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CONTRIBUTED Photo courtesy WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURESMena Massoud (Aladdin), Will Smith (Genie), “Aladdin.” CONTRIBUTED Photo courtesy WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURESMena Massoud (Aladdin), Will Smith (Genie), “Aladdin.”

Movie Review: ‘Ay, there’s the rub’

Friday, June 7, 2019 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

Disney’s live-action remake of its animation feature film, “Aladdin,” is good, but not as great as the original. How could it be? As legendary animator Chuck Jones said of the raison d’être for animation: “You couldn’t put Charlie Chaplin in a milk bottle.” When it comes to the Genie in the lamp, to quote Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” “Ay, there’s the rub.”

You couidn’t put Robin Williams in the Genie’s lantern, but when Aladdin rubbed the lamp, Robin Williams manic spirit of comedy in voicing the Genie emerged and inspired the creativity of Disney animators in the original 1992 feature film. Robin Williams’ Genie was a shape-shifter trickster.

Will Smith is fine as the Genie in the live-action “Aladdin” remake. He’s a genial Genie. Will Smith has some quippy lines but he has big shoes to fill. No one can match the improv comic genius of Robin Williams in the original.

Plus, there’s a distracting structural problem with the visual design of the man in blue. Whereas in the orignal film, because it was animated, you weren’t bothered very much that the Genie’s body tailed off into the Genie lantern or tapered down and was often out of frame.

In the live-action remake, the Genie’s lower torso dirfts off into swirling blue dust. It’s odd, especially given the powerhouse chest, biceps, arms and neck of Will Smith. Half a Genie is better than no Genie, but the effect is, ahem, jarring.

The costuming of Will Smith as the Genie is also a bit off. In opening frames, his outfit resembles that of an African-American 1960s era hippie. When he’s in full-Genie mode, his outfit looks like that of a Superfly character from a 1970s Blaxploitation film.

When characters in “Aladdin” keep referring to “jams,” as in the jelly or fruit variety, I wanted Will Smith to break into his Fresh Prince character from “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air” TV show (1990-1996) and perform a music jam.

There’s another problem with another character in the “Aladdin” remake, namely, the film’s nemesis, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari). Perhaps the film-makers wanted to avoid possible racist overtones in depicting persons of Middle East origin. Whatever the reason, Jafar is mostly a nonentity, until very late in the film when his wishes turn him into a kind of superhero run amok.

The casting of Aladdin and Jasmine are excellent and are the best surprises of the “Aladdin” remake. Mena Massoud is wide-eyed and handsome as Aladdin. Naomi Scott is charming and engaging as Jasmine.

The screenplay is by John August (screenplay, “Big Fish,” 2003; “Corpse Bride,” 2005: “Frankenweenie,” 2012) and Guy Ritchie (director, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” 1998; “Sherlock Holmes,” 2009), who directs the film.

The “Aladdin” remake handles the magic carpet well.

The film includes the popular hit songs by lyricist Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and composer Alan Menken (“Speechless,” “Friend Like Me,” “A Whole New World”). The film’s dance numbers are more over-the-top Bollywood than the “Arabian Nights” tale, “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp,” on which the movie is based.

There are lots of chase scenes involving Aladdin. The settings of the fictional city of Agrabah, placed near the Jordan River, are lavish. The film has rich detail.

Yet, the sense is one of distance. The Computer Generated Imagery-ladden “Aladdin” remake is curiously uninvolving. Part of the problem is that some of the scenes are murky or dark. The film was seen in the 2D format for this review. Perhaps “Aladdin” might be more compelling in the 3D and or Imax format.

Even so, as with many of the recent Disney remakes of its classic animation features (Can you say “Dumbo”?), the old Disney magic is lacking in the live-action “Aladdin.” The live-action remake of “Aladdin” will be chiefly enjoyed by children. Teens, young adults and parents may wish for more. “Ay, there’s the rub.”

“Aladdin,” MPAA rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents urged to give “parental guidance.” May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.) for some action and peril; Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Musical; Run time: 2 hrs., 8 mins.; Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “Aladdin” was filmed in England and Jordan.

Box Office, May 31-June 2: “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” proved to be the king of the first weekend in June 2019 box office, with $49 million, opening, putting the Genie back in the bottle, as “Aladdin” dropped once place to No. 2, with a still solid $42.3 million, $185 million, two weeks: “Rocketman,” the Elton John biopic, opened at No. 2 with a respectable $25 million, and Octavia Spencer’s “Ma” opened strongly at No. 4, scaring up $18.2 million, one week. 5. “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” dropped three places, $11.1 million, $125.7 million, three weeks. 6. “Avengers: Endgame” dropped three places, $7.8 million, $815.5 million, six weeks. 7. “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” dropped three places, $6.6 million, $130.6 million, four weeks. 8. “Booksmart” dropped two places, $3.3 million, $14.3 million, two weeks. 9. “Brightburn” dropped four places, $2.3 million, $14.2 million, two weeks. 10. “The Hustle” dropped two places, $1.3 million, $33.1 million, four weeks.

Box Office, May 24-26: The live-action “Aladdin” opened at No. 1, with $91.5 million, making “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” drop one place, No. 2, with $24.5 million, $101.2 million, two weeks. 3. “Avengers: Endgame” dropped one place, $17.2 million, $798.5 million, five weeks. 4. “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” dropped one place, $13.4 million, $116.2 million, three weeks. 5. “Brightburn,” $7.8 million, opening. 6. “Booksmart,” $6.9 million, opening. 7. “A Dog’s Journey” dropped three places, $4.1 million, $14.9 million, two weeks. 8. “The Hustle” dropped three places, $3.5 million, $29.6 million, three weeks. 9. “The Intruder” dropped three places, $2.3 million, $31.8 million, four weeks. 10. “Long Shot” dropped three places, $1.6 million, $28.7 million, four weeks.

Unreel, June 7:

“The Secret Life of Pets 2,” PG: Chris Renaud, a Parkland High School graduate, and Jonathan del Val direct the voice talents of Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford and Eric Stonestreet in the Animation Comedy sequel that continues the adventures of Max and his pet friends when their owners leave them home alone.

“Dark Phoenix,” PG-13: Simon Kinberg directs Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain in the Science-Fiction Adventure film. Jean Grey becomes the Dark Phoenix and the X-Men have to deal with it.

“Late Night,” R: Nisha Ganatra directs Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow and Hugh Dancy in the Drama-Comedy. A late-night talk-show host may be fired.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes