Aladdin ★★

During a scene in Disney’s newest live-action remake—this time of the beloved 1992 animated film Aladdin—Genie talks about his magic being only surface level. “The true character always comes through eventually.”

I can’t think of a better way to describe this new Aladdin.

It’s not the disaster it could have been. There is a great deal of heart and effort, especially on the part the actors, who win you over. But ultimately, there is a lot of effort, a lot of trying, but not a lot of succeeding.

For example, the one new song, written for Jasmine, is not only stylistically out of place but also emotionally so. It is forced in the extreme. Even so, actress Naomi Scott belts it out with all her heart. It’s not her fault it doesn’t work.

Similarly, Will Smith does his darnedest to put his stamp on the beloved character of the Genie. There is no way he, or anyone, could match Robin William’s iconic performance, but it doesn’t stop him from going ALL out.

It’s a bit much. Again, not necessarily his fault.

The worst offender, though, is the CGI, which looks as if Disney cut half its budget in the middle of production. You’d think we’d be past this by now, but there is some major uncanny valley going on with the Genie. And Abu and Iago are burdened by the need to appear realistic.

Director Guy Ritchie’s heart was in this. Everyone’s was. It’s what at least encourages you to root for it. But the magic, it seems, really is only surface level. The truth it tries to hide is that it’s still a pointless remake of a better film. And you can’t wish that away.