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The new Aladdin is a cold copy of the old

In 1992’s Aladdin, a centrepiece in Disney’s animation renaissance, Robin Williams’ buff ultramarine genie laid the ground rules for granting three wishes. You can’t bring something back from the dead, he warned, doing his best Boris Karloff impression. “It’s not a pretty picture.”

An apt premonition. This new Aladdin is a live-action, CG-heavy resurrection directed by Guy Ritchie (still in storybook mode after his terrible spin on King Arthur). It sticks to the plot and action of the original, but it’s 30 minutes longer and it’s turned out worse.

Despite the cast (which includes Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and Marwan Kenzari) adding a touch more authenticity, the setting is still generically “Oriental”, hoovering up costumes, customs and architecture from anywhere between Islamabad and Istanbul. Will Smith, meanwhile, has an enthusiastic go at making the genie role his own, keeping pace with Williams’ famously motormouthed performance.

The songs – perhaps the most memorable aspect of the original film and the stage musical – have been given a big-band boost, but they’re largely performed in the key of High School Musical: every vowel drawn out to grating lengths. Are we really, as Aladdin howls aboard his flying carpet, in “a whole new woooooorrrhhhhld”? The answer is no. It’s a cold copy of the old.



Video: Walt Disney Studios

This article was first published in the June 8, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.