It’s OK to question the need for Disney to make a live-action version of every one of their beloved animation films. Dumbo proved not every property needs the updated, CGI treatment. Aladdin is a different story entirely as it’s one of the Disney stories that benefited immensely from the live-action showcase. It’s right up there with The Jungle Book as the best of the format as it takes viewers to another level (and world) with this highly entertaining spin on the classic story.
Street thief Aladdin (Mena Massoud, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan) takes what he can to get by, but he’s got a good heart and helps those in greater need with the aid of his pet monkey Abu. While making his daily run, Aladdin rescues Jasmine (Naomi Scott, Power Rangers) from a sticky situation. Aladdin doesn’t know Jasmine is the princess and the daughter of the Sultan (Navid Negahban, 24), who is anxious to find a prince to marry her.
But there’s no chance Aladdin has even a shot of marrying Jasmine due to his lowly status. The sultan’s shady advisor, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), offers to help Aladdin provided he fetch a magical lamp for him. Jafar betrays Aladdin a little too quickly and leaves him for dead without ensuring the lamp is in his possession. With the aid of a magic carpet and Abu, Aladdin discovers the lamp contains a powerful Genie (Will Smith, Bright), who offers him three wishes.
Smith doesn’t try to do a Robin Williams homage, which would have been disastrous. Instead, Smith gives the genie a little swag and just the right amount of an edge. There’s some traces of The Fresh Prince and Mike Lowery from Bad Boys in Smith’s performance, which proves to be one of his best in many years.
Figuring a princely status will be the key to Jasmine’s heart, Aladdin starts making his wishes with the Genie advising him. As smooth as Genie is helping Aladdin, he gets a little weak at the knees himself nursing a crush on Jasmine’s hand maiden Dailia (Nasim Pedrad).
While the casting isn’t perfect, Disney avoided any sticky whitewashing (see: Prince of Persia) and cast actors of Arab/Middle Eastern/Central Asian/Southern Asian descent. Besides the obvious controversies it’s important that Disney embrace and showcase heroes of various diverse backgrounds and not just those prominently featured in their earlier animated films.
Massoud and Scott have solid, believable chemistry. There’s an innocence to their courtship that makes it come off very sweet. Kenzari doesn’t go for the scene-chewing villain route and his understated approach works well. Pedrad made for a fun BFF, who also manages to get some nice moments of her own.
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As expected with any Disney live-action film, there’s a decent amount of spontaneous song and dance numbers. This is the biggest weak spot of the film as Scott and Massoud’s voices are serviceable if not spectacular. The exception is one of the film’s strongest scenes where Scott shines while performing Speechless. It’s at a critical moment in the film and Scott does a great job of selling its importance to Jasmine’s arc. It feels very in the moment and inspiring as politically so much legislation is being enacted to basically silence women’s voices.
Guy Ritchie seemed like an unorthodox choice to direct the film as his best films (Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) always have that quirky kind of edge to them. Ritchie fully embraced the project and the proper tone with lavish song and dance numbers including a spectacular introduction scene of Aladdin at the palace. A director’s choice that raised some eyebrows early on turned out to be the right call for the project. Ritchie also co-wrote the film with John August (Big Fish).
At just over two hours, the film will probably start to feel a little too long for younger viewers, so parents plan accordingly.
I always say any film is better in IMAX, but not every film is worth paying IMAX prices. With its dazzling visuals, stunning costumes and gorgeous cinematography from Alan Stewart, Aladdin definitely warrants seeing on the biggest screen possible. This won’t be the same watching at home.
I didn’t have low expectations for this one, but I wasn’t psyched for it either. Aladdin won me over big time and should prove a wish come true for families looking for their next great cinematic thrill.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: Disney