nothing else there.

    I did enjoy the film though, which to me was mostly carried by Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott’s charisma. Those guys were great.

  8. I’m prolly about as drunk as Gaul was when he typed this (hopefully), but I couldn’t help but think of this:

  9. The Undefeated Gaul

    September 12th, 2019 at 8:33 am

    I love my scotch and craft beers so I’m often drunk, but this was typed while at work :)

  10. Battered Fish Fingers

    September 12th, 2019 at 9:44 am

    at 2hrs 8mins its 38 minutes longer than the original and far too long for young children. Who are they making these films for?

  11. I didn’t know it was that long. It’s still almost 30 minutes shorter than the first HARRY POTTER movie, so I guess that makes it an okay lenght for a kids movie.

  12. I learned two disturbing things today – that Guy Ritchie directed the live action ALADDIN and Vern went to see it. Oh well, I guess Guy Ritchie probably hasn’t anything better to do for the last 20 years anyway.

    I really don’t get the appeal of these things but they are obviously raking in money and will keep getting made. And I will just continue to ignore them.

  13. I was convinced that Disney fatigue, the creepy and offputting trailers, and Guy Ritchie coming hot off the failure of KING ARTHUR meant that this was going to be a complete dud. So of course it made 350M at the box office. I guess Disney know what they’re doing.

    I would be interested to see what noted farting-warthog-enthusiast Vern thinks of THE LION KING (2019) though. I did not like it at all. There are one or two enjoyable elements, but I think it’s the first of these modern remakes that is completely ruined in the transition to “live-action”.

  14. Is anybody outside of Reddit actually having Disney fatigue?

  15. HALLSY – I rented it. I *did* go see KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD and did not regret it. I did *not* go see MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and regretted that I did not.

  16. Hallsy- The people I know who get really excited about these films seem to feel the same way about them as they would an old favourite band doing a reunion tour. i don’t get it, but these films are here to make money and (being generous) to make people happy, and they are doing that.

  17. What’s funny is THE LION KING is the only one I was able to sit through so far. It definitely was superflous. But yeah generally speaking the animated joints will suffice. I tried to watch a few minutes of Faverau’s Jungle Book. It’s not even a pimple on the ass of the animated original. At least TLK retained some of that energy a little better despite it’s overall uselessness.

  18. Vern – I didn’t even know he directed U.N.C.L.E. That one wasn’t bad. I guess the first SHERLOCK HOLMES was OK too. What a weird career he’s had, though. Favreau’s IMDB is even weirder (I also didn’t know that he directed the JUNGLE BOOK and the Lion King until this week).

    Pacman – I get that and I’m not complaining about it. I just think it’s a bizarre trend and I don’t understand why people actually want to watch these. I just ignore them unless Vern reviews them.

  19. U.N.C.L.E. deserves a sequel. If you just went by his Superman work you’d never know Cavill could ever be THAT charismatic a lead but Guy Ritchie managed to get it out of him.

  20. MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E totally turned me around on Henry Cavill after finding him atrociously bland in MAN OF STEEL, a movie I otherwise like despite itself. He didn’t have any favors done for himself going up against Michael Shannon and Russell Crowe in that one though, I like both of them a lot in that one, hard to beat two guys like that.

  21. Broddie: You didn’t find that all the drama was rendered completely inert by the hyper-realistic CG animals and their dumb, expressionless faces? That all the song-and-dance numbers were flattened into mush by the realistic animal movement and awkward lip-syncing? I feel like they knew it wasn’t quite working too, because most of the songs were truncated versions of the originals, despite the total runtime being longer.

  22. CrustaceanLove – I loathed what Favreau did with the songs in THE JUNGLE BOOK which are my favorite part of the animated one. So I didn’t expect much here. Was just relieved that they didn’t at least drop the ball on Hakuna Matata. The blandness of the Just Can’t Wait to Be King number compared to the 2d animation joint was somewhat depressing though and my favorite musical piece Be Prepared felt like an after thought. Nevertheless I was so impressed by the pretty backdrops and overall atmosphere I barely paid attention to the actual emoting of the cg critters to even be bothered by it. Well the part with Mufasa’s death where the little cub curls up to him was at least well executed. I noticed that much.

  23. Broddie,

    Sorry man, but you are just wrong on that front. It isn’t even objective disagreement. Aside from the songs, the animated Jungle Book is complete weaksauce in terms of the classic Disney animated pantheon.

    But it is also one, that though it has a handful of earwig, classic songs, as a narrative and as a MOVIE is pretty fucking bland. The Favreau version improves on the original in almost every respect, except having the music (the original’s only real touchstone) take abackseat to story and character.

    It is rare for me to go this far… but you’re just flat out wrong on this one.

  24. Also, despite the immense talent involved… the Serkis-led MOWGLI is a fucking joke compared to Favreau’s Jungle Book.

  25. Caught up with it on home video and am not ashamed to admit that I enjoyed the shit out of it, although I hoped it would’ve been as unashamed Richie-esque as his SHERLOCK HOLMES movies or KING ARTHUR. It moves at a swift pace, the musical numbers are a surprising amount of fun (especially the FX extravaganza that is FRIEND LIKE ME) and the casting is spot on. Even Jafar won me over pretty quick. And I loved the big and small additions to the story. Still need to watch a few of the live action remakes, but I would say that they are still far from being the soulless cashgrabs, that many people make them out to be.

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