"Aladdin" Review: It's Got Faults But Disney Charm Too!
To have seen Aladdin in theaters in 1992 as a child means that you will go into Aladdin 2019 with ice in your veins! At least I did. How many times did I rewatch the VHS with my brother? How do I still know all the words to the songs? It was the Disney magic and the incredible voice acting of Robin Williams that made the film so special. Don’t worry ice kings and queens, Disney hasn’t lost its magic and Will Smith knows how to create a new genie instead of trying to fill those unmatchable genie shoes! It will take a while for the ice to melt, but this film is charming enough to do it.
Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a street thief with dreams of being somebody. He’s got a good heart but no money in his pocket. After a chance encounter with Jasmine (Naomi Scott), the Princess of Agrabah, Aladdin is smitten but knows he doesn’t stand a chance with her as a lowly street rat. So when the nefarious Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) forces him to retrieve a lamp from the Cave of Wonders that happens to hold a powerful genie, Aladdin’s windfall is significant. Genie (Will Smith) can make all his wishes come true, or at least three of them.
That previous paragraph was for anyone who was born in the last seven years. The beloved classic tale hasn’t changed much, but co-writers John August and Guy Ritchie are wise enough to know that making a live action version of a classic means that you need to deviate a little. The minor changes that they make to the film are the right shift in a new direction. Disney princesses are a lot stronger than they used to be. Princess Jasmine is more defined as a person than she was in the past. She’s crafted into a tangible character who shows real leadership, a zest for life and courage. Genie and Aladdin’s relationship is a little more intertwined as Genie has the ability to take on a human form outside of his usual blue, legless shape.
The film must lean on the nostalgia of the classic film and songs though. It asks you to forgive the fact that Will Smith can’t sing and that the musical arrangements of many of the songs are a bit of a step down from the originals. Perhaps because three new lyricists worked on this with one of the original songwriter, Alan Menken. Mena Massoud feels like he was casted for the smile and energy that Aladdin has in the animated version, but it not for his musical talent. In fact, much of the film’s musical numbers sound like they should be on Broadway and director Guy Ritchie shoots them like he’s covering a stage play.
While the film has its eyebrow raising, cringeworthy moments, when songs aren’t being sung, the drama is universally touching. The life lessons of being yourself, speaking up for yourself, and doing right by other people is clear. The budding romance between Princess Jasmine and Aladdin has all the right Disney feels. So while it has its faults, the bold step to recreate Aladdin may prove to be worth it this weekend. It will certainly be a good time for families, and at least we’ll get to hear DJ Khaled the next time we’re in a Disney theme park!