“ALADDIN” — 3 stars — Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari; PG (action/peril); in general release; running time: 128 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — The new “Aladdin” is better than the new “Dumbo,” but neither is doing much to suggest Disney isn’t just in it for the money.
Based on Disney’s 1992 animated film, Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin” follows the tale of a young man who scores a ticket to the high life when he finds a magic lamp. At a distance, it’s the same story as the original: We meet Aladdin (Mena Massoud) on the bustling streets of Agrabah, surviving thanks to some quick hands and streetwise resourcefulness. On one fateful day, he lends some timely assistance to a young woman who claims to be a handmaid to the princess, and by the time he takes her on a tour of his makeshift bachelor pad, the sparks are flying.
What Aladdin doesn’t know is that his new friend is actually the princess herself, and under obligation to marry a prince. This is just one point of frustration for Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who aspires to succeed her father as Sultan, even though local culture would prefer she be seen and not heard.
Aladdin and Jasmine aren’t the only ones wrestling with their roles in Agrabah. Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is a powerful grand vizier who has aspirations to be Sultan himself, albeit with considerably less noble intentions. He’s heard of a magic lamp lost in a magic cave that will give him the power he needs to become Sultan, but when he sends Aladdin to recover it, his plan goes awry.
Again, we know where things go from here. Aladdin finds the lamp and discovers an enchanted Genie (Will Smith) who offers him three wishes. With the first, Aladdin has the Genie turn him into a prince so he can court and marry Jasmine. Naturally, this doesn’t go over well with Jafar, who launches a counteroffensive, and the struggle for power and love and shiny brass things is juxtaposed against Aladdin’s path to self-understanding.
The similarities to the animated classic work both for and against this new “Aladdin.” It's fun to see the familiar story on the big screen in live-action form, with lavish set pieces, musical numbers and impressive visual effects. Massoud and Scott are both appealing in the lead roles, and Smith enjoys some good moments as the Genie.
At the same time, Smith is in an almost impossible predicament, stepping into a role made iconic by Robin Williams. He's more than charming in the role, as his track record would expect, but he’s not near as zany as Williams, and though Smith makes the role his own, he's still stuck in Williams’ shadow.
The live-action film has introduced some changes to the classic storyline, adding a whopping 38 minutes to the original’s run time. Aside from the obvious visual makeover that breathes a new energtic spirit into the film, the new “Aladdin” adds some songs and an interesting subplot to Jasmine's character that explores her becoming Sultan — all leading to a 128-minute total that feels a bit too lengthy for the young and the restless.
More importantly, Ritchie’s effort never really gives a satisfactory answer to the most obvious question: Why?Comment on this story
Coming in the middle of three separate Disney animation-to-live-action remakes this year — with “Lion King” still to come — it’s becoming a harder question to answer, at least beyond the obvious financial incentives.
While some may insist Ritchie’s effort should be judged on its own, the reality is that Disney is counting on the film’s reputation to bring box-office success, and taken in context, the new “Aladdin” is OK, but not great.
Rating explained: “Aladdin” is rated PG for scenes of peril and some frightening moments.