To Sing or Not to Sing in Disney Live-Action Remakes

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Success: High Note

Guy Ritchie’s adventurous adaptation is the most successful of the bunch, even though it too falls short of being entirely as convincing as one of the Genie’s schemes. The movie’s stubborn adherence to Robin Williams’ rendition of “Friend Like Me”—again, the Sideways video has more in-depth analysis—does a disservice to Will Smith, who unlike the other actors in this list does have the chops to take on this iconic role. It’s especially baffling that there is a different cover, with Smith in his element, playing over the credits that very much slaps.

It’s not as if Ritchie treated every element of the animated Aladdin as untouchable: “One Jump” gets recontextualized as Aladdin (Mena Massoud) touring Jasmine (Naomi Scott) through the city. As she tags along on his petty thievery, skilled sleight of hand, and ingenious misdirection, she gets to know the street rat better than any dialogue could have achieved. That number is shot a bit frenetically, which comes through in the spoken-word style of singing, but it’s still undeniably fun.

“Prince Ali” has this same gleeful energy, and gives the Genie a little more wiggle room. There’s a great “drop the beat” moment partway through that could have been ad libbed or could have been built in, but either way it’s completely unexpected. Several dance sequences conjure A Knight’s Tale in their anachronistic style but still strengthen the movie by showing just how much Genie can make people do his bidding in service to his master.

Alas, “A Whole New World” is entirely forgettable, and shot so dark that you miss all of the details that made the magic carpet ride such a thrill for the princess and for audiences. Ditto Jasmine’s “Speechless” number and its tragic refrain. If the Broadway adaptation taught us anything, it’s that you don’t mess with a good thing.

The Lion King (2019)



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