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With: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen, Numan Acar, Alan Tudyk (voice), Frank Welker (voices)
Written by: John August, Guy Ritchie
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
MPAA Rating: PG for some action/peril
Running Time: 128
Date: 05/24/2019

Aladdin (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sultans of Zing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The latest in an increasingly frequent series of remakes of Disney animated features, Aladdin is like a cover version of a pop song. It inspires curiosity, such as "I wonder what it would be like to hear Tori Amos doing Nirvana, or Guns N' Roses doing Paul McCartney & Wings?" And it is momentarily distracting, but then we go back to the original. There's no other real reason for a remake, other than the very rare chance that a remake is going to be better than the original. Like most, Aladdin isn't. But it is pleasantly diverting.

The original Aladdin (1992) was a patchwork film, pieced together from the last completed songs of the late, great Howard Ashman, and filled out — inexplicably — with syrupy songs by Tim Rice. (This is roughly the equivalent of finishing a Ramones song score with music by the Backstreet Boys.) Additionally, there was Robin Williams, killing it in his typhoon-like performance as the genie, but leaving all the other characters behind in his wake (except maybe Gilbert Gottfried as Jafar's parrot).

The new movie had a chance to smooth all this out. It uses the same song score, and adds a dreadful new song called "Speechless," presumably to qualify for an Academy Award, but somehow the songs seem to flow together better, perhaps simply because of the benefit of their age; they're all from a certain time period. And Will Smith as the genie does a good cover-version turn as the genie, different enough from Williams to eventually make it his own (not as good, of course, but his own).

This time Jasmine (Naomi Scott) wants more than just to get married. She wants to rule the kingdom, which, in this day and age, is great. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) must learn to be himself, rather than pretending to be something he isn't. And Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is very Trumpian, using fear and threats to gain power, rather than benevolence or actually caring about his subjects. Alan Tudyk voices his minion parrot, Iago, without getting to be very Tudykian.

Guy Ritchie directs with lots of swoops and dive-bombs, and he somehow makes the inflated running time (128 minutes here, versus 90 minutes of the original animated version) pass by without seeming too inflated. Though it has clumsy moments here and there, it keeps up a cheerful spirit, mainly when Smith riffs about how badly things are going for Aladdin. It's a decent enough cover-version, but let's use our collective three wishes for some non-sequels, non-remakes, non-reboots, and non-reimaginings in the future. After all, Scheherazade had a thousand tales, so why can't Disney?

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