The romantic leads are engaging and can sing, one of them a lot better than the other.
The production is eye-popping, visually, more India than Arabia — Guy Ritchie frenetic at times, and mildly amusing.
And Will Smith gets to strut his stuff in Hammer pants. Again.
So call “Aladdin” a win and call it a night, right? Disney’s latest remake of a classic cartoon is closer to its remake of “The Jungle Book” than “Dumbo,” which is a good thing.
It’s more sensitive in its casting, with any politically incorrect edges rubbed off or at least erased from its tunes.
But it’s villain is a bust, a Jafar who won’t scare anybody.
And with Smith forced to replicate, top or at least hold his own against Robin Williams’ antic animated turn as the Genie, we’re hurled into manic, loud and over-stuffed production numbers sung by a singer whose go-to move is to rap in tune and in time, not “American Idol” his way to Broadway.
Smith’s “Friend Like Me” is kind of lost in the editing, choreography and digitally-augmented and cluttered set decor.
Mena Massoud makes for a parkour-friendly thief of Baghdad, or “Agraba” as it’s called here. He’s boyishly winning if not perhaps as charismatic and cocksure as you remember other versions of Aladdin to be.
But Brit singer/actress Naomi Scott’s Jasmine is the real deal, a good singer and a spitfire in the role. When her Jasmine is denied the right of succession to her father the sultan (Navid Negahban), her fuming “I was born to more than marry some useless prince” tells us she’s going to be a lot more pro-active in this tale than age-old Arabic patriarchy would have her be.
Scott shines in a new number written for this musical, “Speechless,” a bit of female empowerment that should play wonderfully to the dress-like-our-favorite-princess demo.
The story is cleverly reframed as a tale told by a sailor/trader (Smith) to his little kids as they sail the Arabian Sea. Aladdin and his (digital) monkey Abu are introduced, stealing their way through a stunningl- realized fantasy port city of “Arabian Nights” vintage.
He meets the princess, in disguise so she can see how her people really live (struggling, unlike those in the palace). Aladdin’s way of coping with that charms her.
“When you don’t have anything, you still have to act like you own everything!”
But he is seized by the cruel courtier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari of “Murder on the Orient Express” and “What Happened to Monday?”), sent into the Cave of Wonders to fetch a lamp, and that’s how he meets the Bigmouth in Blue (Smith) with his “wishes three.”
Smith’s best song is his rendition of “Prince Ali,” the song in which the Genie croons the virtues of the thief he’s transformed into a prince suitable to be a suitor for Jasmine. It’s performed in more of Smith’s “Fresh Prince” rap style than as a Broadway-ready ditty (in the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman/Tim Rice composition) and he puts it over with panache.
The best effect is the playful pet flying carpet that becomes Aladdin’s edge in his duel with Jafar.
Will any of it make you forget the 1992 cartoon? No. Is this the best application of Guy Ritchie’s special gifts as a filmmaker? Not in the least.
But the jokes still land, albeit not as many as Robin Williams & Co. managed 27 years ago. “A Whole New World” still has a romantic tug to it.
Which is why “Aladdin” still works, just not as well as the live action remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” because the acting in that film was better and it was based on a better original animated classic, with more heart to the story and better songs to illustrate it.
Keep your expectations in check and you won’t be disappointed.
MPAA Rating: PG for some action/peril
Cast: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Marwan Kenzari, Nasim Pedrad and Navid Negahban
Credits: Directed by Guy Ritchie, script John August and Guy Ritchie, based on the Disney animated film. A Walt Disney release.
Running time: 2:08