Release Date(s)2019 (September 10, 2019)
Studio(s)Walt Disney Pictures/Rideback (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
Aladdin is a live-action remake of Disney’s 1992 animated musical feature. The title character (Mena Massoud) is a petty street thief in the fictional city of Agrabah who, with his pet monkey Abu as his accomplice in crime, spends his days pilfering from merchants and eluding capture through acrobatic maneuvers. One day, Aladdin encounters a pretty young woman who claims to be a handmaiden to the princess but is, in fact, Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). He’s taken with both her beauty and her intelligence, but Jasmine is reluctant to open her heart to a lowly thief even though she’s hardly thrilled with the royal suitors for her hand. Her attention is on her people and she wants positive change in her kingdom.
Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), seeing a way to use Aladdin to overthrow Jasmine’s father and become Sultan himself, convinces him to retrieve a magic lamp hidden in a cave in exchange for vast riches. Aladdin finds the lamp and accidentally rubs it, bringing forth a Genie (a blue, muscular Will Smith) who grants him three wishes. With the Genie’s advice, Aladdin tries to win Jasmine’s heart and defeat the power-hungry Jafar while making the most of his three wishes.
The Disney machine is on a roll with remakes of its classic animated musical features. We’ve already seen Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Dumbo transformed into live-action films, and The Lion King remake hit theaters in July. So Aladdin has a hard act to follow, particularly since the Genie in the animated version was voiced by Robin Williams, who gave the character a zany spirit and sense of humor.
Will Smith’s Genie is more like a mentor than a magical force, more a supporting character than a centerpiece. Smith does his best to give the Genie personality, but his jokes lack spontaneity and he’s overshadowed by special effects that render the lower half of his body a blue mist. When the Genie takes human form, dropping the blue make-up, he has eyes for Jasmine’s actual handmaiden, Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), and the attraction is mutual. Now that he has experienced being human, his foremost desire is to be set free from the lamp to become a real man.
Massoud and Scott have nice chemistry, but never really heat up the screen. Scott’s Jasmine overdoes her enthusiasm for personal empowerment and concern for the welfare of her subjects a bit too often, long after we’ve gotten the message. Massoud is a charming actor with a broad smile and lots of charm, but his performance never rises above routine. What’s missing from his portrayal is passion. He goes through the motions but never seems committed.
Production design is opulent and often breathtaking, ranging from narrow marketplace streets, to spacious palace rooms, to the Cave of Wonders with its treasures strewn about on the rocks. The CGI elements, including the monkey Abu and a tiger that roams freely through the palace, make possible what live action couldn’t. Abu is convincing but that tiger is far too big compared to the human characters. The best bit of cinematic magic is the sequence in which Aladdin and Jasmine fly on a magic carpet over the rooftops and minarets as they sing A Whole New World. The movement of the carpet is beautifully rendered and we accept, at least for the duration of the number, that a rug is a serviceable means of transportation.
Aladdin has more of the stamp of Disney than of the ancient tale on which it is loosely based. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the politically correct dialogue and attempts to be contemporary often seem forced.
Was a big-budget remake of the animated film merited? Yes. The animated version is regarded as one of Disney’s second-tier classics, but audiences will find lots to enjoy in this live action version. The production design is spectacular, Will Smith adds his star power and sidekick humor, the special effects are dazzling and contribute to the fantasy milieu, and Mena Massoud has charm and connects far better with the viewer than his animated Aladdin counterpart. Rated PG, Aladdin has the feel of a Broadway musical, with a tuneful score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice (with additional input from La La Land’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), sumptuous settings, and inventive costumes. It is lavishly produced and offers an enjoyable escape to a fantasy world of wonder.
The Blu-ray, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in the widescreen format of 2.39:1. Scene selection includes 16 separate chapters for easy access to specific sequences and/or musical numbers. The color palette is primarily bright throughout, with the picture really popping during the Prince Ali parade number. Green, pink, lavender, and yellow dominate, with women’s headdresses made of ostrich and peacock feathers. The parade includes a CGI elephant carrying Aladdin/Prince Ali, a flock of ostriches, acrobatic monkeys, and somersaulting townspeople. Aladdin, in a white and gold tunic and head gear, is almost lost in the sea of color. Shiny jewels glow all over the rocks in the dark Cave of Wonders. During A Whole New World, the flying carpet transports Aladdin and Princess Jasmine in a nighttime journey over waterfalls, trees, and rivers as it soars up through clouds into a beautiful moonlit sky. The ever-changing panoramic landscape provides a dazzling visual accompaniment to the song.
Audio is English 7.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. There’s an English 2.0 descriptive audio track, and Spanish and French tracks in 5.1 Dolby Digital as well. Subtitles include Spanish, French, and English for the hearing impaired. The musical numbers stand out with excellent sound. As Aladdin climbs, slides, parkours, catapults himself, and dashes through the crowded marketplace to elude his pursuers, he sings One Jump Ahead, never missing a lyric. A Friend in Me is a big production number featuring Will Smith in a comic performance. Prince Ali is an extravaganza with hundreds of extras in multi-colored costumes and scores of marching “subjects.” Sound mixing is especially fine as the music, lyrics, crowd noises, and incidental sounds, such as the clinking of gold coins, combine in an exciting sequence. A Whole New World is a romantic duet between Aladdin and Jasmine as they glide over the nighttime countryside. With the occasional sound of the breeze that helps to move the carpet along, the sequence is ethereal.
Bonus features on the 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include deleted scenes, music videos, bloopers, a deleted song, 3 behind-the-scenes featurettes, and sneak peeks at 2 upcoming Disney theatrical feature films. A Digital code on a paper insert is included in the packaging.
Aladdin’s Visual Journey: A New Fantasic Point of View – Actor Mena Massoud was given a phone to document his experience making Aladdin. In this home-movie style documentary, he shows scenes of the Prince Ali parade, the rig used for the flying carpet sequence in A Whole New World, the Cave of Wonders and Jasmine’s palace sets, and himself and Will Smith filming the A Friend Like Me number. Will Smith does lots of mugging for Massoud’s camera. An underwater sequence is shown being filmed in a studio tank complete with divers out of camera range holding air hoses for Massoud.
Deleted Song – The song Desert Moon, sung by Jasmine after she first meets Aladdin, was cut prior to release. Composer Alan Menken introduces the clip.
Guy Ritchie: A Cinematic Genie – Director Guy Ritchie expresses his fondness for making a movie that the whole family can watch. He describes adjusting camera speed to achieve certain visual effects, and elaborate blue screen effects work is shown. There are brief comments from cast members Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, and Nasim Pedrad. Ritchie refers to the filming as having had a “good vibe.”
A Friend Like Genie – Will Smith speaks about undertaking a role made famous in the original animated film by Robin Williams. Smith says that since Aladdin carries the main story line, the “genie gets to have wild fun.” Director Guy Ritchie had Smith in mind for the genie from the beginning. “The genie is a trickster/mentor.” Smith incorporated his hip-hop background into the role. He wanted to honor Williams’ performance while creating a new voice to modernize the genie. He notes, “That was the part that was most exciting.”
Music Videos – Three music videos from the score are included:
- Speechless – performed by Naomi Scott
- A Whole New World – performed by Zayn and Zhavia Ward
- A Whole New World – performed by Zayn and Becky G.
Deleted Scenes – Six scenes that were cut from the theatrical release are included:
- Falling Petals Into OJ
- Jafar’s Magic Orrery
- Anders’ Gift
- Wrong Wishes
- Silly Old Fool
- Post Yam Jam Debrief
Bloopers – This brief compilation of filming errors includes miscues, props misbehaving, Will Smith joking around before and after takes, and the genie commenting on fireworks intercut with the Disney Magic Kingdom logo.
Sneak Peeks – Theatrical trailers for two upcoming Disney feature films, including Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Frozen II
– Dennis Seuling