by Charles Kirkland, Jr.
The latest live-action remake of an animated classic comes to the screen in Disney’s, Aladdin.
The vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) has been looking for a “diamond in the rough” to enter the Cave of Wonders to retrieve an artifact. Unfortunately, he has not found anyone worthy yet. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a commoner in the land of Agrabah. In fact, he and his monkey Abu are skilled thieves with good hearts. One day, Aladdin meets a woman named Dalia (Naomi Scott) who mistakenly steals food for children. While entertaining with a song, he deftly aids her escape arrest. The smitten girl informs Aladdin that she is a handmaid for the princess and must return to the palace. After the handmaiden has left Aladdin discovers that Abu has stolen a bracelet from her. Aladdin sneaks into the palace and past all of the guards to the princess’ chambers. There he returns the bracelet and discovers that the handmaiden is actually Princess Jasmine. Convinced that he is the diamond in the rough for whom he has been searching, Jafar captures Aladdin and sends him into the cave for the magic lamp. Aladdin becomes the holder of the lamp and meets The Genie (Will Smith) who lives inside it. As the holder of the lamp, Aladdin will be granted three wishes by the all-powerful Genie.
Directed by Guy Ritchie from a screenplay written by Ritchie and John August, Aladdin is the retelling of the 1992 Disney animated adventure of the same name that was taken from “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp” part of the Arabic collection One Thousand and One Nights. Historically, the 1992 version was mildly plagued with criticism because white actors voiced the roles of Arabic descent. Thankfully, this edition seems to have learned from that criticism with the employment of a cast of almost completely Arabic descent with the exception of course of Will Smith and Naomi Scott who is Ugandan born.
Will Smith steps into some large shoes previously filled by the late, great Robin Williams. Robin Williams’ performance as The Genie is renowned as his most manic and yet family friendly work of his career. The animated Aladdin is the hit that it was solely on the voice-over efforts of Williams and the songs of Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Surprisingly, Smith does a competent and pleasing version of Genie in the film. His performance both honors the work of Williams yet also creates a Genie that distinctively his, giving the most delightful, entertaining and lighthearted work that Smith has done since his days as the Fresh Prince.
From the standpoint of cinematography, Aladdin is beautiful to watch. The colors are vibrant. The scenery is lavish and detailed for the most part. (The inside of the Cave of Wonders could have used a little more splendor.) Director Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Sherlock Holmes) seems to have good command with communicating the fun and wonder of the movie as the animated experience conveys better in this film than its cousin Dumbo which was released earlier this year.
There are two major issues encountered in this movie. The first is in the dance scenes of the movie and the second is in the music of the film. Both of these issues were problematic for the composition of the film and its overall experience.
There are two major dance scenes in the movie: one in the middle as Prince Ali courts Princess Jasmine and the second at the end of the film. Both films are joyous and entertaining but the visual tracking is a problem. It appears that for some reason, the speed of the film is accelerated during those scenes making the motions of the dancers appear stilted and lacking in fluidity. In short, the dances seem cartoonish like an old movie reel playing at the wrong speed. Additionally, the courting dance scene feels and looks more like a Bollywood dance than a typical Arabian styled dance.
Howard Menken returns to supervise the soundtrack for the movie which brings a wonderful piece of continuity to both Aladdin films. The songwriters from La La Land, Pasek and Paul, have joined with Menken to create a new song for the movie called “Speechless” which is sung by Princess Jasmine. The song is a power ballad that develops the character and integrity of the princess. Naomi Scott delivers it well. The problem is that the song has no Arabic melody or influence. It feels like a song that was meant more for Frozen 2 and just stuck in for a girl power moment.
One of the reasons Disney claimed for remaking this animated feature into a live-action movie was to give the opportunity for this new generation to experience the story of Aladdin for themselves. While those who are waxing nostalgic will really enjoy themselves once “A Whole New World” kicks in, this movie is a re-imagining of the story for a whole new generation.
Rated PG for some action/peril, Aladdin is a flawed but enjoyable magic carpet ride. If nothing else, it is much more enjoyable than any of its live-action cousins that have come before this.