I love this movie. Does that mean it’s good? No, it does not. Let’s discuss.
Aladdin (2019) is a weird movie. As I suspected, Guy Ritchie wasn’t a great fit. @amyja89 described the song “One Jump Ahead” as a fever dream, which I think nails whatever the hell was happening with the editing and camera placement during several parts of this movie. The man can’t do musicals, but what he can do is action and Aladdin has enough action that he’s not a terrible fit, just not a great one. I dislike his slow-down of action moments, but I have to admit there was one moment where it worked really well. (When Abu was grabbing the lamp, not when Aladdin was falling in the chair.)
I’m a huge fan of the original. I have it memorized. One thing that has always baffled me about my enjoyment of the animated Aladdin into adulthood is how silly the movie is. It shouldn’t have aged well, but for me it somehow did. If someone said they liked the animated Beauty and the Beast better than Aladdin, and they have, I might be jealous of their superior sensibilities. Beauty and the Beast is the better movie, and yet Aladdin has my heart because it’s just too god-damn charming for its own good. The charm has aged gracefully even if the jokes have not.
I’m also a fan of the Broadway musical Aladdin. Howard Ashman, the songwriter on Aladdin — whose life is fascinating and tragic and you should definitely watch his documentary coming out on Disney+ this year — wrote several songs for Aladdin that were cut, that were then reinstated on Broadway. It’s good stuff; it adds something to the Aladdin you grew up with. What the musical lacks, however, is laughter. Its humor is for the stage and while that can get a crowd laughing because of that peculiar phenomenon of live performances where you want to encourage the actors — you want their energy and they want yours — a book can coast by on just-okay jokes and Aladdin the Musical's book does.
So, surprise for me! Aladdin (2019) is really funny. Like, extremely funny. I haven’t laughed this much at a movie since I can’t remember when. (Caveat: I don’t watch a lot of comedies, and this isn’t a comedy anyway.) I’m not sure if you showed the movie to someone and they had no familiarity with Aladdin they would laugh very much, though. Like I said, it’s a weird movie and I’m still trying to decipher what’s happened in my brain.
I can say that if you don’t like Will Smith you should save your money. Will Smith is the best thing about this movie. I never thought I’d be down for a badly-sung “Friend Like Me,” but you know what, not all genies can sing. Some genies are Will Smith and this is how those genies sing “Friend Like Me” and we’re still going to get our wishes.
Which leads me to the big problem I had with Aladdin. The songs. I never imagined that would be the case. With the live-action Beauty and the Beast, I was begging the movie to start up a song because the whole thing felt so lifeless. Aladdin had poorly scripted moments but somehow turned out to be so full of life that a song had me wishing they would just keep talking. Singing broke its momentum. In a musical. See? A weird movie! Two exceptions to this are “Arabian Nights” and “Prince Ali,” because I’m not sure how you could give the necessary panache to those scenes without the songs. As for Jasmine’s song, that was a decision that had “Best Song” Oscar all over it. Bad call pulling in the songwriters from The Greatest Showman, because as with Showman they wrote a spectacular pop-musical song that had no place beside Ashman's and Menken's work. Initially I even disliked the concept of “Speechless,” since Jasmine’s plight has always been that she felt trapped, not that she felt silenced. However, since they tweaked Jasmine’s character in this movie, making her aspire to be a good ruler as opposed to leaving her palace cage, I’ve come to terms with it. In the process they neutered that beautiful bit of dialogue between Aladdin and Jasmine where they both agree on the word “trapped,” as well as the point of “A Whole New World.” That's unfortunate, and it seems to be a common flaw with these live-action movies — an update without consideration of what should be cut because of it.
Another example of an update that didn’t work: The genie telling Aladdin that he’s not concerned about being free as much as how Aladdin was changing for the worse. The genie simply being bitter about being lied to was more realistic and still shows the dent in their friendship.
Jafar feels too mediocre to warrant discussion. The same with the genie’s blue effect. Well, just one thought on the blue: unfortunate to be introduced in that awful cave lighting when it looked much better in the sunlight. Or had I just gotten used to it by then?
Aladdin was sexy, Jasmine was sexy, Agrabah was sexy (though oddly pronounced with an accent), the costumes were gorgeous — don’t you dare suggest putting dirt on those costumes in the name of realism! And most importantly, much like the original, the movie had too much god-damn charm. I can't resist it.
- The 45 minutes or so after Aladdin wishes to be a prince is pure romantic comedy genius. When you get to that wish... hang onto your turban, kid.
- “We waitin’ for you! We’re not going ‘till you go! There it is!”
- Every word Aladdin says in the awkward “jams” throne room scene. Boy can’t sing well, but all the applause for his comedic sensibilities.
- Every dirty look Aladdin threw the genie while being made to dance.
- The opening. What a brilliant device, to remind us we’re watching a moralistic children’s story. I’m relieved I didn’t listen to the soundtrack beforehand because the movie held me in the palm of its hand when the children asked their father not to sing and he denied them with all the fervor of a dad being embarrassing. If you just listen to the soundtrack, it's another fever dream.
- Jasmine being able to change the law herself, because isn’t that the real problem?
- Bollywood dance ending.
- The genie rewinding the film to see Aladdin’s bogus wish is something you’d expect to be in the original. A nice tribute to the “made you look” meta ending from Robin Williams. When I watched Aladdin as a 5-year-old, several times in the theater, my dad would have us linger in our seats to watch people’s responses to turning back to the screen and getting trolled. This was when people rushed out of movies, before Marvel post-credit scenes. You don’t need tributes like that, but they’re appreciated.
I’ll be seeing it again tomorrow.