Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:

Title: Aladdin

Describe This Movie in One Game of Thrones Quote:

CERSEI LANNISTER: I wanted those elephants.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Homeless man rubs one out. A genie, that is.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2.5 Brick Tamlands out of 5.

Tagline: "The magic comes to life."

Better Tagline: "How 'bout a little less baclava?"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Improbably hygenic cutpurse Aladdin (Mena Massoud) lives a meager existence on the streets of Agrabah, but his life is changed upon meeting Jasmine (Naomi Scott), the daughter of the sultan, when she sneaks out of the palace. Jasmine chafes at the thought of being married off when her real dream is to rule, while Aladdin just wants a better life. Opportunity of a sort presents itself in the form of the sultan's vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who wants Aladdin to retrieve a lamp for him from something not at all ominously referred to as the "Cave of Wonders." Things don't quite go as planned, leading to Aladdin's freeing the lamp's occupant, an all-powerful Genie (Will Smith).

"Critical" Analysis:
It really feels like Disney's just gloating at this point.

Has Casa Ratón earned a victory lap by accreting billions of dollars in creative properties like a black hole wearing weird button pants? Maybe? The studio does still produce original material based on its (occasionally) ill-gotten booty, but it also feels lazy to keep getting "live action" remakes of its animated films, both of the  "classic" (Dumbo) and "Renaissance" (Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, Cinderella) variety.

Aladdin reimagines the 1992 version, and admittedly improves on it in a few ways. The all-white voice cast has been replaced by the likes of Massoud, Scott, Kenzari, and Nasim Pedrad, most of whom bring something to the table. Scott is a fine singer, and Massoud cuts a mean rug. Meanwhile, Kenzari was widely lauded as the "hot" Jafar, but he's honestly not much of a presence.

Surprisingly, it's SNL alum Pedrad (playing Jasmine's handmaid Dalia) who's the real find. Playing off Scott's necessarily straight-laced portrayal of the princess, and holding her own with Smith, she steals every scene she's in.

As for Smith, it's a weird take. Love or hate the Robin Williams version, his Genie is the definitive portrayal, and even the Fresh Prince's efforts to find his own lane (or whatever) don't sufficiently distinguish the performance. His committment to the character's sexual ambiguity is refreshing, but from the opening strains of "Arabian Nights" (updated to remove references to cutting off ears), one thing becomes glaringly apparent:

Will Smith really can't sing.

Was this something we always knew? Granted, there aren't a lot of arias on Smith's hip hop albums, but for someone playing a character doing a bunch of vocal heavy lifting, it's bad. Not "Russell Crowe in Les Miserables" bad, but noticeable. At least he has that Hitch experience to draw upon while trying to help Aladdin win over Jasmine.

Director Guy Ritchie (yes, the Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels guy) and Disney deserve a little credit for reversing the whitewashing of the original cast for their "Arabian" epic. The film itself takes place in a sort of Pan-Asian mish-mash of Middle Eastern and Indian influences, and if things like the Bollywood homages seem out of place (while simultaneously being the most successful parts of the movie), recall that the original (17th century) tale was set in China.

Other attempts to update are intermittently successful. For example, Jasmine has a new song ("Speechless") designed to give her character some much-needed agency. It's powerful, highlighting a significant weakness of the original film, but doesn't quite fit the rest of the film's tone.

In spite of some decent performances and a couple nifty dance numbers, Aladdin is pretty flat. Kids unfamiliar with the original will be fine with it (and in fairness, they wouldn't understand a good chunk of Williams' pop culture riffing anyway) but others will find a film that's new but not necessarily improved.

Ask a 9-Year Old:
Me: What did you think of the movie?
9YO: On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it an 11.
Me: That's what we get for putting you in public school.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar