Movie Review: 'Aladdin'

It's a dream come true when Aladdin finds a magic lamp with a genie who grants him three wishes.
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
Aladdin (Mena Massoud) becomes a prince, enabling him to escape poverty and win the heart of Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott.)

"Aladdin" is a live-action remake of Disney's classic 1992 cartoon about a blue genie who helps a young man escape poverty and win the heart of a beautiful princess. This spirited film is as wonderfully entertaining as the original cartoon, with a positive message about friendship, honesty, and doing the right thing in the face of injustice.  

The Story 

The story begins in Agrabah (a fictional port city in Arabia) where we meet Aladdin (Mena Massoud) who lives alone with his pet monkey, Abu. Aladdin is a "street urchin" who steals food to survive, although he desperately wants to escape poverty and accomplish something more with his life.  

In the marketplace, Aladdin and his monkey steal some dates from a cart, and gives it to starving children. Aladdin meets a beautiful young woman (Naomi Scott) whom he assumes to be the hand-maiden (or personal servant) of the sultan’s daughter. She calls herself Dalia, and her heart breaks for the street children living in poverty. Dalia takes some bread from a merchant and gives it to some hungry children. The merchant demands Dalia pay for the bread, but Dalia doesn't have any money with her.  The merchant forcibly takes her gold bracelet as payment. With a slight-of-hand trick, Aladdin steals back the bracelet and a chase ensues.  

Aladdin and Dalia run through the market until they evade the authorities and reach Aladdin’s hideout where he has an exquisite view of the city. Aladdin expresses a desire to escape his current position while she also wishes for freedom. Dalia tries to leave but doesn’t have her bracelet since the monkey Abu took it. She is upset because it was her mother’s bracelet, and she leaves after calling Aladdin a thief. 

 Of course, it turns out Dalia is really the Sultan’s daughter, Jasmine. She is beautiful and Aladdin can't stop thinking about her. Aladdin sneaks into the palace to return her bracelet and discovers Jasmine’s real identity. 

 Meanwhile, the Sultan’s evil Grand Vizier named Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) catches Aladdin and threatens to throw him into jail. Jafar makes a deal with Aladdin to retrieve a magical lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Aladdin reluctantly agrees, thinking his quick wit and slight-of-hand trickery will enable him to find the magic lamp quickly. However, things go wrong and Aladdin and his monkey Abu become trapped in the Cave of Wonders. In the rush to evacuate the cave, Jafar takes the lamp, but Abu secretly steals it back from him just before the magical entrance to the cave closes. 

Still trapped in the cave, Aladdin rubs the lamp and out pops a blue Genie (Will Smith) who grants Aladdin three wishes. Aladdin wishes that they could get out of the Cave of Wonders, and that he could become a prince in order to win over Princess Jasmine. Aladdin promises the Genie that his third wish will be to grant the Genie his freedom. 

 It seems like the perfect plan, but Princess Jasmine is not easily won over. The genie encourages Aladdin to be honest with Princess Jasmine and tell her who he really is. The problem is, the law says that the princess must marry a prince. Aladdin assumes he must keep up the pretense in order to make things work. Meanwhile, Jafar wants the golden lamp and is determined to take over the throne. He'll do anything, even marry Princess Jasmine, in order to come into power.  

What Parents Should Know 

Aladdin is rated PG and is best suited for ages 7 and older. Sensitive children might be frightened by the Cave of Wonders, which has an entrance shaped like a tiger head with glowing red eyes. The cave convulses and spews lava. The story is about people going into the cave to retrieve the golden lamp (and awaken the genie who will grant them three wishes.) The Cave rejects everyone whom it finds unworthy by burying them deep into the sand. The cave speaks in a loud and scary voice, reminding us that he's looking for a “diamond in the rough."   

Characters are pushed, hit and fall from heights and two scenes involving murder. We see people trapped and presumably killed in the cave. A man is thrown down a well shaft and dies. There are chases, falls and near deaths. The main character is tied to a chair and thrown into the ocean where he nearly drowns. A woman jokes about her tiger eating a man alive. The villain in the film is a sorcerer who uses his snake-head scepter to hypnotize people and make them do things against their will. Another main character almost freezes to death in the snow. There are multiple chase scenes which could be frightening for young viewers.  

What's Good About "Aladdin" 

 "Aladdin" is one of the most enjoyable movies that I've seen all year. Like the original animated movie, Disney pulls out all the stops to present an entertaining and visually captivating movie, with colorful costumes, toe-tapping musical numbers, exquisite scenery, and compelling characters that draw you into the story. Actors Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are perfect as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, and Marwan Kenzari is compelling as the villain Jafar. In the original cartoon, Robin Williams played the Genie, and now Will Smith sings and dances his way into this role, bringing an energy that is akin to the spirit of the original yet distinctly his own. 

The movie is based on one of the best known and most retold of all fairy tales, "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp," a Middle Eastern folk tale from the book "One Thousand and One Nights" (or "The Arabian Nights"). The musical numbers are beautifully staged and choreographed. It is fun to experience the familiar songs such as “A Whole New World,” which Aladdin and Princess Jasmine sing as they glide through the air on a magic carpet ride, and "A Friend like Me," which the genie sings as he tells Aladdin about the three wishes. 

Message of Family, Friendship and Freedom   

There is a romantic aspect to this film, as a friendship gradually develops between Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. You can't help but smile watching all the wonders and joys of their courtship as it unfolds. As a parent, I appreciate how they are friends first, and their relationship slowly becomes romantic as they get to know each other.    

Another aspect that I really liked about this movie is the "girl power" of Princess Jasmine. She respects her parents, but she doesn't like the restrictions that her society places on women. Jasmine isn’t interested in an arranged marriage; she wants to marry for love. She is interested in ruling the kingdom and making necessary changes to the city of Agrabah so that she can help people. Jasmine wants to be a leader like her father, but society assumes that only men can rule the throne. Jasmine’s desire for liberty and rebellion against autocratic rules (especially the evil tyranny of the Jafar) will inspire not just for females but any individual who stands for freedom against injustice and tyranny.  

A turning point in the movie is when Jasmine urges the Sultan’s Captain of the Guards, Hakim (Numan Acar) to do what's right when the villain, Jafar, turns him against her family. Jasmine appeals to Hakim as he has known her family since he was a boy and was loyal to them. When Jasmine speaks up about what’s happening, it is an appeal to individual liberty of many kinds, not just as a politically correct appeal to empower females. Jasmine's song, "Speechless," is a powerful anthem for anyone standing up for what's right in the face of injustice.  

Ultimately, "Aladdin" celebrates freedom against tyranny and justice for all. It celebrates truth and honesty, which is contrasted with the villain's greed and lust for power. All in all, "Aladdin" is a magical and entertaining film that's fun for the entire family.