Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin is good solid fare for young ones, but alas does not rise to the level many adults will feel fully engaged or entertained. Fine performances by Will Smith as the Genie and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine keep the story moving forward, but the movie has trouble keeping its momentum despite its magic carpet.
The story follows the outlines of the traditional story, or at least a popular version as told through the folktales in One Thousand and One Nights, or Arabian Nights. Aladdin (Mena Massoud), a street waif and, in this movie version, a thief, runs across the princess in the streets of Agrabah somewhere in the Middle East. Presumable, the story takes place during the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire (about the 16th century) where Sultans ruled over a vast expanse of territory and riches. Of course, the wise and judicious Sultan (a monarch), father of Jasmine, doesn’t recognize the villainous Grand Vizier — the head of the government — Jafar who is trying to undermine him.
Jafar, however, recognizes Aladdin’s preternatural abilities as a thief and survivor, if not his pure heart. He tricks Aladdin into a cave of riches, where he seizes the magic lamp and unleashes the genie. The rest of the story takes off from here as Aladdin attempts to woo Princess Jasmine by pretending to be a prince. Jafar sees through Aladdin’s facade and attempts to claim the lamp and the genie’s powers while everyone else is trying to figure out what’s going on. Comic relief through Aladdin’s pet monkey Abu helps lighten the story, but, unlike Princess Jasmine’s protective Bengal Tiger Rajah, his antics are also well integrated into the plot.
As narrative, the movie seems to go through the paces without much forward momentum. The critical scenes are spliced together in a logical, chronological order. The musical numbers are entertaining but not gripping or compelling elements of the plot, despite one production involving more than 1,000 dancers and extras.
Overall, the main themes are good ones for modern society: Princess Jasmine bucks the patriarchy despite her well meaning father. Aladdin loses himself in wealth, but finds his soul with the help of the genie. The diversity of the cast reflects the expectations of modern Hollywood. I found the performances of Massoud a bit flat and Marwan Kenzari as Jafar a bit one dimensional. Nevertheless, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, and Nasim Pedrad as Dalia, the princess’s handmaiden and confidante, more than enough to keep me interested.
Thus, overall, Aladdin is a pleasant if not inspired movie, a pleasant summer diversion that will be suitable for children even though it doesn’t quite live up to the artistic expectations of Disney feature films.