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SYFY WIRE reviews

Aladdin: Critics say live-action remake is good, but falls short of a perfect wish

By Josh Weiss
Aladdin remake

Hey, clear the way in the ol' bazaar! The first critic reviews for Disney's live-action remake of 1992's Aladdin (out Friday) are now here and while they're mainly positive on the whole, they do find a few issues with the movie, the latest in Disney's run of animated-to-live action remakes. All the nostalgic beats are in place along with the famous songs (and a few new ones), but a bit of the old magic is missing.

Of course, we know why you're here. You want to know how Will Smith's Genie stacks up to the iconic, manic, and impression-riddled performance given by the late great Robin Williams. Well, you'll be sorely disappointed if you're hoping for a beat-by-beat recreation of Williams' take on the blue-skinned, wish-granting djinn, but Smith (to his great credit) still gives the role his all, even if it's prompted certain reviews to compare him to his eponymous match-making character from 2005's Hitch.

Director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes), that maestro of London's seedy criminal underground, trades cockney accents and fish and chip shops for the spice stalls and sand dunes of Agrabah, an apocryphal Middle Eastern kingdom filled with mystery and wonder. Ritchie co-wrote the film's script with John August (Big Fish).

Stepping into the titular role is Mena Massoud (Jack Ryan), whose got enough charisma to spare as a simple street urchin and thief trying to impress the kingdom's princess, Jasmine (Charlie's Angels' Naomi Scott). His chances improve greatly when he becomes the master of a magic oil lamp that will grant him three wishes.

Marwan Kenzari (Jafar), Navid Negahban (The Sultan), Nasim Pedrad (Dalia), and Billy Magnussen (Prince Anders) all co-star.

Find out what critics are saying below...

"Ritchie keeps the film moving at a suitably fast pace, but everything feels obvious and telegraphed, including the obligatory monkey reaction shots designed for cheap laughs. A sequence in which the Genie saves Aladdin from death by drowning is staged so realistically that it may prove upsetting for younger audience members and seems a bit out of place amidst the magic-carpet flying and other fantastical interludes. The climactic showdown between the heroes and villains also feels overblown, more appropriate for a Marvel movie than a lighthearted Disney entertainment." -Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter

"Smith gets off to a bit of a slow start as the Genie — or maybe it just takes us a while to get used to someone else putting his stamp on Williams’ rat-a-tat borscht-belt schtick. The actor has signed up for an impossible assignment. But he still gives it everything he’s got, which is a lot. It’s the leads, unfortunately, who end up being more one-dimensional than their cartoon predecessors." -Chris Nashawaty, EW

"Thankfully, Massoud and former Pink Power Ranger Naomi Scott compensate with their easy chemistry, and Disney’s big-dollar production value gives the ‘toon version a luxurious studio-set make-over, from the palace’s gilt-trimmed opulence, to the bustling city streets, to Aladdin’s shabby-gorgeous tower-top hideout. As a remake, then, it brings the ‘toon to vivid life, but where the original left you craving more Genie action, this version weirdly makes you wish he was in it less." -Dan Jolin, Empire Magazine

"Of course, the charismatic Genie is the reason we're seeing this movie, and it's impossible not to compare Will Smith's version with the late Robin Williams' incredible 1992 portrayal. Smith is at his best when he puts his own energetic magic in Genie's corner, but he doesn't exude the same warmth as Williams did, and his magical shtick can be a bit of a sensory overload in live action." -Sean Keane, CNET

"Does Smith get by on charm alone? It’s going to depend a lot on your opinion of Will Smith ... [He] does fine work, how reliant this Genie is on Smith’s personality does make you wonder if an actor pushing farther out of their comfort zone would have gotten us closer to the boundless creativity that made Robin Williams’ performance so memorable." -Tom Jorgensen, IGN

"The upgrades here are primarily cosmetic, which is no reason to discount their pleasures. There’s an infectiously entertaining dance number in which the Genie manipulates Aladdin’s body like a marionette, allowing Massoud to show off some deft physical slapstick. Some of the original comedy bits are genuinely winsome, Pedrad’s sly and sardonic performance as Jasmine’s servant Dalia included." -Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times

"There are some impressively apocalyptical effects and locations range from the desert to the frozen limits of what appears to be Antarctica. The ending feels formulaic and a little anti-climactic. Disney’s storytellers aren’t able to add too many news twists to a story told countless times before. This, though, is an Aladdin made with tremendous verve. What could have been a cynical exercise in repackaging an old hit turns out to be an invigorating ride." -Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent

"On the whole, Ritchie’s adaptation wisely does little except add human flesh to the bare bones of what was always one of Disney’s strongest stories ... It still holds up as a tale whose central couple’s deceptions and entrapments and self-discoveries have a pleasing symmetry to them, and whose 'it’s what’s inside that counts' morals are in the right place. That’s really all anyone wanted out of a new Aladdin: not a whole new world, just a slightly updated old one." -Steve Rose, The Guardian

"Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin entertains and charms almost through sheer force of will. The leads are so likable (and, yes, the inclusive casting matters, especially for a find like Massoud), the movie is so big and colorful and the songs are so memorable, that it almost doesn’t matter that the story feels like someone dropped the original screenplay in a blender and then randomly taped it back together. Aladdin is neither the disaster we feared (Beauty and the Beast) nor a new Disney classic (Pete’s Dragon). It’s not quite 'good,' but it mostly justifies its existence." -Scott Mendelson, Forbes

"All of the individual parts that make up Aladdin are wonderful, and they come together to make a good movie, just not a great one. What this adaptation sorely lacks is creativity ... Many of the shots are straight-up bland, with conversations shifting from one boring close-up to another. In trying to keep his wild style under control, Ritchie didn't really allow himself to take chances, and make this movie everything it could have been." -Charlie Ridgley,