Aladdin ★★½

It's no secret that I went in expecting to hate this, but there was also a part of me that desperately wanted to enjoy it - a part that felt almost guilty for going in with the mind of the hater. And I'll be the first to admit: it's not unwatchable. The cast is charming and charismatic, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott very much included. The story itself remains timeless and entertaining. Even Will Smith is at least fun. And if a kid in 2019 sees this movie and it inspires and moves them the same way the original did for me when I was young, I'm happy for them.

But lord. Out of all these Disney remakes, some of which (like Beauty and the Beast) I've outright despised, this is the one that has the flattest, most uninspired, soul-sucking direction one could possibly comprehend. The whole thing plays like a TV movie from start to finish - or worse, one of those live NBC musicals like the Peter Pan one where Christopher Walken forgot his lines. The musical numbers are shot like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, with sweeping crane shots and predictable dolly-ins at all times, but absolutely no character or energy to any of it. And worse still: the voices are autotuned, the footage is (bizarrely?!?) sped up at times, the musical accompaniment is too modern, and the choreography is stiff and stilted. Oh, and the new song for Jasmine? It doesn't even fit with any of the other music in the playbook, vibing like a Mariah Carrey "girl power" fight song with no recognizable motifs threaded into anything else and completely clashing with an otherwise Broadway-inspired collection of showtunes. On its own, it's a decent song, but within the context of the film, it's laughably mismatched with everything else.

I hate to be all pretentious film student, but I guess I've already reached the point of no return, so I'll say it: *strokes goatee* the mise-en-scène here is brazenly incompetent. There is no environment in the film that feels legitimately real or lived-in. The extras all feel like extras hitting marks, not like people inhabiting a world that exists offscreen. The costumes are overly pristine and primary-colored. Everything is flat, overlit and void of any character in the framing or camera movement. Instead of feeling like the camera is getting a glimpse into this layered and real kingdom of Agrabah, there's always a sense that the set ends just a few feet away. And don't get me started on the use of greenscreen and CGI extensions; was ANY of this shot outside in the real world, or was it all on a soundstage? King Arthur: Legend of the Sword may have been a disaster on a script and editing level, but at least on an aesthetic one, Guy Ritchie managed to construct a medieval world that felt tangible and populated and immersive. I'd take that movie over this one any day of the week, man.

One of the biggest offenses, for me, is how little visual iconography here is able to stick because of the film's obsession with "realism." I can't think of a single visually compelling image in the film that doesn't pale in comparison to the animated version. The original Aladdin thrived on its abstract, exaggerated, and cartoonish animation. A shot where Jafar, as a big muscular red genie, laughs maniacally as he holds all the cosmos and stars and planets in his hands, doesn't make much sense on paper - but in the world of animation, it plays beautifully badass and striking. In live-action? You can't achieve that effect. You have to depict something that makes more "logistical sense", and as a result, it just looks bizarre and silly and nowhere near as pleasing to the eye. The Genie himself, as has been pointed out by everyone from the Twittersphere to the ends of Reddit, is also dramatically downplayed without the power of cartoonification to make his magic something entertaining to watch.

I find it weird how these live-action remakes haven't been able to come to any sort of verdict on whether they're aiming to be "realistic" or not. Some things, like making Iago a normal parrot instead of a talking one, or emphasizing a more historically accurate depiction of a middle-eastern kingdom, make it seem like the intention is to be more authentic and less cartoonish. But even then, we still have sentient rugs, silly monkey sidekicks, a genie who references current pop culture in 600 AD, and also...beatboxing. I'm not sure if I completely approve of the "let's make it more realistic and historically accurate" goal, but at least if they went all-in on that, the movie would have more of a clear selling angle than "hi please give us your money."

On a plot/writing level, I don't know if the original was *this* heavy-handed and we just ignored it because it was a kids' movie, but so much of the dialogue is laughably on the nose and expository. It could be said that Aladdin and Jasmine's relationship is fleshed out better, but beyond that, most of the changes to the source material actively detract from it rather than adding anything. Little plot-holes and minutia are explained, and small subplots are added, but nothing on an emotional level is actually improved. It's genuinely bizarre: even with the highest of budgets and a great action director, everything here (especially in the 3rd act) somehow plays out in a *less* epic and dramatic way than the original movie did. Instead of putting Jasmine in a giant hourglass and trying to slowly drown her with sand, Jafar just...suspends her in midair with pink CGI magic? Instead of turning into a giant snake and trying to squeeze Aladdin to death, he just...uh...mind controls his parrot? Even the way Jafar takes the throne feels like a soap opera, with tensionless back-and-forth dialogue and an unclear threat level.

This has been a rambling ramble. Sorry, I wrote most of it at 3am last night. It pains me to be that joyless "um actually" guy with this, but I just get really depressed by the disrespect for animation that these movies emanate under the guise of "a reimagining" when there's nothing imaginative about them.