The early reviews have completely neglected the best character in the movie. The Carpet stole the show. It deserves a Best Supporting Oscar nomination. Literally, and artistically.
The movie’s title is “Aladdin” but let’s be honest, here. It’s all about Jasmine, the highly merchandisable Disney Princess. This “new” live action version is a version of the Broadway version, which is a version of the 1992 animated film version of the classic Arabian folktale from A Thousand and One Nights. So, authenticity isn’t really an issue here, which is good, because despite having been updated from some of the more blatant Arabian stereotypes of the 1992 film, it is still a fantasy version of a place far, far away that has tigers, and monkeys, and camels, and elephants, and minarets, and dancing girls and bazaars. In other words, a great place for a Disney Princess to live.
Jasmine, the Princess, (Naomi Scott) checks all the boxes for a Disney Princess, circa 2019. She has a dead mother, and an elderly, somewhat bumbling, traditionalist father. She also has her soft, feminine good looks. Earlier Disney Princesses may be plucky and may wait for their Prince to come. Not Jasmine. Actually, she does yearn for the right prince to come with True Love, but she also yearns to throw off patriarchal tradition and rule the country as Sultan after her father. She’s all about empowerment: she even has a new song, written especially for 2019, about not being heard. She will not go “Speechless”. You go, girl. Frozen’s Elsa has nothing on you.
Aladdin, (Mena Massoud) , the street rat, whose true nature as the “diamond in the rough” is demonstrated very early when he gives his ill-gotten lunch to a couple of beggar children, is sent by the villain Jafar, the Grand Vizier of the city of Agraba, (Marwan Kenzari) to an Indiana Jones booby trap type cave, where he is to retrieve the magic lamp. Inevitably betrayed by Jafar, he rubs the lamp and releases the Genie, (Will Smith) who not only grants wishes to give Aladdin what he wants, but also teaches lessons in life along the way. Escaping the cave with Aladdin and the Genie is the Carpet, (animated; no voice)
Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud look, and sound, like every Disney Princess, and every equivalent of Prince Charming in every Disney movie ever made. Interestingly, they, along with Will Smith, speak in American English, while Jafar and all others have vague Middle Eastern-ish accents, at least most of the time. Occasionally the accents disappear mid-sentence, but we’ve already established that authenticity is not an issue. Scott and Massoud have pleasant singing voices and perform in an American Idol style that would suffice on any road tour of the musical.
Will Smith tries, but simply can’t manage to make his songs memorable. In fact, that could be said of his whole performance. He tries really, really hard but it’s just not his part. It’s Robin William’s part, and no one, no matter what age, who has ever seen the 1992 film, is ever going to accept anyone else as the Genie, at least in the blue fast-talking smart-alec incarnation of the Genie. Smith’s streetwise patter veers between his persona and Williams; it can’t be one and it isn’t the other. In compensation, he is very buff. His biceps and abs, whether real or enhanced, are spectacular, and there is no difficulty believing he has power.
Marwan Kenzari has neither a villainous voice, nor a villainous visage. That makes it hard to be truly evil. He’s just a petty man with an anger management problem.
The Carpet has neither voice nor visage. It’s a little patterned square with tassels, and yet it manages to be charming, courteous, and courageous. It’s a little piece of the old Disney animation magic. Like many of the classic Disney characters, from Thumper the bunny and Dopey the dwarf, it expresses itself in silent pantomime. Through the mish- mash of overblown backdrops, Bollywood with a touch of hip hop production numbers, blatant merchandising, chase scenes that will transfer into amusement park rides that make up the movie, the Carpet reminds us of what was once true, enchanting magic.
Give it up for the Carpet.