It’s got a flying carpet. It’s got an enchanted lamp. It’s got a shape-shifting genie.
But alas, “Aladdin” lacks real magic.
Instead, Disney’s misconceived live-action remake of the studio’s 1992 animated classic offers the audience overstuffed musical-production numbers that look like they’ve been edited with a meat ax. Chop, chop, choppy.
On view too is the central couple, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who come across as very nice young people with dazzling white teeth but without a whole lot of believable romantic chemistry between them.
There are songs, all bellowed. There are line deliveries, all shouted.
And then there is that genie.
It was Robin Williams who made the original picture the massive hit it was: highest grossing movie of 1992, the first animated feature to take in half a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. His quicksilver dialogue, much of it ad-libbed, was hilarious and tinged with genius. Taking on the blue-hued genie mantle, Will Smith is … adequate.
Smiling. Genial. Smoothly sardonic. Smith sings. He dances. He buddies up with Aladdin while granting the tale’s three signature wishes. But he doesn’t own the picture the way Williams did. He’s first among equals in the cast, but only that.
For director, Disney handed the reins to Guy Ritchie. A curious choice. His best work is “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and 2009’s “Sherlock Holmes,” rough and woolly pictures with a cheeky vibe. He’s never directed a big-budget musical. It shows.
The songs, most of them by the Oscar-winning team of composer Alan Menken and lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, are taken directly from the 1992 original. The songs are charming in the original. In Ritchie’s hands, the charm is pounded out of them and replaced by bombast.
Aladdin, a poor but engagingly larcenous “street rat” and sheltered princess Jasmine are kindred spirits in that they’re trapped by their circumstances and want to break free. That point is hammered home repeatedly.
The picture has come under fire from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil-rights organization, for being culturally insensitive for what the group claims are stereotypical portrayals of its characters. For its part, Disney points to the fact its cast is the most ethnically diverse in the company’s history. Massoud was born in Egypt, and Scott’s mother is of South Asian descent. Marwan Kenzari, who plays the movie’s villainous vizier Jafar, is the son of Tunisian parents.
Ritchie has infused “Aladdin” with a strong sense of self-congratulation. Two big production numbers climax with the cast applauding itself. And after the genie’s strenuously delivered opening song “Friend Like Me,” he tells Aladdin, “You can clap now.”
★½ “Aladdin,” featuring Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari. Directed by Guy Ritchie from a screenplay by Ritchie and John August. 128 minutes. Rated PG for some action/peril. Multiple theaters.