Movie review: 'Aladdin'

Brad Keefe
Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine

These big-budget live-action remakes of Disney animated classics have been a mixed bag, but we're going to have to live with them, right?

“Aladdin” is the first of three that will come out this year, with Jon Favreau's “The Lion King” due in July and Charlie Bean's “Lady and the Tramp” in November.

One thing “Aladdin” has going for it? It's not held in the same regard as the other two films that marked Disney's animation resurgence around the early '90s. And it's a little more ready-made for live action than either “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King.”

But the original holds the most special place in my heart, and the memory of Robin Williams' Genie looms large, as evidenced by the internet backlash at the first sight of Will Smith painted blue.

In this case, I let go and enjoyed the ride, and found the experience to be generally quite delightful.

It's still a tale of a streetwise petty thief named Aladdin (Mena Massoud) who meets and falls in love with Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott).

There's still the evil Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who is on a power-hungry search for the lamp that contains our Genie (Smith, obviously).

But there are also new plotlines introduced which will probably make or break this “Aladdin” for the purists.

Director Guy Ritchie seems like an odd choice given his grittier roots, but his more recent work on the “Sherlock Holmes” films showed he can make a visual crowd-pleaser.

Ritchie, working from a script he co-wrote with John August, engages the audience with a mix of feel-like-a-kid-again nostalgia and some pivots. This “Aladdin” knows when to stray and when to give the audience those fond old moments.

The movie is full of eye candy, even if Ritchie doesn't seem fully adept at musical numbers. He's quite suited for Aladdin's parkour getaways, though.

As cast, relative newcomers Massoud and Scott as Aladdin and Jasmine feel like perfect real-world representations of these animated characters. It's less distracting than seeing big name stars.

Smith is stepping into the biggest shoes, and fears that he would somehow ruin the movie are overblown. He has his own charms. He won't make you forget Williams, but he makes this Genie his own, where he can.

The biggest pivot in the plot is transforming Jasmine into an empowered princess who doesn't want to marry the next sultan; she wants to be the next sultan. It's a payoff that speaks to Disney addressing its problem with princesses.

This “Aladdin” won't be a classic, but it's infectious, and it makes both a great family film and date-night movie.


Opens Friday

3 stars out of 5