The first thing that happens when you mix together British director Guy Ritchie with a Walt Disney film is that you get a never-before-experienced hybrid. Ritchie likes telling stories about criminals; Disney is famous for fairy tales with heroes - and heroines - and villains. Ritchie is known for keeping up a fast pace in telling his stories. Disney has always had some of the best looking visuals in the business. In “Aladdin,” the live-action re-do of Disney’s terrific 1992 animated feature, with Guy directing and co-writing, you get all of the above.
OK, the hybrid part means there have also been some changes. Ritchie’s often amiable gangsters are now a petty thief, the young man in the title role. In place of rock songs on Ritchie’s soundtracks, there’s now the music of veteran Disney composer Alan Menken. It’s hard to recall many major female characters in Ritchie’s films, but here he’s got the beautiful Princess Jasmine, who’s as strong-willed as that street thief who will, of course, end up being in a romance with her.
Fans of the original film will undoubtedly either have that one memorized or will be revisiting it before seeing this one, and they’re going to be pleasantly surprised. As, for the most part, will be Ritchie fans (except for those who thrive on his screen violence) who didn’t know he had this kind of thing in him.
The story in the two films is intrinsically the same. In the Middle Eastern kingdom of Agrabah, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and his pet monkey Abu get by via thievery - stealing food, snatching jewelry, anything it takes to survive. He believes he deserves a better life. Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), the daughter of the aging sultan (Navid Negahban) wants more out of life than waiting for the right prince to come along and marry her. In fact, though this sort of thing is unheard of in the kingdom, she’d like to be next in line to become sultan. She, too, has a pet, the fierce tiger Rajah.
Aladdin and Jasmine meet under, let’s say, false pretenses, there’s the expected attraction that happens between opposites, at least in movies, and then there’s the villain to get in the way of it all. That would be the sultan’s vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who also has his eyes on the sultanship, and some minor magical powers to help him get it.
But, as in the original, all eyes and ears are going to be getting into what’s radiating from the film’s biggest, brightest star: Call him Genie (Will Smith). Within seconds of his introduction, Smith will put viewers at ease about the impossibility of stepping into the shoes of Robin Williams. It’s the wildest and one of the best roles Smith has ever done.
Something to remember before settling down to watch this is that it’s a full-blown musical - singing and dancing in eye-popping costumes and on dazzling sets wherever you look and listen. Some of the same Alan Menken songs from the original are here, some have reworked lyrics and arrangements to fit in with this hipper, more “contemporary” movie, and there are some brand new ones that zero in on issues of female equality.
But it’s not a movie that goes out if its way to hammer that kind of thing home. It’s a visual spectacle, with long, sweeping tracking shots, and it’s a combination exercise in comedy and romance: Abu is probably a better thief than Aladdin, and no matter how bad things get, how much treachery is waiting around the corner, you just know that something will happen to get those two young lovebirds together.
And there’s magic - the kind that the genie is capable of (which also leads to much of the film’s crazy humor) and the kind that’s done with state-of-the-art filmmaking techniques. The genie character alone is a marvelous CGI creation (as are the monkey, the tiger, a bad guy parrot, and we mustn’t forget the magic carpet). Match that with exterior filming in the deserts of Jordan, breathtaking production design, all of the positive messages about bettering ourselves, and you’ve got a great movie experience. Top it off with an ending that couldn’t get much happier, and you’ve got one of the best films to come from Guy Ritchie and from Disney in a long while.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Written by Guy Ritchie and John August; directed by Guy Ritchie
With Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari
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