I was a little skeptical of the live-action version of “Aladdin.” I’m not sure if it was blue Will Smith or the relatively unknown cast or not trusting Guy Ritchie with a Disney movie, but I had my doubts.
Fortunately, those doubts were for naught as the result is a competent and extremely faithful (maybe too faithful?) adaptation of the animated family film.
Based on the Middle Eastern folk tale “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp,” the animated version became a hit for Disney in 1992, thanks to some decent songs and an iconic performance by Robin Williams as the Genie.
With the live action version, you can argue it’s a little uneven and the screenplay is a little lazy, lifting a lot of dialogue right from the original. But it makes enough good choices that makes this update a satisfying trip to the movies.
The best decision was they leaned into the musical aspect of the film, even adding a couple of original songs to the favorites. Director Ritchie, known for grittier, rough-and-tumble fare, goes full 1950s Hollywood with the musical numbers as a colorful “cast of thousands” sing and dance through massively constructed sets.
The cast is solid as well with Mena Massoud (Aladdin) and Naomi Scott (Princess Jasmine) looking like they sprang to life from the Disney animation table with their large, almond eyes, perfect skin and rousing singing voices.
Smith had a tough task following Williams as the Genie, but the dude’s got charm for days and he empties both barrels of it here, doing enough to make the role his own and mask some of the clunkiness of his CGI form.
There are also some decent supporting turns here as Marwan Kenzari is sufficiently menacing as the bad guy Jafar and Nasim Pedrad injects some sly wit into her comic relief role of Dalia, Jasmine’s handmaid.
Laudable about this version of “Aladdin” is Jasmine gets an empowerment boost, becoming more of a statesman than a damsel in distress. Also, kudos to Hollywood for having an ethnically-appropriate cast. It seems like a no-brainer, but 20 years ago Aladdin would have been played by Mark Wahlberg.
“Aladdin” delivers the goods, especially when the music is playing, and while it may not be exactly what you wished for, it’s close enough.
“Aladdin” is rated PG for some action/peril.