Aladdin ***

It has obvious flaws, including a weak villain and unimpressive singing voices from the male leads, but it’s full of color and imagination and energy, which makes it a real treat. 

Is it worth $10? Yes            

Recent Disney live action remakes have mostly been misfires (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Jungle Book,” “Cinderella”), so it comes as a wonderful surprise that “Aladdin” is a toe-tapping, crowd-pleasing winner. It has obvious flaws, yes, but it also has an unabashed joy that wins you over.

Fans of the 1992 animated hit, and/or the 2011 Broadway adaptation, know the story: Urchin Aladdin (Mena Massoud) struggles to survive and lives with his pet monkey, Abu. One day in the marketplace Aladdin happens upon Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and is immediately smitten. She, however, must marry a prince.

The villain is Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who wants to rule all of Agrabah, and needs the power of the genie inside a magic lamp to do so. He recruits Aladdin to retrieve the lamp, but Aladdin ends up using Genie (Will Smith) for himself, and getting a magic carpet out of it as well. Genie makes Aladdin a prince so he can woo Jasmine, but things don’t go as planned.

The ’92 version was 90 great minutes; this version is 128 minutes, and is not tightly plotted. Kenzari’s Jafar struggles to make an impact, and is off screen for long stretches as Genie and Aladdin get to know one another. A better script by John August and co-writer and director Guy Ritchie (“Sherlock Holmes”) would’ve moved things along more efficiently. Another quibble: parrot Iago (Alan Tudyk) provided comic relief in the original because he was voiced by Gilbert Gottfried. Here what he says barely registers, and the character clearly only exists for plot convenience when Jafar needs to know something. It’s a bit lazy.

These are small issues, however, when compared to the overall satisfaction this “Aladdin” offers. Neither Smith nor Massoud has the vocal range for the big notes their songs require (Scott fares notably better, especially with the new song “Speechless” in the climax), but Ritchie imbues the song and dance sequences with wonderful color and creativity, which makes them an absolute joy. “Friend Like Me,” which is sung by Smith shortly after Genie is unleashed, bustles with delirious visuals and energy. “Prince Ali” comes as Aladdin enters Agrabah as a prince for the first time – it’s a huge set piece led by Smith with dancers and backup singers, and is a marvelous sight to behold. Finally, Ritchie takes Aladdin and Jasmine on a truly fantastic magic carpet ride in “A Whole New World.”

How does Smith compare to the voice of the original Genie, Robin Williams? There really is no comparison. Smith capably makes the role his own, and is funny and charming as expected. He doesn’t have the manic energy of Williams (who does? And who would want to?), but his comedic timing is on point and he certainly earns his share of laughs.  

With “The Lion King” coming in July and many more live action remakes/spinoffs on the way, clearly nothing in Disney’s vault is sacred. That should be okay if the studio keeps putting the amount of creative energy into its future projects as it did with “Aladdin.”

Did you know?
Jim Carrey was the original choice to play Genie, but couldn’t commit due to legal issues.

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