While it is easy to look on at the remake culture hitting us lately and wish for more original content it would be a shame to dismiss a fresh perspective just because the story has been told before. While I was disappointed by the release of Dumbo earlier this year I at least saw what it was trying to do, trying to say. Aladdin, on the other hand held untold promise for me at least, having been one of the few children who didn’t see it when it came out in 1992. This gave me the opportunity to fully embrace a story I had no knowledge of instead of seeing it through a distorted gaze.
Telling the story of street kid Aladdin (Mena Massoud) who is pushed into finding a mystical lamp for royal henchman Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) as recompense for breaking into the palace to meet Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). When he inadvertently uses the lamp he releases a centuries-old genie (Will Smith) who grants him three wishes. While Jafar tries to find a way to the lamp, Aladdin struggles not to fall foul of its tempting power.
While Guy Richie has made a name for himself with british gangster movies such as Lock,Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, recently he has tried breaking free of the his conventional mold. While it proved unsuccessful in recent years with the release of the incomprehensible and silly King Arthur, Aladdin has a personal touch that was missing from the former. Clearly a passion project, this is a tale much like Richies about carving your own path and breaking from the expected and who you were along the way.
Richie smartly hides most of this pathos within one of Smith’s best performances in years as Genie is equal parts wise, irresponsible and unsure of who he is outside of his powers and duties. The allegory for parenting here speaks for itself and Richie uses it to build towards an ending that’s both symbolic and affecting. Most of the film works best when Smith is let loose to play. When Richie is made to rely on the visual aspects, despite the colourful sandbox he is playing in, there are missteps. From the unfortunate dance numbers that feel cheap despite the staggering production costs and the over reliance on green screen ‘magic’, this fails to grasp the fun of the story without giving in to the kind of Disney excess that it doesn’t need.
While this might be one of Disney’s more adult offerings, Richie uses these darker themes to find comic moments, embracing his signature sarcastic wit to make not only Genie but also Aladdin seem more world-weary and less naive. While there is little that pushes the film into new territory, this adaptation proves oddly uplifting, surprisingly less absurd and wonderfully hopeful. In moving out of his comfort zone, Richie might just have found a new arena in which to play as for a family-friendly fantasy, this certainly fits the bill and then some.