By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Director Guy Ritchie
is best known for his hard-hitting action-packed movies “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “RocknRolla” as well as the mystery/adventure crime capers, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Sherlock Holmes.”
So, it seemed an odd choice for Ritchie to step out of his comfort zone and into the wonderful world of Disney to direct a reimagined, live action version of the 1992 beloved animated classic film “Aladdin.”
Yet, Ritchie, who co-wrote “Aladdin” with John August (“Frankenweenie”) works his crazy magic and delivers a surprisingly fresh and vibrant story. Except for a couple of songs and some updated dialogue/sequences, this “Aladdin” stays pretty faithful to the original animated film, which featured the late, great Robin Williams as the voice of Genie.
It’s a new, fantastic point of view indeed as Ritchie eschews the original film’s stereotypical depictions of Arabic culture and embraces diversity with a stellar, multi-ethnic cast. They do wonders with the snappy, musical numbers.
However, at its core, “Aladdin” is a relatable and touching, rags-to-riches love story. Canadian-Egyptian actor Mena Massoud (TV’s “Jack Ryan”) delights as the cunning, street thief, “Aladdin” who falls in love with Princess Jasmine (British/Indian star Naomi Scott, “Charlie’s Angels” remake).
Massoud and Scott are simply adorable together and light up the screen in the most pleasing, family friendly Disney way.
We find Aladdin (Massoud) and his kleptomaniac, but loyal pet capuchin monkey, Abu—another scene stealer--roaming the streets of Agrabah while attempting to stay “One Jump Ahead” of some of the people they’ve stolen from.
Aladdin may be poor, but the guy has a heart of gold. He gives some of his five finger treats to kids less fortunate than him.
He briefly meets a disguised Princess Jasmine (Scott) at the local bazaar. Her father is so controlling and doesn’t let her do much on her own.
Hoping to see the princess again, Aladdin tries to sneak into the palace, but is caught by the power-hungry and deceptive Grand Vizier of Agrabah aka, Jafar (“Murder on the Orient Express”).
The plot thickens when Jafar suckers Aladdin into retrieving a magical lamp from the Cave of Wonders The lamp could give Jafar the power to overthrow the Sultan/Ruler of Agrabah (Navid Negahban, TV’s “Legion”). A rub of the lamp could also change Aladdin’s life for the better too.
Princess Jasmine, (Scott), the Sultan’s daughter is caught in the middle of this power grab. She doesn’t want to merely be a beautiful princess married to someone she doesn’t love. She wants to be a Sultan and have a voice and be heard. Princess Jasmine’s voice comes alive too in Scott’s powerful and uplifting ballad “Speechless.” It also soars—even more than Massoud’s-- on the Academy Award winning song “A Whole New World.”
And speaking of coming alive. Will Smith appears nearly 30 minutes into the film as the big, blue, shape-shifting, wise-cracking Genie. Still, he knows how to make an entrance. Smith brings some of that “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Big Willie Style” swagger to the Genie and even sprinkles a bit of hip-hop flavor on the songs “Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali” and “Arabian Nights.” He’s silly and funny and truly makes this role his own. Honestly, I can’t think of anyone else now who could pull off playing the Genie other than Smith.
“Aladdin” succeeds on my levels, but what really makes it work, is that it’s simply pure, fun escapist entertainment that’s chockfull of dazzling, vibrant, special effects and sensational choreography.
I plan to see "Aladdin" again, this time in IMAX because bigger is always better and it’s just that good.
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Check Out This Trailer For "ALADDIN"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of The Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.