A whole new world? No, this is very much the old world of the 1992 animated Disney movie; one of those flicks that would been an also-ran in the world of animation had it not been for an inventive, mostly improvised turn from the late Robin Williams as the Genie.
William’s performance is very much of its time; it’s a template setter – Pixar before Pixar: postmodernism and winking at the audience. Sure, it was a movie set in the romantic distant past; the world of Sultan’s and forty thieves; and yes, the Genie has been trapped in a lamp for a thousand years, yet he conjured images from movies, TV, US politics, and just about everything else in between. The result was a movie that has lived long in the affections of Disney fans. Little wonder Uncle Walt has needlessly remade it in live-action 27 years later in a cynical bid to mine old memories for new dollars.
Like all of Disney’s live-action remakes this version’s inexplicably about 40 minutes longer than its predecessor. We have all the same scenes but with embellishments; it seems to take forever for Aladdin to find that cave, longer still for the mechanics of the plot to move into gear. Amongst the many things we’ve lost in movies over the last 27 years is the art of concision. Economic storytelling is dead, folks.
So what’s new? Well there is an empowering new song for Princess Jasmine, the Genie spends some time romancing Jasmine’s made of honour, there’s lots of beauty shots of the computer-generated environments, and Will Smith plies his shtick. His Genie is less versatile and interesting than its predecessor, but he’s a warm and likeable presence, just like the unknown stars, and that’s just enough to keep you going while the familiar story slowly ticks over.
Ultimately, it’s a pretty pointless update of the 1992 film; even more redundant when one considers that in the age of computer-generated visual effects, movies like this are 90% animated anyway. So why replace the 100% animated original? We’re left with a pretty mercenary piece of work, that has none the visual signature or sensibility of director Guy Ritchie, but enough of the constructivism of Steven Spielberg’s Hook from the same era, to remind us of another old Robin Williams’ flick, which like this one, failed, because it was all production design and sentiment over focused, infectious storytelling.