Geek Review: Aladdin

I would say I’ve never been much of a Disney fan.  Sure, I saw a lot of the older movies growing up, but when the “Disney Renaissance” happened, I a bit too old to be all that interested in the newer Disney movies, and now that I have gained a bit more appreciation for all kinds of movies, I still haven’t seen some of them.  I still haven’t seen the animated Beauty and the Beast.  Heck, I still haven’t seen Frozen.  But I will admit to having always liked Aladdin.  It came a lot closer to my own animated preferences (the high speed slapstick and silliness of a Loony Toon), and Robin Williams made the whole movie.  Imagine what that Aladdin would have been without Williams.

Well, imagine no more as the latest live action Disney movie is out now, and it’s a new Aladdin.

It can’t be any worse than Dumbo.

Street-level thief Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is getting by with just his wits and his monkey sidekick Abu.  One day he comes across a young woman in trouble over a genial misunderstanding on how commerce works.  This woman is, unbeknownst to Aladdin or anyone else nearby, the somewhat reclusive Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott).  The two develop a mutual interest, but there’s a hitch:  Jasmine must, by law, marry a prince, and Aladdin is hardly one of those.  But the royal vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) has a need for Aladdin to get him a certain lamp from a certain Cave of Wonders.  See, there’s this genie in this lamp…

So, if you know how the original animated Aladdin went, you know how this one is going to go for the most part.  Will Smith is basically, well, Will Smith.  We could argue Robin Williams was basically himself last time around, but let’s at least give director Guy Ritchie and Smith credit for not trying to turn Smith into Williams.  There’s a touch of Hitch in his Genie as he plays match-maker, but there isn’t much here we haven’t seen either the Genie or Smith do before.  Massoud’s Aladdin, well, he’s there, and anyone who thinks Ritchie is an odd choice to direct a movie like this, well, he still is but there’s nothing really wrong with what he has here.  I might have hoped at least the heist scenes would be cool and full of Ritchie’s signature heist movie energy, but not so much.

That said, there is one thing I really, really dug, and that was the general treatment of Jasmine.  Jasmine in the original movie was a fairly strong character in her own right compared to many previous Disney princesses.  But here, she managed to get more agency of her own.  It’s still Aladdin’s story in many ways, but Jasmine got a new song of her own to sing, and Scott freakin’ nails it.  It’s easily the best song in the movie.  Smith handles most of the original movie’s songs, and he’s OK, but when Scott gets her big solo, the movie goes off in a direction different from the original and shows some real promise.  Then it pretty much goes back the way it was before.  That was some good stuff there amidst an overall mediocre movie.  7.5 out of 10 treacherous parrots.

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