Aladdin (2019) 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

This live-action remake of one of Disney's most popular animated films cannot quite match the vocal level of the original, but is a fun way to spend two hours.

The street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud) lives by his wits... and by petty thievery just to trade for enough dates to make it through another day. He and his monkey, Abu, come across a beautiful girl in the marketplace, and help her escape a vengeful merchant. She tells him a false identity -- she's actually Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Confined to the palace by her fretful father, Jasmine often sneaks out to experience life on the streets and check in on her subjects.

Aladdin's desire to meet her again takes her back to the palace, where he falls into the clutches of Jafar (Marwan Kenzari). The ambitious second-in-command has grand ideas about becoming the Sultan, and promises Aladdin riches if he liberates a certain lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Things do not go as planned, leaving Aladdin trapped in the cave with a Genie (Will Smith) who wants to rock his world with three wishes...

This film follows the original's basic premise, but adds in new characters (most notably, the princess' dry-witted handmaiden) and situations. It gives the script more time to breathe, grants Jasmine her own musical number (the powerful girl-ballad "Speechless"), and has the dazzling Guy Richie spectacular charm. I liked most of the additions, and some of the changes are positive -- both Aladdin and Jasmine come across as more selfless in this version. Some scenes are downright hilarious, such as a dance sequence in which Genie controls Aladdin's movements and goes over the top in making him spectacular. I like that the story introduces new elements and fleshes out the original story. This makes it a better, more inventive adaptation than most of the recent transitions to live-action.

The costumes are wonderful. The new song is terrific. The acting ranges from excellent (Smith) to not-great. The script struggles for the first fifteen minutes to establish itself, then improves drastically once it deviates more from the source material and blazes its own trail. Jafar has more of a back story and presence; he's more diabolical and scheming. The film isn't flawless, though... in comparison to the original vocals, these songs and their new, slower tempo are weaker -- but when sung on-screen, the razzle-dazzle makes up for it. The CGI animals are decent, but would it have killed them to use a real monkey? The film is visually splendid and eye-catching, but there were places they could have filled in the story even more (where did Jafar get his staff and magic?).

The storyline expands more on the theme of power corrupting others. Genie remarks on how those who seek the lamp are all the same -- desirous of power and money and influence. As in the original, Aladdin learns the lesson of selfishness -- his choice to keep the Genie on hand causes turmoil in the kingdom and allows an evil man to rise to power. The film also has much more of pro-female focus, in how Jasmine's story turns out. It may not be the most daring of the adaptations in terms of revisionist storytelling (that honor goes to Maleficent) but it's one of the most enjoyable.

Sexual Content:
Some low-cut gowns. Two gay jokes (about men being with other men). A man intends to force a woman to marry him.
 
Language:
None, although a man refers to a woman as "hot."
 
Violence:
Jafar kills people by kicking them off high places. Aladdin leads the police on a chase through the city, resulting in damage to property. He's often in peril. Characters are vaporized, transformed against their will, and mistreated.

Other:
Magic. Characters lie and conceal their true identities, but Genie reminds them to tell the truth, be honest about who they are, and not seek power and glory.