The Aladdin trailers were savaged by fans who feared a tawdry adaptation of the beloved classic cartoon. Their concerns are about to be blown away like sand in the desert. Aladdin recaptures the magic that made the original so endearing. Director Guy Ritchie has delivered a sumptuous family adventure. Filled with dazzling visual effects, magnificently staged musical numbers, and characters that will resonate with all ages. Aladdin is the first big surprise of the summer movie season. I'm still humming Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's thundering ballad, "Prince Ali", which gets ovation worthy treatment in a standout scene.
In the ancient city of Agrabah, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and his pickpocket monkey, Abu, steal to survive. A street urchin turned noble thief, Aladdin is a skilled freerunner who easily escapes authorities. He witnesses a beautiful girl (Naomi Scott) foolishly give a merchant's bread to hungry children. He whisks her to safety through a harrowing rooftop chase. The girl is initially enamored by Aladdin's flamboyance, but upset when she realizes her bracelet is missing. She flees toward the Sultan's (Navid Negahban) palace when its bells signal a visitor. A besotten Aladdin vows to bring Abu's mischievous prize back to her.
Meanwhile at the Cave of Wonders, the evil sorcerer Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who has bewitched the Sultan, fails again to procure a great treasure. He must find a diamond in the rough to complete the task. At the palace, Jafar's treacherous parrot, Iago, spots Aladdin sneaking in. The thief is stunned to learn his mysterious beauty is actually Princess Jasmine. Caught by Jafar, he's forced to enter the dangerous cave. Aladdin uncovers a magical lamp that holds the most powerful being in existence, a bald, blue genie (Will Smith) with a top knot. He's ready to party after being cooped up for a thousand years, and grant three wishes to the stupefied Aladdin.
The film doesn't deviate that much from the original. Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes) and co-screenwriter John August add tweaks to perfection. Everything that is fantastic about the cartoon gets amplified here. Agrabah is a vibrant, thriving city and an instrumental backdrop. It adds a pulse to the lavish production of the songs. I give Disney credit for going big and bold. Aladdin has been a hit cartoon and Broadway musical. They obviously opened the checkbook for Guy Ritchie to surpass the previous iterations. Aladdin has a few changes. The most significant is to add more depth to Princess Jasmine. The character is not just a love-struck damsel in distress.
Mena Massoud is a star in the making. His casting as Aladdin was an inspired choice. Massoud pulls off the clever thief, awkward romantic, and physical demands of the role. The actor runs, jumps, sings, and dances like a madman; but also has the comic timing to banter successfully with Will Smith. Massoud sells the relationship with Naomi Scott. The pair have excellent screen chemistry.
For those of a certain age, It's impossible to watch Aladdin without thinking of Robin Williams. I couldn't help but feel a tinge of sadness for the legendary comedian. His frenetic voicing of the genie will never be forgotten. Will Smith makes the character his own. He plays the genie as over the top funny, then with an affable charm on his own romantic quest. Smith and actress Nasim Pedrad almost steal the show with their side hookup. His goofy top knot, which was lambasted by trailer reviewers, is actually pretty funny in the context of the film.
Aladdin's flaw is that the third act isn't as compelling. Guy Ritchie starts off strong, raises his game in the middle, but doesn't match the intensity for his resolve. This may have been an issue with the cartoon as well, but more apparent in a live action film. It wasn't a deal-killer for me. The musical numbers alone are good enough to warrant a recommendation. Raise your expectations. If you remotely liked the cartoon, then you will love this film. Aladdin is produced and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.