I was prepared not to like Aladdin. Maybe it was the negative buzz Will Smith received on social media for his CGI genie. Perhaps it was the expectation that the movie, set in a mythical Arabia, would be politically tone deaf to the current harsh realities of life in that realm of the world.
I was prepared to cringe. But as the movie unfolded, I told myself, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” I started to like what I saw.
The premise of Aladdin
The premise of Aladdin is that the title character (Mena Massoud), a street-smart vagabond, falls in love with princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). However, he doesn’t realize her identity at first: she poses as a royal servant as she explores the city streets of Agrabah. Aladdin will do anything to impress the princess, and in an attempt to do so he crosses paths with the wicked vazier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari). The bad guy forces Aladdin to retrieve a magical lamp from a dangerous cave. In doing so, Aladdin unleashes a genie who will grant him three wishes.
What works and what doesn’t
So what did I like about Aladdin? My daughter and I both enjoyed the dazzling spectacle. The songs both new and old are entertaining, and we enjoyed the onscreen chemistry between Aladdin and Jasmine.
Yes, Aladdin is very heavy on the CGI (computer-generated imagery). As critics have often pointed out, CGI in these live-action Disney remakes of classic cartoons is less animated, for lack of a better word, than the originals. CGI can feel a bit soul-less: there is just no way that special effects, no matter how hard they try, can capture the expressiveness and artistry of the original animation. The animal sidekicks in live-action Aladdin, for instance, aren’t nearly as lovable and full of personality as in the 1992 animated Aladdin (such as Raj the tiger and Aladdin’s monkey Abu).
The girl power aspect also feels a little tacked on rather than really organic to the plot. It would have been nice if writer-director Guy Ritchie could have done more with the new storyline of Jasmine’s desiring to be the first woman to rule the kingdom. But at least it’s there, a nice update to Jasmine’s character since she isn’t very empowered in the original.
We know that Disney is leaving no cinematic stone unturned in an effort to exploit its brands. These live-action adaptations of animated originals are hitting the screen one after the other to enrich Disney’s bottom line. But on the plus side, they are easy on the eyes, and it’s a chance for Disney to update some of the classic storylines to make them more relevant to today’s kids.
So yes, I recommend Aladdin for a theatrical detour in your Memorial Day weekend. Enjoy!