Will Smith puts the true magic in ‘Aladdin’

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - On Tv - BY JAY BOB­BIN

It’s a whole new world, all right, when it comes to the Dis­ney stu­dio’s lat­est ef­fort to turn one of its an­i­mated clas­sics into a live-ac­tion fea­ture.

The re­sults were mixed in try­ing that re­cently with “Dumbo,” and again, there are points on both ends of the scale of suc­cess with “Aladdin.” Given the ex­otic set­ting, you know it’s go­ing to be a big pro­duc­tion – so the catch is to keep the songs and emo­tions from be­ing dwarfed by the out­sized vis­ual value, which di­rec­tor Guy Ritchie clearly puts an em­pha­sis on.

The true star of “Aladdin,” and this prob­a­bly won’t come as a sur­prise, is Will Smith as the genie. Rein­vent­ing a role so strongly as­so­ci­ated with Robin Williams is a tall or­der, and it takes some­one who can in­ject his own mighty per­son­al­ity into the part. That would be Smith, whose genie is set free by young Aladdin (Mena Mas­soud) – who needs his help to win the heart of Princess Jas­mine (Naomi Scott).

Another part of Smith’s magic is that by hav­ing him on board for star power, the film’s mak­ers could cast the other roles rather freely, and they’ve done a good job there. Still, the over­all ap­proach short­changes feel­ing for ac­tion, another rea­son why these Dis­ney live-ac­tion retellings don’t necessaril­y re­place the an­i­mated orig­i­nals so much as sup­ple­ment them.

With such cred­its as Robert Downey Jr.’s “Sher­lock Holmes” ca­pers and “Lock, Stock and Smok­ing Bar­rels,” Ritchie isn’t necessaril­y a log­i­cal film­maker for a project so re­liant on pure fan­tasy. In a way, it’s the same thing that hap­pened with Tim Bur­ton guid­ing the live-ac­tion “Dumbo”: The re­sult can be an in­trigu­ing mashup of seem­ingly dis­cor­dant el­e­ments, or it can be so far off the chart, you can wonder why the at­tempt even was made.

Since the fig­u­ra­tive shots were be­ing called by Dis­ney ex­ec­u­tives, it’s cer­tain that Ritchie was given some­thing of a play­book to fol­low, to hit “Aladdin’s” nec­es­sary notes – cer­tainly in the mu­si­cal sense, but also in story terms. Still, a moviemaker brings his own sen­si­bil­ity, how­ever fa­mous the tale he’s telling is; this surely is Ritchie’s take on “Aladdin,” and it helps to be cog­nizant of what he’s done be­fore in watch­ing his work here.

With that said, many of the film’s pa­trons sim­ply will want a fresh view of some­thing they al­ready know and love. The newer “Aladdin” casts its spell to a cer­tain de­gree, but for the full ex­pe­ri­ence, keep the car­toon in mind.

Will Smith

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