It’s Christmas 2022, and the tradition of big Christmas films on UK council tv is almost at an end. One of BBC’s few offerings this year is Aladdin, a popular Disney film for sure, but a surprising choice given the current ignominy of fallen star Will Smith. Two colorless leads play the street-rat and his princess, while Smith takes on the iconic role of the blue-skinned genie. The plot follows the classic beats, with the resourceful Aladdin pressed into service to steal a magical lamp, but using the genies’ powers to restyle himself as a prince and win the heart of his true love. Putting fond memories of the original film aside, Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin is over-long, poorly conceived and something of a strain to watch.
Like a themed but gaudy costume party, Ritchie’s film echoes the look of the original film without capturing any of the charm; Iago the parrot, the monkey Abu, even the tasselled carpet are side-lined, and when they do briefly get centre stage, disappoint with their dead-eyed, soulless appearance. The makers of the original animated version didn’t imagine they were creating a story-board for a future film, so their hand-drawn conceits don’t work in live action; there’s no creativity here other than a wrong-headed desire to replicate the original, with a few groan-worthy additions, including a framing story and a general push to create opportunities for Smith’s corporate brand.
Smith actually does well with the scenes in which he’s not painted blue; the actor has a bubbly irreverence that works well when plugged into a staid scene at the Sultan’s court. Robin Williams’ routines have been revised to fit Smith’s voice, but his genie seems smug rather than mapcap. Similarly the production numbers are big without being well-sung or choreographed; they boggle the eye without impressing, and have a tin-ear for melody, aside from a loose but jolly closing number set to Friend Like Me that bursts into life and makes you wish the whole film was made like this.
There are points of interest (and entertainment) in the 2019 Aladdin, but they’re few and far between. It’s easy to see why, with great songs and a beloved story, Disney might feel the property was worth a do-over, although every element here is a pitiful downgrade on the original. Despite Aladdin being a well-loved tale for centuries, this version seems to limit imagination or fresh interpretations by mimicking the 1994 version so slavishly.