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Aladdin Reviews

Director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Snatch), doing double-duty as scriptwriter with John August, brings us the next step in Disney’s live-action versions of its classic animated films with Aladdin. Despite its obvious source material, there is just enough new and different to make this film a fresh entry. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a common street urchin whose life consists of barely surviving - eking out an existence somewhere between thief and beggar. But his life takes a dramatic turn from a chance encounter with Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), and then the Royal Vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari). Jafar recruits him to retrieve a magical item from the Cave of Wonders, which brings Aladdin face-to-face with the Genie (Will Smith) and a potential new destiny that lies far from simply wondering how he will eat that day. Much of the screenplay is sourced from the original, although there are some changes to the story, mostly filling in a little more background. These changes are primarily solid, adding depth of character to the portrayals, as well as additional motivations. Iago (voiced by Alan Tudyk) is the exception. While seemingly more evil than his original, he is also less developed and lacks personality. Also, while Jafar’s motivations are more rounded, his character seems more greedy than he is evil, which is a loss. Ritchie’s direction is rich and colorful, adding nuance to the characters that make them interesting and engaging. There is one major distraction, though, that interrupts the film a few times. In some of the scenes, a decision was made to either speed up or slow down the action, and each time this happens it changes the pace of the film rather than enhancing it. Each actor seems to be a near-perfect casting choice, with the exception of Jafar. Kenzari’s performance suffers less from a lack of talent than a lack of character, though he does do quite well with what he has to work with. Had the character been written to be as diabolical as the original, there is no doubt he would have been up to the task. Massoud brings fun and lightheartedness to Aladdin, making him a character the viewer can both enjoy and care about. The real stars of the cast are Naomi Scott and Will Smith. Rather than fill some very big shoes, Smith chose to make the Genie as much his own as possible, to the benefit of the overall film. Like Smith, Scott takes the character of Jasmine and owns it, making her someone much more than just what the script called for. Unfortunately, Alan Menken added a song where Jasmine talks about what she is going to do rather than (or just before, in the reprise) doing it, which detracts from her actually taking action. When she finally does it strengthens the character of Jasmine even more so than she was before, but the song dilutes this growth just a little.   The cinematography is lavish and beautiful, other than the previously mentioned distracting effects. Long shots are rich in color, depicting an Agrabah that is much more alive. The special effects are spectacular, sometimes better than the original. As with much else in the film, though, there is an exception. Apparently, someone determined that the flying carpet scene with Aladdin and Jasmine is so important that they shouldn’t alter it much, so unlike the rest of the film, it is dull.   Overall, it is good that they take a strong character in Jasmine and make her stronger, adding more power and self-determination. This makes her an even better role model than the original as she joins into the action more frequently rather than ever truly being a “damsel in distress.” Additionally, the decision to make her more concerned for the country and its people than her potential fate was inspired.   All in all, Aladdin is a decent film. There will doubtless be those who say it is too much like the original film, just as there will be those who say it is too little. Both sets of moviegoers would do well to look at Aladdin as its own film, as they will be much more likely to see the diamond in the rough.