(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, May 27, 2019

Dearest Review: Dude, Where's My Carpet?

Racist. Culturally insensitive. "Whitewashed". The start of all those crappy direct-to-video sequels. The Disney Aladdin franchise has faced some formidable complaints in the past, but likely it's biggest misstep just opened in a theater near you this past weekend.

The newest splashy, special effects-y Aladdin is just the latest result of a beloved classic getting yanked from the fabled "Disney Vault" and fed through the live action remake machine Bob Iger has working in overdrive of late (it's just one of five such projects this year alone). Yet unlike the enchanting recent returns of Cinderella, Mowgli and Belle, Al & Company find themselves mired in a rote, by-the-numbers rehash nearly devoid of all the charm, whimsy and magic of its predecessor, the latter obviously the most necessary ingredient of all for this exotic tale of a boy and his big blue genie.

An in-the-flesh Aladdin should have worked, a Thief of Bagdad for the new millennium. How could it go so wrong? Well, for starters we have Guy Ritchie in charge, a director with zero family friendly credits and who's closest brush with a musical on his résumé is a music video for his (now ex-)wife Madonna. Then we have Mena Massoud, a lackluster leading man with limited singing abilities clad not in MC Hammer pants but a Justin Bieber hoodie. And most damaging of all is Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, Agrabah's resident sneering bad guy. Except here he's without a sneer... or any discernible change of facial expression at all for that matter. In the original Aladdin, voice actor Jonathan Freeman and ace animator Andreas Deja created a memorably oily, power-hungry Villain with a capital 'V' (the OG Jafar even quoted Republican sound bites through song); Kenzari is so unimpressive you would think he was a Marvel supervillain.

Undoubtedly the biggest challenge, casting wise, was finding someone willing to take on the daunting task of filling Robin Williams' pointy-toed shoes as the iconic Genie of the Lamp. Will Smith, to his credit, does an adequate, amiable job that, while it certainly won't make you forget Williams' legendary turn, won't make you want to immediately forget his take on it either (well, except for his horrendous end credit hip hop cover of "Friend Like Me"). Fairing the best is the lovely Naomi Scott as Jasmine, a thoroughly modern (as in 21st century) maiden with a purpose, and it's not to marry some prince but to rule as sultan herself. She even gets her own "Let It Go-ish" princess power ballad in "Speechless", the sole new song (from Alan Menken and his umpteenth Aladdin collaborators Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, of La La Land/The Greatest Showman fame) that is surely being over-earnestly covered by a multitude of YouTubers as we speak.

In addition to this film and the already released Dumbo, Disney has Jon Favreau's "photo realistic" reimagining of The Lion King coming out this summer, then Angelina Jolie reprises her Sleeping Beauty villainess in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil in October, plus there's a live Lady and the Tramp reboot set to debut on Disney's new streaming service the following month. If you add in the Avengers, Toy Story, Frozen and Star Wars sequels also premiering this year, that's a lot of cashing in on IP for the House of Mouse in 2019. At the rate they're going, soon Disney will be churning out animated remakes of the live action versions. If so, one can only wish that Aladdin 3.0 will be more inspired than its current iteration.

Dearest Rating: 5/10

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

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