Sometimes a movie’s poor marketing campaign does it such an injustice that it can actually help the film’s positive word of mouth and critic reviews once audiences see the movie. Sometimes a movie can leave folks giddy when they discover the film isn’t quite as bad as everyone expected it to be. And it’s always the golden rule to never judge a book by its cover, or a film by its trailer.
Such is the case with “Aladdin,” Disney’s multi-million dollar spectacle that, well, isn’t really that awful at all. This crowd-pleasing retelling of the animated classic is well made, perfectly cast, and has dazzling special effects and costumes, all elements that combine to make it an all-around solid effort.
Following the story of Disney’s early 1990s cartoon version, this cinematic “reimagining” sticks to the script. A street rat named Aladdin (Mena Massoud) frees a big blue genie (Will Smith) from a magic lamp, and wishes to be transformed into a charming prince in order to marry the beautiful princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). When the nefarious sorcerer Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) commandeers the lamp, things get sinister for the people of Agrabah.
There are few reasons for Disney to remake this tale into a live action film, but miraculously it doesn’t feel completely like a greedy money grab. There’s much to applaud here, from the diverse casting of people of color (no whitewashing here), to turning Jasmine into a strong feminist icon who’d prefer politics to romance, to the folksy yet modern choreography of both the lavish song and dance numbers as well as the well-paced action scenes. It’s a retread, but rarely feels so.
The music is updated to feature regional instruments, and “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman” scribes Benj Pasek and Justin Paul give a lyrical refresh to tunes like “Friend Like Me” and “Arabian Nights” (and even throw in a new power ballad, “Speechless”). The actors perform their own songs, and most are talented enough to pull it off. Only Smith feels as if he’s struggling to hit the notes.
It may be too easy to pick on Smith’s performance as Genie. It certainly isn’t a small order to follow in the footsteps of the late funnyman Robin Williams. Not only is it an iconic role, it’s one that Disney diehards hold near and dear. When Smith’s Genie is first introduced onscreen, it’s cringe-worthy because he’s trying too hard to deliver a copycat brand of wacky humor that no one commanded as well as Williams. But as the movie progresses and he tones things down, you can see why he was a fine casting choice.
No expense was spared in the CGI department, either. The effects are realistic and exceptionally well done, from a magic carpet ride above the Arabian desert to a floating blue, all-powerful genie. This movie looks fantastic, especially when paired with the exotic costumes. It truly is animation brought to life, and Disney fans should especially be pleased with the end result.