Saturday, May 25, 2019

Aladdin '19

I may be a bit attached to the animated Aladdin - I would record the animated series on CBS Saturday mornings and as part of the Disney Afternoon even though the reason I wasn't watching it live was because I was at college, feeling kind of testy when certain characters created for it weren't part of the other direct-to-video sequels - and quite skeptical of this whole deal where Disney remakes their animated movies as live action, so one might expect me to breathe fire at this particular one, not leave my paying job a little bit early so that I could catch an Imax 3D screening, even if I have found myself oddly curious based on seeing actual hints of Guy Ritchie's hand in the trailers.

And it's not bad. I found myself more appreciating what it represents than loving it as a movie. Like I say in the review, that it's a big adventure movie that stars a cast mostly of middle-eastern descent in 2019 is kind of big, and I don't know that any other movie makes that happen right now. Everyone deserves to have something like this, and if Aladdin being a hit paves the road for more, that's a darn good thing.

I'm still awfully skeptical about the "live-action adaptation" part, though, and the reason why was perfectly demonstrated by the two trailers that played in 3D before the movie: The Frozen II teaser (yes, nieces, there's footage of Frozen II out there!) is kind of terrific, a pretty darn great bit of "superhero tests her powers" that is imaginative, visually seamless, and dramatic; the preview for The Lion King is kind of a horror show, a promise of two hours in the uncanny valley with recreations of familiar shots that look awfully expensive but not nearly as bold as what the original animators did.

So, there it is. I don't hate new-Aladdin, and I'm hopefully not too blinded by fandom and nostalgia to miss the good things it adds. I'll probably re-watch the animated one several times before I even consider revisiting this, is all.

Aladdin (2019)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 May 2019 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax digital 3D)

A remake of Aladdin? Sure, why not. It's been a generation, and even if the point of these movies is for Disney to continue to exploit their catalog in an era where re-releases and home video don't bring in close to what they used to, sometimes it becomes interesting. It's not so much the case here; like most of these live-action cover versions, I'll probably never watch this again while the original is also on my shelf, but it's not exactly a waste of time even if it's not the only family-friendly option at the local theater.

As expected, it tracks the original movie fairly closely - Agrabah's Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) has opted to get a glimpse of life outside the castle, but is only rescued from disaster by the timely intervention of "street rat" Aladdin (Mena Massoud). Smitten, he sneaks into the castle to see her, but is captured by vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who needs a "diamond in the rough" to retrieve a magic lamp from a Cave of Wonders. The lamp contains a genie (Will Smith) who offers three wishes, the first of which has him returning to the castle as "Prince Ali" - nothing less has a future with a princess, after all - but Jafar's ambition on the one side and Jasmine's high standards on the other may make it hard for Aladdin to make good his promise to free the genie from servitude with his third wish.

It's all very familiar (the makers of the 1992 film lifted a fair amount from 1940's The Thief of Bagdad at that), but there are bits of this version we shouldn't dismiss. Naomi Scott, for instance, is a fine Jasmine, and by giving her a couple new songs and tweaking her characterization a little the film had allowed her to be more ambitious and consequential. She's got a great sidekick in Nasim Pedrad's Dalia - Pedard makes lines and scenes that could seem stilted enjoyably eccentric (few others come off so well). It's also pretty far from nothing that this is a big mainstream family adventure movie that has a cast of primarily middle-eastern descent. The original version wasn't - it stumbled in enough places that Disney would edit it after release and pay closer attention to such things in future animated pictures - and that deserves to be noted.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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