[su_dropcap size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]he sprawling Disney Empire has apparently grown lax to the point that they now feel comfortable regifting their greatest animated hits in the form of live-action CGI bonanzas. Aladdin bats in the middle of a lineup that will soon include The Lion King, Lady and the Tramp, and even The Sword in the Stone. These repurposed blockbusters arrive with such mechanical regularity that it becomes difficult to analyze any one release without making an assessment of the entire assembly line. My cynical side says that these movies are all just hollow cash-grabs from an industry prone to wandering into creative doldrums. After all, if you can’t cook up something magical, why not just grab something from the fridge? There is, of course, a flip side to that coin: Like Dumbo before it, Aladdin is cold pizza…but it’s pretty good cold pizza. The production is sumptuous and the actors are game, but even the best leftovers get old after a while.
Our familiar story centers on Aladdin, a charming, agile thief who nicks food when he’s hungry and nabs jewels when he’s broke. One day, our hero parkours his way into the path of Princess Jasmine, who has stolen away from the palace to taste the common life in the Kingdom of Agrabah. The two sense something special in each other, despite their disparate classes. Aladdin also trips the alarm of Jafar, the Sultan’s cruel vizier. Jafar observes (don’t do it, don’t do it….noooo….) from afar (I’m truly sorry, puns are a real sickness for me) that this petty criminal may have what it takes to retrieve a magic lamp from a haunted cave. You probably know where it goes from here: Aladdin grabs the lamp and awakens a hyper, pop culture-spouting genie (Will Smith) who grants his new master three wishes. (Sidenote: You can’t wish for more wishes here?? That’s some serious horseshit, y’all.)
This Aladdin does a great job hitting the highlights of the earlier, better version: We get Iago (voice of Alan Tudyk), Jafar’s sass-mouthed macaw sidekick. Also present are Abu, the ornery capuchin monkey, Rajah, Jasmine’s loyal tiger pet, and a magic carpet with great dramatic timing. If you loved the first film, you can count on everything great about it getting Xeroxed over for this one.
And that’s all shining, shimmering, splendid, but Xeroxes never look as good as the original. Will Smith does lively work as the blue wizard with a heart of gold, but he also reminds us how much Robin Williams is missed. Williams was a live wire running through the original, sparking it with a humor that was both bold and off-kilter. His performance wasn’t just good–it was Oscar-worthy, and Disney will never have another friend like him. The songs are note-perfect, but they’re also rote-perfect, which only takes our minds back to how refreshing the original versions were. Alan Stewart’s cinematography is gorgeous–and also Oscar-worthy, I might add–but there’s just something wondrous about animation that gets lost in the translation to live-action. Kids will lap it up, the box office will light it up, but I still find myself underwhelmed. A lot of people love cold pizza, but I prefer it fresh from the oven.
Rated PG. 128 mintes.