A whole new bore

“In the original, I’m pretty sure I escaped you guys …”

“In the original, I’m pretty sure I escaped you guys …”

Will Smith’s strange, big, blue Genie turns out to be the surprising highlight of the fair-to-middling Aladdin, the live-action remake of the Disney animated classic that was bag for Robin Williams.

Smith does just fine in the role Williams voiced in 1992, and the character gets fleshed out in a manner that is genuinely moving at times, even if his blueness is perhaps a bit creepy from some angles. (And it looks like he’s pushing a big poop out of the top of his head thanks to that hairstyle.) In fact, if they decided to make a horror spinoff where the blue genie starts biting people’s heads off, that would be kind of awesome. He’s scary already.

Director Guy Ritchie goes the full musical route, and while he has a reasonably talented cast on hand, the whole enterprise feels a bit on the unnecessary side. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it is overlong, and one cast member in particular ultimately pulls the picture into the unfortunate zone.

Mena Massoud makes for a halfway decent Aladdin, while Naomi Scott provides a luminous Jasmine. Both do good jobs singing the famous songs, and they most certainly look the parts. Their magic carpet ride while belting “A Whole New World” is charming, and they make for a cute couple. It’s a shame that it’s all in the service of something that, no matter how much money is being thrown at the screen, feels hollow.

The ultimate movie killer, besides the general been-there-done-that vibe, is Marwan Kenzari woefully miscast as Jafar. In the animated movie, Jafar was a demonic force of Darth Vader levels. Here, he’s a little whiny guy wearing a goofy hat, and his parrot isn’t nearly as memorable as the one voiced by Gilbert Gottfried in the original.

If Jafar had registered even the slightest level of menace, it might’ve been enough to tip the scales and render Aladdin recommendable. But Jafar takes up enough screen time to make too much of the movie indigestible. Each time he walks on screen it’s like a steel-tipped boot kick to the movie’s crotch.

Nasim Pedrad of Saturday Night Live fame is a welcomed presence as Dalla, Jasmine’s handmaiden. She’s good here, and it would be nice to see her score some higher profile roles after this, because she hasn’t been doing enough since departing SNL.

Many of the songs from the original make it into the new version, as do a couple of new tunes. Smith puts fun spins on “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” and Scott hits the mark on “A Whole New World” and the new “Speechless.” Besides “World” and “Friend,” the music isn’t all that catchy. It wasn’t all that catchy in the original, either.

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but Disney is remaking their animated classics like crazy. Aladdin winds up somewhere near the top of the bottom half. It’s not nearly as good as The Jungle Book or Cinderella, but it’s better than Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland. They aren’t stopping anytime soon, with The Lion King coming out later this summer and Mulan on the horizon.

So, it’s not very good, but it’s not the travesty it looked like it was going to be. The blue genie is weird and a little scary, but Smith makes it a fun kind of weird. As for Jafar, he’s the sort of bad, like Jar Jar Binks bad, that you just can’t get around. The film seems to be suggesting a sequel that would most assuredly include Jafar, so recast strategies should be put into play immediately.

At this rate, Disney is going to run out of animated movies to remake live somewhere around 2023, at which time they will probably start remaking live version remakes of animated movies. I’m expecting a live action redo of the live action Beauty and the Beast remake somewhere around 2025.