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ALADDIN gets 6.5/10 The diamond in the rough


Directed by Guy Ritchie

Starring Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Marwan Kenzari

6.5/10

A live-action remake of one of the gems of the Disney Renaissance era (in turn based on the folklore of One Thousand and One Nights), Aladdin doesn’t stray too far from the source to bring us the adventures of the titular thief. Living by his wits on the streets of Agrabah, the good-hearted Aladdin (Mena Massoud) encounters the city’s princess (Naomi Scott) in disguise in the streets. Smitten, Aladdin is soon swept up in a conspiracy to obtain power by the evil Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), and enlisted to acquire a magical lamp and unlock the powers of a Genie (Will Smith).

Director Guy Ritchie’s work of late has been shaky, with his last film (the ludicrous King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) being so bad as to almost push through to the other side and gain a trash camp quality. Here he arrests that descent, giving a solidly entertaining version of Aladdin, with a few slight updates to address more modern sensibilities (although still steeped in the problematic Orientalism of the original). In Aladdin Ritchie puts that ability to draw inspiration from other works to good effect, bringing the animated world to life, creating an entertaining spectacle of songs, magic and fun. The set pieces, be they musical numbers or action orientated are lavish and enthralling, and although the pace does flag a little between these numbers, it’s not that long before another kicks in bringing enchantment to the film.

A lot of the original 1992 Aladdin‘s appeal rested on that big manic performance by legendary comic Robin Williams, and for this version to work Will Smith has to bring some of that magic to the screen as Genie. To his credit, he does go large in his initial appearance, doing a halfway decent mimicking of Williams’ performance, but Smith is better when he steps back from these and settles into the character. Here he creates something of his own, working on the rapport that he has with Massoud, building on the friendship that becomes important in the latter half of the film.

Massoud himself does well to be able to stand up to the range of CG effects that he’s acting against (monkey, flying carpet, giant blue genie), never owning the screen in the way Smith does, but bringing a roguish charm to the “diamond in the rough”. He also has a degree of chemistry with Scott, being able to sell the romantic aspects of the story. Scott is appealing as the haughty princess struggling to maintain her independence, but although the role is expanded, the confines of the tale never really serve her well. Kenzari is effective as the villainous Jaffar, even if the character is still a two-dimensional scenery-chewing bad guy (despite the elements of back story sandwiched into this version).

Not as spellbinding as the original animation, but this live-action remake does manage to capture some of its sparkle. The result is a big budget piece of family entertainment, with enough sleight of hand to make up for many of its faults.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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