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Review: Aladdin – “Slick and charming dancing-in-your-seat and impossible-not-to-sing-a-long-to romantic action-adventure”

A live-action update of the 1992 animated Disney classic, the new Aladdin is written by John August (Go), directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch) and stars Mena Massoud (Jack Ryan), Naomi Scott (Power Rangers), Marwan Kenzari (Murder on the Orient Express), Nasim Pedrad (Cooties), and obviously Will Smith (Men in Black).

In the bustling city of Agrabah, street thief Aladdin (Massoud) and his trusty monkey sidekick Abu steal to eat and dodge any law enforcement using parkour. Aladdin falls for Jasmine (Scott), a princess who is confined to the palace by her father following her mother’s assassination but has donned a disguise so that she can sneak into the city to see the citizens that she longs to use her royal powers to help.

Later, Aladdin is collared breaking into the palace to see Jasmine by the evil palace vizier, Jafar (Kenzari), and forced on a dangerous mission to steal a lamp. After an attempted double-cross, Aladdin is left with the lamp, summons a genie (Smith) and wishes to become a prince – as Jasmine is only allowed to marry royalty. Genie (in human guise) and Aladdin (as Prince Ali) go to the palace and attempt to woo Jasmine and her handmaiden, Dalia (Pedrad), who Genie has taken a shine too, while also trying to thwart an attempted coup by Jafar, and do lots of singing and dancing.

Thrillingly, this new Aladdin has a lot of plot updates, that make the story feel much more modern and gives Jasmine far greater agency and a brand-new song in which to articulate it. Refusing to be shut up by powerful men like her father the Sultan and Jafar, she will not be quiet and pushes throughout to become the new people-first leader that Agrabah needs. Aladdin is even shown multiple times to fully support her in this and it is honestly just wonderful to see.

Gone is Jafar enslaving her and putting her in chains and bikini. This Jasmine would never stand for it, and this Jafar is after power, not a princess. A sulky, sinister and suspicious villain, Kenzari’s Jafar feels more grounded and gets a lot of scenes showing his deteriorating mental state and severe and dangerous aversion to feeling second to anyone.

New character Dalia adds a different female perspective to the movie and makes the gender balance more even than in the animated version. Pedrad plays her as a very funny and very forthright character who provides a lot of big laughs and is a lovely foil and match to Smith’s Genie. Will Smith is fantastic as Genie and leans into his abundance of easy natural charm to create a character that is not just fun but a joy to be around.

The problem with Genie is not down to casting at all, or the design, but the effects. Genie is largely in human form but in “blue mode” his head is stuck on a buff body and never convinces. The neck is a bit wide and the head placement isn’t quite right, resulting in an unconvincing bobble-head effect.

Smith bangs out the songs though, retaining the humour of previous incarnation Robin Williams’ performance and the infectiousness of Tim Rice’s lyrics, but punching everything up a bit. This quality also carries over to the rest of the songs and the bolstered up score, which is the well-known original but with an orchestra that feels larger and bass-ier with more epic sounding rises and sweeps.

Guy Ritchie’s stylistic flourishes are as toned down as Burton’s were in Dumbo, but he shoots the action sequences with the exciting energy and verve he’s honed on the Sherlock Holmes’ and the criminally underseen Man From UNCLE. Ritchie also has a gift for musical scenes, making song and dance numbers that could have been cheesy feel genuinely cool and contagious enough to get you bopping along.

The live-action Aladdin is a slick and charming dancing-in-your-seat and impossible-not-to-sing-a-long-to romantic action-adventure. It is also a heart-swelling progressive update of a family favourite for a whole new world.

Aladdin is on general release in the UK now.

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