ALADDIN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Guy Ritchie

Stars: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Namoi Scott, Marwan Kenzai, Navid Negahban, Billy Magnusson.

Mena Massoud in Aladdin (2019)

Disney continues to plunder its back catalogue of animated classics to reinvent them as live action dramas. In recent years we have had the likes of live action remakes of 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, Cinderella, Beauty And The Beast and most recently Dumbo, with The Lion King on the way. The latest live action version of a beloved Disney animated film is Aladdin, a remake of the classic 1992 film. Aladdin itself was based on a tale found in 1001 Arabian Nights.

The film is set in the fictitious Middle Eastern kingdom of Agrabah, which is home to the street wise urchin and pickpocket Aladdin (played by newcomer Mena Massoud). Elsewhere in the kingdom, the princess Jasmine (Namoi Scott) has dreams of escaping the protective confines of the royal palace and the watchful eye of her conservative father (Navid Negahban), who wants her to settle down and marry. When Aladdin spots Jasmine in the local market-place he is instantly besotted by her, even though he doesn’t know who she is. He follows her back to the palace, and assumes she is one of the many servants. But Aladdin inadvertently becomes embroiled in the ambitious schemes of Jafar (Marwan Kenzai, from the awful 2016 remake of Ben Hur, etc), the duplicitous and power-hungry Grand Vizier and royal advisor who has designs on usurping the throne for himself.

When, through a chain of events, Aladdin comes into possession of a magic lamp he conjures up a mischievous, wise cracking giant purple genie (The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air himself Will Smith) who grants him three wishes. The genie helps Aladdin find happiness with Jasmine and thwart Jafar’s evil schemes.  

This live action version has been written by John August (The Man From UNCLE, etc) and Guy Ritchie. While it remains reasonably faithful to the script originally penned by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott and Terry Russio, August and Ritchie have tweaked some elements to give it a more contemporary flavour and to flesh out some of the characters in greater detail. Ritchie himself directs but he seems a bit of an odd fit for a family friendly Disney movie, especially given the more gritty nature of much of his oeuvre, which includes Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, etc. His direction here is a bit restrained as he reins in his usual excessive visual style and kinetic approach.

Some of the familiar tunes from the 1992 film are reprised here, but they come across as rather bland. The highlights include Smith warbling his way through an ebullient rendition of Friend In Need and Jasmine’s ballad Speechless. A couple of the musical numbers are superbly choreographed and wouldn’t be out of place in a Bollywood musical.

Aladdin has been shot in exotic locations including Jordan and Morocco, and cinematographer Alan Stewart uses a bright and garish colour palette that suits the tone of the film. There is some great set and production design from Gemma Jackson (Game Of Thrones, King Arthur, etc).

Smith steps into the giant shoes of the genie, the role previously voiced so memorably by the late, great Robin Williams, but his performance here is augmented by some state-of-the art CGI effects. But unfortunately, here he looks like a Smurf on steroids. Whereas Williams owned the 1992 film, Smith is not a patch on that performance.  He lacks the verbal gymnastics, unbridled energy and improvisational talents that Williams brought to the character and made him one of the more memorable characters in the Disney canon.

Newcomer Massoud has a clean-cut look that perfectly suits the character of Aladdin, and he brings a boyish bravado and charm to his performance as the raffish title character. Scott brings a more feisty and modern sensibility to her performance as Jasmine, a more fully rounded character here than her animated counterpart. And Kenzai does all but twirl his moustache as the evil and manipulative Jafar. And the antics of a cute CGI monkey named Abu will ceratinly delight younger audiences.

This latest live action version of the story of Aladdin is not in the same league as the 1992 animated film, but it still is a bit of fun and entertaining enough. Nonetheless this bright, colourful and energetic take on the classic story will resonate with audiences who haven’t seen the 1992 version.

★★★

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