He’s no Robin Williams, but Will Smith actually works as the Genie
The magical element of the Disney animated “Aladdin” from 1992 was the late Robin Williams’ brilliant comedic work as the voice and inspiration of the Genie. His impressions from Rodney Dangerfield to Ed Sullivan were memorable, and his flexibility brought his character to life. That’s one of the many role Williams will always be remembered for.
In Guy Ritchie’s latest take on “Aladdin,” he guides Will Smith as the Genie, and he uses his “Fresh Prince” and “Men in Black” charms to match his own comic tones. He deserves credit for not thinking he’s better than Robin Williams, because he isn’t. In his blue CGI form, he’s not at all compelling, but his human form is.
This new version is less than “A Whole New World,” because of the fowl casting choice of Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) and his parrot Iago (voiced by Alan Tudyk), the lazy Cave of Wonders escape sequence, and how obvious the story gets at times. Most people would slam this movie, based on the horrible advertisements, and I probably would do the same.
But on the bright side, it has an honest sense of humor, dazzling sets and props, and good-natured performances from Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, and Smith as the Genie. Besides the “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” remake, “The Hustle,” was a whole lot worse than this.
You know the story: Aladdin is the street urchin, who struggles to survive out in the Agrabah streets with his monkey Abu. Princess Jasmine is the love of his life who’s forced to marry a prince (Billy Magnessum). And Jafar is the Sultan’s (Navid Negahban) evil advisor, who seeks the power of the magic lamp.
So, Jafar sends Aladdin and Abu to the Cave of Wonders (voiced by the original actor Frank Welker) to take the lamp. Aladdin ends up summoning the Genie, who helps him win Jasmine’s heart. And let’s not forget the Magic Carpet. It/he has some nice effects to keep things floating along.
The cover version of the classic songs, originated by Alan Menkin and the late Howard Ashman, don’t match the magical cartoony experience (“One Jump Ahead,” “A Friend Like Me,” etc.) of the original, but at least, there are some good beats.
The new “A Whole New World” cover works, because Massoud and Scott sound similar to Brad Kane and Liz Calloway; and Scott offers some impressive Idina Menzel-like vocals for the new song “Speechless,” written by Pasek and Paul (“La La Land”).
But the biggest negativity is the casting of Jafar and Iago. Jonathan Freeman’s voice of Jafar was so devilish that hearing him is so relaxing, and you can’t have an Iago without Gilbert Gottfried’s dialogue. I met these two actors, and they’re much better than either Kenzari or Tudyk. One acts and sounds like a wimp, and the other basically squawks. If you wanted to replace Freeman and Gottfried, you could have at least gotten Jemaine Clement and Charlie Day.
Aside from those two Razzie-nominated performances, I really liked Smith, Massoud, and Scott for doing their best to portray the memorable characters. They’re often goofy and serious, depending on how director Guy Richie chooses to lead them. They do a much better job than the trailers promote them.
We know how the story plays out, and yet somehow, with these live-action Disney remakes (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” etc.), we have a fun time looking at the plausible and implausibilities of it.