The Old ‘Aladdin’ Makes the New Aladdin Look Like Crap

The new, live-action Aladdin recently flew onto home video, and with it came a re-release of the animated classic, a stark reminder of just how much better the cartoon is in every way and form—and why Disney’s live-action strategy is driven by a cold, heartless, and hollow pursuit of cash, nothing more.

Revisiting 1992’s Aladdin—my favorite animated Disney film—is a journey through perfection: beautiful visual effects, an energetic story, colorful characters, an insidious villain, and memorable music. From the very first moment, where we’re introduced to Agrabah, a rich, lush, and detailed city in the desert, with a massive palace looming large just beyond the walls, directors Ron Clements and John Musker draw you into their world and hook you.

Contrast that to the live-action version, directed for some reason by Guy Ritchie, which begins with a very human-looking Will Smith croaking out a song to a couple of kids; 2019’s Aladdin attempts to emulate the animated version, but it can’t because it isn’t an animated movie.

Therein lies the rub.

I didn’t hate the new Aladdin. It’s poorly made, the casting is dreadful aside from Naomi Scott and Smith, and it feels noticeably longer (because it is), but it also offers a moderate level of entertainment value—when it manages to tap into the magic of nostalgia. Even still, not a single moment comes close to matching the brilliance of the 1992 film—because the 1992 version was able to do literally anything it wanted to do at any time, because it was animated.

As surprisingly decent as Will Smith is as a replacement for the late Robin Williams, the genie scenes are the perfect example: even armed with a $100 million CGI budget, the new Aladdin simply can’t keep pace with what the animators threw at the screen second-by-second 30 years earlier. Live-action films are constrained by physics, or at least the semblance of them; animated films can defy them at every turn and no one will blink an eye. The animated characters are more expressive (see the new Lion King, or don’t) and oddly more human.

And of course Jafar is actually menacing, unlike whatever Marwan Kenzari was hired to do in the new version.

Disney seems content making lesser versions of its pre-existing properties… after all, they’re a corporation, and billions of dollars later they show no sign of stopping. One inadvertent outcome of their film strategy: these lackluster remakes just reestablish how amazing their animated films are, Aladdin most of all.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Animated Movies, DVD Releases