Movie Review: Aladdin
Director Guy Ritchie brings the animated classic to life with a greasy edge, some updated songs and a knack for action. He even succeeds at turning the magic carpet into a tightly-knotted character that steals every scene with its manta like moves and sassy tassels. It’s only when the movie stands still long enough that we start to notice a strange lack of dramatic tension.
Starring: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Running time: 2 hrs 8 mins
Rating: Parental Guidance
Opens wide May 24, 2019
By Katherine Monk
Has it been so long? The original animated Disney movie appeared in 1992, and put us under a surprising spell, thanks to a clever combination of happy brand nostalgia and hint of ‘modern’ irony via the voice of Robin Williams.
The lane departure opened the way for a full-fledged Renaissance of the Mouse House that built on the successes of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, while finding slightly edgier terrain — and consecutive hits— in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), The Lion King (1994) and Toy Story (1995).
Aladdin just felt different. Our hero looked like every other Prince Charming on Walt’s great wall. Only the tint was different. He came from the slums of an ancient kingdom somewhere in the Middle East. He had a pet monkey, and the two of them made a living as petty thieves.
Based on The Arabian Nights and, in turn, the black and white classic, Thief of Baghdad, Aladdin offered a whole new world — literally, figuratively, and musically: “A Whole New World” was the signature song from Aladdin’s score, written by Alan Menken, Tim Rice and Howard Ashman.
Twenty-seven years later, you can probably still conjure the chorus and the melody, if not the scene of two young lovers flying over minarets on a magic carpet. Back then, a Whole New World was steeped in a message of hope for a better future.
These days, we’re living in a whole new world, and it’s downright scary. So why not enlist a man who can tangle with the tough stuff, without losing his childlike sensibilities? Guy Ritchie may not seem like the most likely candidate for a Disney live-action adaptation, but when you realize this is a story about a street kid who uses his smarts and physical abilities to survive the mean streets of Agrabah, Ritchie makes sense.
He knows how to direct action scenes, and he’s clearly played a video game or two, which means all the expectations surrounding the character — from his ability to scramble across rooftops and trampoline from awning to awning — are given full due.
Egyptian-born, Toronto-raised actor Mena Massoud even looks like the cartoon character, with his strong jaw and saucer-sized brown eyes. The same could be said for co-star Naomi Scott, who brings a sweet soprano and a perfectly symmetrical face to the role of Princess Jasmine. Even Will Smith, who plays the role of the big blue Genie, somehow translates the bobbing and weaving he learned in Ali to the floating presence of the wish-granting wizard.
When this movie is in action-mode, everything sizzles. Ritchie brings his greasy edge, which means things get a little messy, but they also stumble gracefully into humour. At times, he under cranks, and offers up a taste of Fantasia-like dance numbers by exaggerating, and editing, the human action.
He even succeeds at turning the magic carpet into a tightly-knotted character that steals every scene with its manta like moves and sassy tassels. It’s only when the movie stands still long enough that we start to notice a strange lack of dramatic tension.
After all, it’s not like we don’t know how this story turns out. Then again, it’s a whole new world we’re dealing with. There are new songs in this movie, and one of them deals with female empowerment head-on. In a tune called “Speechless,” Jasmine articulates her will and her autonomy, singing she refuses to be “speechless” — that she has a voice. And she’s going to use it.
Again, these are things we don’t typically expect from Guy Ritchie, or from Disney, but that’s why there’s still magic left in this ancient oil lamp. Every time we rub it, we’re wishing for something different, and that’s exactly what we get in this movie.
Ritchie delivers a full-on spectacle of song, dance and breathtaking live-action that pays homage to its animated predecessor without being its slave. Aladdin is everything it had to be, and yet, like our conflicted hero, we’ll no doubt wish it could have been more.
THE EX-PRESS, May 24, 2019