(Note – like all my reviews, this is spoiler-free! You probably already know the story but there are some new elements in this one.)
Disney, it’s nice to see you again.
My kids and I saw the new Aladdin this past week, at an advance screening, and wow, we loved it! We were laughing like crazy – it was HILARIOUS (more funny than the original), it was touching and emotional, and we were blown away by it all.
If you’ve read my other movie reviews, you’ll see I am not easily impressed. I thought Dumbo, Mary Poppins Returns, and Christopher Robin were all mediocre. And I expected Aladdin to be the same. I was especially skeptical of Will Smith being the Genie – I mean really, can anyone compare to Robin Williams in the original?
But to our surprise, Aladdin turned out to be the best Disney movie we’ve seen in a long time. (My daughter gave it a billion stars!)
It’s about time!
In this live-action Aladdin, the story is basically the same as in the animated original, with some adjustments. It’s still “the exciting tale of the charming street rat Aladdin, the courageous and self-determined Princess Jasmine and the Genie who may be the key to their future.” And it’s also a musical – which I think overall works a lot better in an animated feature than a live-action movie. There were a few moments when someone started singing and I thought “Ugh, this is so lame,” but then as the song developed, I thought it actually worked well. Disney made it into something interesting and even stunning.
For example, there were classic songs like “One Jump Ahead,” “Friend Like Me,” and of course, “A Whole New World” (this one had beautiful, amazing effects, by the way – though I still can’t understand how in either version they don’t fall off of that not-so-big flying carpet).
But there’s a new song in this one called “Speechless” and it’s sung by Princess Jasmine, played by Naomi Scott. It’s actually her first solo, as she only sang “A Whole New World” as a duet with Aladdin in the original. “Speechless” is not a memorable song, but it’s a powerful one, especially the second time she sings it in the movie – it starts out kind of lame, but wow, I had goosebumps by the end of it.
The movie started out ok as Aladdin and Jasmine met, and Jafar sought his “diamond in the rough” to get that magic lamp. Aladdin, played by Mena Massoud, was as clever and upbeat as his animated predecessor (and a fair singer, too), and it was fun to watch the port city of Abrabah and its familiarity with Aladdin’s antics. But it was when Aladdin finally retrieved the magic lamp and met the Genie that the movie started to win me over.
Will Smith playing the Genie worked not because he was as funny as Robin Williams, but because he was his funny true self, which brought a more fitting, modern, and savvy type of humor to this movie. The romance between Aladdin and Jasmine was depicted like that of 20-somethings in today’s world (especially with a very empowered and worldly Jasmine), and Will Smith was a goofy but wise friend who genuinely wanted to help his buddy get up the courage to ask out the girl he wants. Like Robin Williams, Smith had magical powers, but he had heart, too.
And it helped that Will Smith got to play a normal-looking person in much of the film in order to fit in to wherever Aladdin was. That was actually a relief, as his blue genie self was actually a bit unsettling. Clearly they had to use computer animation when he was the genie and it was pretty obvious even in his face. (By the way, there’s also a subplot involving the genie when he looked like a human, which adds a whole new dimension to the story.)
All of the characters were played by the perfect person for the role – especially Marwan Kenzari as Jafar. He WAS Jafar in everything about his presence, especially his eyes. The greed, and desire for power, his relentlessness – it was all there, and he really showed his evil towards the end. The pain and suffering he was willing to cause others wasn’t just part of who he was, but was truly heartbreaking at its peak.
Overall I think I’d give this movie 4.5 out of 5 stars. Of course, there are a variety of opinions out there about it already, and I think there are others who are also jaded by Disney’s diminished sense of “soul” and its resulting overcompensation of effects and spectacle, but who weren’t totally won by this one. But I felt that Disney was climbing upward with it. Everything was good – the effects, the acting, the singing, the story, and the emotions. I felt a connection with the characters because they delivered. Anything that may have been “weak” wasn’t too much of a weakness to affect the overall quality of the movie, and was compensated for in other ways. For example, the computer animation was obvious (Abu was totally computer animated) but the talent and comedy made it work.
There’s so much else I could say about this film – but I don’t want to spoil it for you. I hope you see it and enjoy it! I’d also love to know what you think!
I thought it was very kid-friendly. The end got a bit intense – but I didn’t think there was anything more scary than the animated version. Still, it will be best appreciated and enjoyed by kids in elementary school and up.
And here’s a freebie for you!
FREE Printable Activity Pack
Enjoy this FREE 24-page Printable Activity Pack! It includes activities like mazes and coloring pages, bookmarks, and even pages with the solutions to the activities.
Aladdin is NOW IN THEATRES!
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