Disney's all about the live action remakes with "The Jungle Book," "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King." The latest, "Aladdin," is a fast-paced, mostly carbon copy of the 1992 original. Nostalgia is strong, there might be childlike giddiness at the opening number, but that and the initial novelty might quickly subside as they did for this reviewer.
Will Smith headlines as the Genie, reprising a role originally written for the late Robin Williams. Smith adds machismo and Big Willie Style flavor, rapping parts of "Friend Like Me." He's charismatic and talented, but he's no Robin Williams, and the comparison is unavoidable and bittersweet.
Smith's singing chops aren't quite on the level, and this Genie is more into a handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad) than dipping into character depth. (All well and good - just sayin'.)
Mena Massoud (TV's "Jack Ryan") as "street rat" Aladdin has the energy, smile and untamed strands matching his animated predecessor. He capably parkours through the city streets of Agrabah with his CGI companion Abu, feeding those people worse off than him. Then, he runs into princess-in-disguise Jasmine (Naomi Scott).
Scott is tops as a progressive royal with designs on stepping in for her sultan father (Navid Negahban). She's smart, subversive, more interested in humility than grandstanding.
During a dance sequence, director Guy Ritchie illustrates how Aladdin's literal backflips / showboating interrupt a genuine connection between him and his love interest.
The script by John August ("Big Fish") goes further with lines like "The way to her heart is through her mind." More tempering traditional attitudes with Jasmine's battle cry, "Speechless" by Alan Menken and "La La Land" songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
Scott and Massaud seem to be multi-talented in all departments - acting, singing, dancing.
And Marwan Kenzari does slimy and rageful well as corrupt vizier Jafar, with lines like "Steal an apple, you're a thief. Steal an empire, you're a statesman."
This antagonist is clad in comically opulent costumes and a nearly dog-in-the-"Summer-of-Sam"-crazy parrot, who creepily chirps "Punish them."
Even with the parrot, it feels like there's something missing from this character.
Director Ritchie ("Sherlock Holmes") is known for his stylized quick cuts and camera angles. He tones it down here with (unnecessary) slower-mo clips of Aladdin and Jasmine outrunning guards. And many of the big finales are compliments of CGI.
Disney plans to continue shifting the animated to the real-life remake.
"Maleficent: The Mistress of Evil" is on deck for later this year; "Cruella" and "Mulan" are scheduled for 2020. In "Aladdin," this feels like a wasted effort updating the animated with a CGI monkey and bulky blue genie.
And Smith's magnetism is most magnifying as is. He's the most notable name on a mostly all-brown cast for a film set in Arabia, yet these filmmakers still ride a fine racial line in some spots where characters slide into caricatures and with news of "brown-faced" extras on set, according to the BBC.
That said, while there's more character backstory here, and the songs may transport you to your youth, this still feels sometimes like a frame-by-frame recycling with more dialogue. And clocking in at over two hours, "Aladdin" may cater more toward adults who knew the original than it is an intro for the kiddos.
Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: John August, Guy Ritchie
Rating: PG for some action/peril
Now showing: Duluth 10, Lakes 10, Premiere