Film review: ‘ALADDIN’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The Aladdin story has been the subject of numerous cinema adaptations including the 1940 classic The Thief of Baghdad, the much-loved animated 1992 version with the late Robin Williams and outrageously camp English pantomimes. The latest version, a musical directed by Guy Richie, is elaborate, colourful and energetic but tonally inconsistent and not always as funny or charming as it needs to be.

The film follows the story’s traditional template as Baghdad street urchin Aladdin (Mena Massoud) discovers a magic lamp containing a genie (Will Smith) capable of granting three wishes. When Aladdin uses his first wish to try and win the heart of Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) he earns the ire the evil Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) who is attempting to usurp the throne of the Sultan of Agrabah (Navid Negahban).

The idea of Guy Richie – who recently seemed to be transforming (pardon the pun) into the British Michael Bay – directing a child-friendly musical is a tantalisingly odd one but his efforts here are a little underwhelming. To his credit he’s stepped away from his familiar style as this film isn’t immediately recognisable as a Guy Richie movie – there are no bald-headed cockney geezers pulling scams – but he hasn’t created anything especially memorable.

He struggles to find a consistent tone as the film shifts awkwardly from quasi-historical drama to musical to quirky over-the-top comedy which includes annoyingly incongruous contemporary references.

Still, the basic Aladdin tale provides an engaging drama and enjoyable adventure yarn, something aided by strong performances from Naomi Scott as the indomitable and intellectually-inclined Princess Jasmine and Marwan Kenzari as the genuinely sinsister and intimidating villain Jafar.

As a comedy, though, this film fails to fire. In the celebrated Disney cartoon version, Robin Williams made the genie a wonderfully precocious and witty character whereas Will Smith isn’t very funny or endearing. His isn’t a poor performance as he brings plenty of energy to the role but its not an indelible one. It doesn’t help that his genie, like too much of this film, is essentially a cgi creation and looks like a roided-up body builder carved from blue rubber.

Songs in Disney films have always been more miss than hit with too many tuneless power ballads that, despite otherworldly settings, are invariably drenched in white suburban American values and attitudes. The songs here are mostly bland and a few are forgettable but there are some surprises such as Jasmine’s showpiece ‘Speechless’ where Naomi Scott gives a generic big ballad some genuine feeling.

This is a tolerable and occasionally fun take on the Aladdin tale but it doesn’t offer anything remarkably different from previous versions.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Fantasy, musical.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Guy Ritchie.

Release date: 23rd May 2019.

Running time: 128 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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