What would you do with three wishes?
It’s a tricky question when you’re a street thief in love with a princess, and you have a powerful nemesis who won’t stop at much to get you out of the picture. Such is the dilemma for the main character in Disney’s new live action version of Aladdin.
If it’s been awhile (or never) since you’ve seen the 1992 animated version that inspired this version, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a quick-moving pickpocket who, along with his monkey sidekick Abu, is constantly a step ahead of the people he’s pilfered from. When he runs into a woman who is facing the wrath of a street vendor for giving children pieces of bread, he whisks her off on a grand escape. The two hit it off, though Aladdin mistakes her for a handmaid to the princess, rather than her true identity, Princess Jasmine herself. Jasmine (Naomi Scott), whose Sultan father never lets her out of the palace, has been turning down one princely suitor after another, because - girl power - she thinks she’d be a better future leader for the people she cares about. She just has to talk her father into breaking tradition by naming her the first female Sultan.
Aladdin’s sneaky visit to the palace results in him becoming a pawn for evil Grand Vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who sends him into an enchanted cave to retrieve the magic lamp. Instead, Aladdin inadvertently sets free the powerful Genie (Will Smith), guaranteeing him the three wishes Jafar was after.
Turning himself into a prince with a massive entourage, Aladdin hopes to win Jasmine’s hand in marriage, but his own insecurities, coupled with the increasingly dangerous obstacles laid down by Jafar make his dream seem nearly impossible to achieve.
This live action version isn’t a direct copy of the animated film. Many of the lines and songs will be familiar to those who have seen the original, but the story is expanded, darker and more mature. Beloved songs like “Friend Like Me” and “Whole New World” remain, while new, pop orchestrated songs have been added, including some that play with parts of the original songs. It’s impressive to see the city of Agrabah come to full, colourful life with grand sets and costumes. It’s also fun to see the animal pals from the animated version, Aladdin’s Abu, Jasmine’s loyal tiger Raja and Jafar’s scheming pirate Iago, as real characters. Computer effects that turn Smith into the towering, floating blue genie and make the magic carpet fly, among other big moments, create the movie magic that you’d expect from Disney.
Massoud and Scott are charming as Aladdin and Jasmine. They show off some serious singing chops on their enchanting “Whole New World” magic carpet ride. Will Smith, as the Genie, isn’t quite the singer his co-stars are, but he more than makes up for it with the fun he brings to the screen. He has big shoes to fill, stepping into a role made legendary by Robin Williams, and he does so with a lot of style and his own brand of humour. His Master of Ceremonies work as he sings “Prince Ali,” with a massive parade of dancers, floats, and an elephant into the palace is a joy. Smith’s energy is a welcome lift to this film, which drags somewhat in the last half hour, and does get fairly dark.
On that note, I would caution parents that there are a number of intense and scary scenes, and some mild violence. My 6 year old found it rather frightening, so it may be best suited to older kids and teens. You know your child best, and if they are easily frightened, this might not be the right film for them.
For kids who don’t mind a bit of darkness, they’ll find a lot to like in this Aladdin. The scenery is beautiful and full of colour, the music is great fun, there’s no shortage of action, and the Genies’ antics will be what everyone is laughing about on the way home.
This review was guest written by Cristin Kelly a Sydney-based mother of two young daughters. She blogs about children and the arts at Artsplorers.