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Review: ‘Aladdin’ is a magical ride through a familiar world (Includes first-hand account)

There are several arguments to be made for and against Disney reaching into their vaults to make live-action versions of their animated classics. On the one hand, it feels as if there’s a lack of new ideas and room for creativity as, arguably, the largest studio in the world rehashes their already bankable narratives. On the other hand, re-envisioning the original stories gives them the opportunity to address any criticisms that may have been leveraged at the movie’s release or over the years. The new live-action version of Aladdin takes a little from column A and a little from column B.

Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is an Agrabah orphan, stealing to eat and living in his own personal hovel far above the city with his best friend, a monkey named Abu. He’s content, but unsurprisingly wishes for more from life. One day, he rescues a young woman from an angry market vendor and angrier guards. She gives a false name, but she is really the Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), runaway from the castle to see how people really live and escape the constant line of suitors trying to impress her father. A chance meeting with the Sultan’s (Navid Negahban) aide, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), puts Aladdin in possession of a magic lamp that houses a genie. Genie (Will Smith) will grant Aladdin three wishes, but no magic on the planet can truly connect him with his true love.

This is a rather faithful adaptation of the animated feature with at least one update to make it more relatable to a contemporary audience. Perhaps having taken the hint from reviews of their first foray into the live action adaptation, most of the original songs are incorporated into this picture with the same fervour as the original. The music in this tale is iconic and integral to the story, so it would have been a sorry mistake to exclude songs such as, “Never had a Friend Like Me,” “A Whole New World,” and “One Jump Ahead.” Instead, they are accurately included with a similar level of theatrics and showmanship.

One of the most noticeable and notable tweaks to the narrative is Jasmine’s desire to succeed her father as sultan in order to help the city’s people and restore it to the glory of her mother’s days. This, in turn, results in an additional song, “Speechless,” which expresses the princess’ desire to be heard and not be stifled. She demonstrates her qualifications throughout the narrative by proving to be well-spoken, and a good negotiator and judge of character. However, she delivers her strongest argument at the end of the movie by combining her passion with her leadership skills. One of the key criticisms of Disney princesses was their need to be rescued all the time. But one must give credit to the studio for seizing this opportunity to rectify the issue, at least to some degree, by making Jasmine an agent in her own life and destiny.

The most concerning thing going into the adaptation was casting Smith in the role of Genie. Robin Williams provided the voice for all the powerful, blue wish granter in the animated feature and he did such an amazing job, it’s one of the characters with which he’ll be forever associated. Therefore, passing the torch to Smith was a tall order. Luckily, they find ways to differentiate the role as much as the narrative allows. There are some iconic lines, particularly one regarding “itty-bitty living space,” that may have been better if they were excluded, but Smith does well to make it his own. On the other hand, the rest of the cast can be applauded for being appropriately cast and doing an excellent job in their respective roles.

Having Guy Ritchie direct the picture was a bit of a surprise, though he has shown a flair for the musically dramatic in previous films. The result is actually very close to the source material, which will please fans even if it lacks some creativity.

Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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