The princess, the thief, his monkey, and her tiger—Aladdin is a story that has been told, well, at least twice now. Almost 30 years after the animated original, Disney has decided to do a live-action adaptation, keeping with the company’s tradition of milking properties more frequently than coming up with new ideas. There are three such “live-action” (the term must be used loosely considering the Lion King remake) films in 2019 alone, and the trailers for Aladdin and the lukewarm reception for the earlier Dumbo have certainly cast something of a damper on the entire premise.
Am I implying that, perhaps, the tepid critical response for Aladdin stems from a disdain for not just the remakes as a concept but the frequency and overall lackluster quality with which they’ve been produced? Why, I would never. But anecdotally it may seem that way, especially with another Grand Canyon of a divide between the audience reception and the critical consensus. Did some go into the film ready to hate it? Probably, although one might also argue that’s the case with nearly every new movie, especially blockbusters. Is this all stalling before I have to tell you that I liked the movie more than most of the critics and a way to preemptively defend that opinion against the majority? Why, I would never.
For those unfamiliar with Aladdin, here’s the outline. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a thief who lives on the streets with a monkey as his only friend (and accomplice). He meets a girl, Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who turns out to be the land’s princess. One thing leads to another, he finds a magical lamp housing a genie (Will Smith), he gets tricked by a power-hungry Royal Vizier (Marwan Kenzari), more things lead to other things, and bing, bang, boom, there’s a lot of singing involved. What? I’m not going to spoil the whole thing! There’s a decent amount of plot here, especially since this new version is over two hours long, compared to the relatively brief (90-minute-long) original.
How is it, though? I had fun. The actors are into it, the songs are fun, the set and costume designs are top-notch, and while the added length wasn’t necessary, it did give a bit more time to develop these characters and make the events that unfold feel more powerful. Does the genie CGI look kind of bad? Yeah, it does, and it’s a shame that this element didn’t translate well to live-action, but Smith is fun enough in the role that it almost—almost—doesn’t become too bothersome.
None of that makes the film necessary, by any means. It does lack the magic of the animated version, for whatever that’s worth, and if you were to recommend someone watch just one iteration of Aladdin, it’s going to be the 1992 classic as opposed to this new one. But let’s be honest here, folks. A lot of people don’t watch cartoons. And a lot of people won’t watch anything that is now considered “old.” These reboots and remakes are done primarily for monetary reasons, it’s true, but they also bring in new audiences—showing them stories and characters they may have otherwise ignored. As long as they’re not bad movies, it’s difficult for me to be upset about this.
Aladdin was probably never going to topple or supplant the original animated film in the minds of those who love it, but for those who were not exposed to it or not endeared by it, this new version will offer the story a chance to win over some audience members. It delivers the same story with good performances, solid action, wonderful songs, and a touch more depth, although it does suffer with some of its visual effects translating the animation to live-action. It’s a fun couple of hours of movie.
Conclusion: Aladdin is a fun adaptation of the animated classic.
Recommendation: I think the new Aladdin is worth watching.