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"ALADDIN"
(2019) (Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Musical: A common street thief uses wishes from a magic genie in hopes of getting a princess to fall for him.
PLOT:
In the long-ago city of Agrabah, Aladdin (MENA MASSOUD) is a common street thief who, along with his pet monkey Abu, steals to stay alive. He always manages to elude the palace guards who try to catch him, and manages to impress Princess Jasmine (NAOMI SCOTT) upon their chance meeting. She's ventured out into the city pretending to be her handmaiden, Dalia (NASIM PEDRAD), and isn't recognized by the masses due to being unseen for years.

That's because her widowed father, the Sultan (NAVID NEGAHBAN), wants to protect her until he finds a proper prince suitor to marry her. That doesn't sit well with her, what with wanting to eventually take over for her father, something both he and his Royal Vizier, Jafar (MARWAN KENZARI), remind her is against their long-standing laws. But Jafar has ulterior motives in that he wishes to become the Sultan and knows that a magic lamp located in the Cave of Wonders can make that happen.

The only problem is that so far no one has been nimble and smart enough to abide by the rules of the cave, but he thinks he might have found the right person in Aladdin. With Jafar promising to make him rich enough to impress Jasmine in exchange for him obtaining the lamp, Aladdin enters the cave and through a series of events ends up trapped inside there with Abu, a magic carpet they've rescued and Genie (WILL SMITH) who emerges from the lamp.

With Genie informing Aladdin he can grant him three wishes, Aladdin hopes to use them to impress Jasmine enough that she'll fall for and maybe marry him, but must then contend with Jafar wanting to get his hands on that lamp to get his own set of wishes.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Regardless of one's skill set and track record, it's usually quite difficult to step into the shoes of a famous, let alone iconic predecessor. Tim Cook has faced that fact at Apple since taking over following Steve Jobs' death and Steve Young discovered that when he replaced Joe Montana as the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. The same held true when Sammy Hagar took over for David Lee Roth as Van Halen's frontman and with Adam Lambert doing the same for Freddie Mercury as Queen's.

Of course, they weren't trying to be the actual person they replaced, something that faces actors when they assume characters made famous by and most closely associated with others. While we've now gone through a number of men playing James Bond, Roger Moore faced the most scrutiny replacing Sean Connery.

And while not an exact apples to apples comparison, Will Smith similarly has had to deal with expectations and pre-release comparisons after signing on to play the genie role made uber-famous by Robin Williams in Disney's 1992 offering, "Aladdin." Granted, the remake is live-action and not animated, so some leniency in the character portrayal is present. And I have to admit that I don't think I've seen the original in full since its initial release, so exact comparisons are hazy at best.

In any event, I'm happy to report that while the actor's take on the character thankfully won't make anyone forget the late, great Williams' vocal performance, Smith makes the character his own this time around in what's arguably the remake's greatest asset and strength (and that's not even taking into account the CGI enhanced version making the former Fresh Prince look like a blue-skinned, muscle-bound version of the Rock).

The film -- directed by Guy Ritchie from a script he co-wrote with John August -- actually begins with a normal looking Smith playing a mariner with a wife and two kids who decides to tell the latter the tale of Aladdin. We're then transported to the fictional city of Agrabah where Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a common street thief with enough elusive and acrobatic, post thievery moves to make any parkour performer proud.

As was the case with the story in the original film, he then meets Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) but doesn't realize it's her, what with her never officially going out in public. Her father, the Sultan (Navid Negahban) is overly protective of her and wants to marry her off to a visiting prince, but her aspirations are greater than that. And her desire to one day rule their land ends up in direct conflict with that of Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the Sultan's Royal Vizier who secretly wants that role for himself. He just needs to get his hands on a magic lamp that will make that happen for him.

Accordingly, and realizing Aladdin not only has the physical skills to snatch that object but also the desire to impress the Princess, Jafar offers to turn him into a rich suitor in exchange for getting him the lamp. Aladdin and his sidekick monkey Abu take him up on that offer, but things go amiss and they end up stuck inside the cave with a magic carpet and Smith's genie who they've unintentionally released.

Much like the Williams' version of the character, Smith's is a whirlwind of hyper energy and machine gun vocal delivery, something that coincidentally (or perhaps purposefully) matches Ritchie's directorial style. If that name doesn't ring a bell, he's the man in the director's chair behind the most recent "Sherlock Holmes" films as well as the likes of "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword," "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels."

All of those have a distinctive, hyper-realistic visual style that he similarly deploys here. That sometimes suits this offering, but at other times it sticks out like a sore thumb (including all of the sudden, in-the-middle-of-the-action slow-motion shots along with too much editing in some of the musical numbers).

Regarding the latter, most if not all of the earlier film's big musical numbers have been preserved here, albeit with some changes here and there, but the best, in my opinion, is the "Prince Ali" number where the title character, now a prince thanks to one of his three genie wishes, enters the kingdom in grand and spectacular style.

It's too bad that the rest of the material in this slightly overlong film (128 minutes) doesn't match the excellence of that moment or Smith's performance in general. To be clear, none of it's bad and I was entertained for the most part and in one way or another from start to finish. But the magic that's present in the best moments should have been liberally applied to the rest.

At least Smith can rest easy that he's done the iconic role proud and I'm guessing wherever Williams might be, he's smiling down on the infectious energy and charm that's been bestowed on the character. "Aladdin" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed May 21, 2019 / Posted May 24, 2019


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