By Heidi Sutton
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 27 years since Disney released the classic animated feature film “Aladdin.” This weekend, the much anticipated live-action remake opened in theaters and reviews have been mixed.
Written by John August and Guy Ritchie, and directed by Ritchie (“Sherlock Holmes,” “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”), it follows the 1992 film’s storyline closely and includes all of the favorite characters from the original but also expands on some of the characters.
The story takes place in the fabled city of Agrabah where Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) adviser to the Sultan (Navid Negahban), seeks to retrieve a magic lamp hidden in the Cave of Wonders. He enlists the help of a street rat named Aladdin (Mena Massoud), a “diamond in the rough,” who becomes trapped in the cave. When Aladdin finds the lamp and polishes it, a magical genie appears and grants him three wishes.
Along with his pet monkey Abu, the genie and a magic carpet, Aladdin spend the remainder of the film disguised as Prince Ali of Ababwa trying to woo Princess Jasmine while trying to stay clear of Jafar.
Massoud is perfectly cast as “Aladdin,” both looking and sounding the part, and succeeds in bringing Aladdin from animation to life. Naomi Scott brings a fresh take on Princess Jasmine, making her a strong political figure who wishes to be Sultan.
Will Smith has the Herculean task of being the genie this time around and pulls out all the stops in ensuring that his character gets the maximum laughs. “Robin Williams didn’t leave a lot of room for improvement in the development of the genie,” said Smith in a recent interview on the “Graham Norton Show,” adding that he wanted to maintain the nostalgia but add a new flavor to it. Although many of his lines are from the original film, Smith, in Fresh Prince fashion, adds rap to his songs, works out a lot and also develops a crush on Jasmine’s handmaiden, Dalia (Nasim Pedrad).
All of the wonderful songs by Alan Menken we have come to love are in the film, including “A Whole New World,” “A Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” with one new song, “Speechless,” performed beautifully by Scott.
Aside from being visually stunning, with many special effects, the film does have its issues. Although not a cartoon, the movie at times feels cartoonish. The animals – Raja the tiger, Lago the parrot and Abu the monkey – are computer generated and look it, and the people in the film look like Disney characters as they sing, dance and mull about in over-the-top costumes.
The length of the film is also problematic. While the 1992 film was rated G and was only 90 minutes long, this version is rated PG and is over two hours long, a stretch for families with young children.
That being said, Ritchie’s modern-day version of “Aladdin” has its own charm and is a fitting take on the Arabian Nights tale for fans of the original.
Up next for Disney is a live-action remake of “The Lion King” set to open in July.