Will Smith’s genie is flabbergastingly weird. DISNEY

It could have been worse.

Disney's live-action remake of 1992’s Aladdin is a loud, obnoxious concoction of demographic targeting, corporation-backed nostalgia pandering, and ugly CGI. It has all the urgency of a (very expensive) piece of community theater and all the artistry of a quarterly earnings report.

It’s entirely devoid of personality, which is kind of impressive, considering Guy Ritchie directed it (his presence is entirely undetectable except for a few weird Sherlock Holmes-esque action sequences). And it features a big blue Will Smith as a big blue rapping genie.

Yet this ungainly, garish thing is not as detestable as these ingredients would lead you to believe. Mind you, it’s not good—lord, it is not that—but this Aladdin is like a messy, smelly dog that belongs to somebody you don’t like very much. You’re not overjoyed when it jumps up and slobbers on your face or sheds on your couch, and its witless barking is truly deafening (sweet Christ, this movie is so loud). But you’re not going to hold any of that against the dog. It’s a dog. It just wants to be loved.

This Aladdin hews pretty close to the original, which unfortunately means there’s a bunch of headache-inducing musical numbers; without exception, these songs are the worst parts of this film. Each one is a busy, overstuffed carousel of chaos designed to asphyxiate the viewer with overpowering delight. (Confusingly for a story that's ostensibly set in the Middle East, there's a good amount of Bollywood.)

Indeed, this entire movie has the volume cranked past 11—when the characters sing, they SIIIIING, bellowing like it’s parade time on Main Street, USA. A wretched new song, “Speechless,” is intended to flesh out the one-dimensional Princess Jasmine character, and it feels like a focus group got together to figure out what the words “woke” and “fierce” meant, and then wrote a terrible ballad that you will probably be hearing on The Voice soon.

Jasmine is played by Naomi Scott and she’s the best thing in this new Aladdin. The updated Jasmine possesses political ambition, intellectual skepticism, and a fierce but cuddly tiger; the expansion of the character, while a transparently cynical attempt to keep up with the times, does ultimately make the movie better. And Scott is great—she has a naturally expressive face, and her acting contains levels of subtlety not found anywhere else in the movie.



Aladdin, on the other hand, is played by a package of Crest Whitestrips named Mena Massoud. His Aladdin is lame and forgettable—his most interesting character trait is that there’s a CG-animated monkey that follows him around.

Will Smith’s genie, meanwhile, is flabbergastingly weird. It's one of those performances that feels like it'll be nominated for both a Golden Globe and a Razzie. While he’s doing obnoxious dad humor for most of the movie, every now and then Smith reminds us that, hey, once upon a time, the Fresh Prince was pretty cool.

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It’s tough to be too angry at this Aladdin, even as it’s difficult to muster up any actual enthusiasm for it. Unlike the greatest Disney movies, this one's solely designed for kids—and, I suppose, for some very forgiving, very sentimental adults who really, really loved the original.

But there’s not much here for the rest of us. The story, obviously, has nothing new to offer, and there isn’t anything like the visual artistry of the 1992 hand-drawn animated version for movie nerds to latch onto. There isn’t even any of the meta-textual weirdness that made Tim Burton’s live-action remake of Dumbo such a fascinatingly uncomfortable experience. This Aladdin is loud, cheery, tacky, and vacuously good-natured. Like I said, it could have been worse. recommended

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