“Aladdin” (2019)

Fantasy

Running time: 128 minutes

Written by: John August and Guy Ritchie

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Featuring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen and Numan Acar

Genie: “I made you look like a prince on the outside, but I didn’t change anything on the inside. Prince Ali got you to the door, but Aladdin has to open it.”

Critical Commentary

This week sees the release onto 4K Blu-ray/DVD of the latest Walt Disney animated movie remade into a ‘live action’ version, that being “Aladdin” (2019), following the successful run of this new sub-genre that began with “The Jungle Book” (1994) but didn’t really hit its true stride until 2010 when Tim Burton released “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) making over a billion dollars worldwide although critically derided as a bit of a soulless carbon copy of the original. Since then there have been a further eight remakes, with no fewer than three released this year with the nadir being reached with the global box office smash, “The Lion King” (2019), still in release so far making over US$1.6 billion worldwide as well as possibly being the best reviewed, although the latter bar is not very high. Many of these animated movies as well as their remakes have been adaptations of other sources, in face “Aladdin” itself is loosely based around the tale from ‘One Thousand and One Nights’.

It is a simple decision to write these remakes off as nothing but cash grabs or a way to spin revenue out of existing properties that many either been remembered from their childhoods or as movies that are introduced to children every generation but that would be far too easy and would also negate the fact that as years roll by new technology arrives that freshen these stories up just as the animated movies did for their source material offering their timeless tales to new audiences. This central idea works well for “Aladdin” as the core story dates back in English to over three hundred years ago, to get precious about it being remade is illogical as well as precious to the extreme. In fact some of the updates and personnel involved with this remake are possibly the very elements that make it fun, vibrant and add a touch of originality that make it not only accessible for new viewers but offer something more for those that loved the animated adventure. The hiring of Guy Ritchie as co-writer director, the idea of having a global superstar in Will Smith as the scene stealing genie and casting people who at least look Middle Eastern mean it already has some clout, with the addition of some cutting edge special effects and a few more obvious themes make it a very pleasing viewing, it is easy to see why it was such a success at the box office, as it offers some counter programming to the standard fare that is normally on offer.

The plot of “Aladdin” centres around the titular character, a kind-hearted street urchin, living in the Arabian city of Agrabah, along with his pet monkey Abu, rescues and befriends Princess Jasmine, who has snuck out of the palace to explore, tired of her sheltered life. Meanwhile, the grand vizier, Jafar schemes to overthrow Jasmine’s father as the Sultan. He, along with his pet parrot sidekick Iago, seeks a magic lamp hidden in the Cave of Wonders that will grant him three wishes. Aladdin is captured and Jafar persuades him to retrieve the lamp. Inside the cave, Aladdin finds a magic carpet and obtains the lamp. He gives it to Jafar, who double crosses him and throws him back into the cave, though Abu steals the lamp back. Trapped in the cave, Aladdin rubs the lamp, unwittingly summoning Genie, an omnipotent being who lives inside it. Genie explains that he has the power to grant Aladdin three wishes. Aladdin tricks Genie into freeing them from the cave without using a wish. After they get out of the cave, Aladdin uses his first official wish to become a prince to impress Jasmine, and promises to use his third wish to free Genie from servitude. From here the movie becomes a little formulaic but fun, with the plot moving at an accelerated pace to cover any plot holes as well as removing the need to believe in any three dimensional depth, it is a ride in the truest sense. 

Going into this remake it was not easy knowing what we were going to get, especially with a movie co-written and directed by Guy Ritchie who has an endless supply of flourishes he loves to add to whatever he is involved with, that seem to offer more style over substance. But with two high profile disappointments, in the big budgeted but dismal box office and critical performances of “King Arthur: Legend of the sword” (2017) and “The man from U.N.C.L.E.” (2015) it appeared that he was in search of a hot. Along come Disney who obviously have asked him to direct a movie that he is in service to, instead of the other way around and he comes up with a winner that both Disney after the disappointment of “Dumbo” (2019) and Ritchie really needed. In terms of writing and directing Ritchie has ticked all the boxes he needed to, with enough flash and a sort of update that has given his bosses and audiences exactly what they wanted, a forgettable fun remake that is easy on the eyes and offers a distraction for all involved.

The lead of this movie is obviously Will Smith who pretty much meets expectations in every way, it is not quite enough of a performance to erase the Robin Williams Genie but for new audiences it is enjoyable to see him embracing his comedic roots which he has shied away from for so long. Where this movie has attempted some kind of originality as well as attempting to embrace a wokeness and political correctness is in the casting of more middle eastern looking Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari and Navid Negahban who with the exception of the excellent Scott are all forgettable playing almost complete cyphers or are recognisable archetypes but what more could be expected from a text this old. Naomi Scott is obviously talented from the outset, with a Jasmine that has been slightly better written than the animated movie who seems to fit in with the idea of womanhood in the early part of the twenty first century, which again gives audiences something to hang on to when the plot becomes pedestrian.

With this remake, “Aladdin” has almost repeated the entire plot and narrative of the original with a few key updates, one is that the genie has been given a ‘happy’ ending as well as a love interest which does feel oddly out of place and a way to get Will Smith onboard, making much of the plot about him. The other element is that the villains have been made far more insidious but with little interest in their motivations which is something that is missed especially if you stop to think about the entire narrative which has logic holes throughout. Finally making Jasmine more woke works for some of the movie but the class system that exists does maker her feel a little shallow at times and quite judgemental, opening her up to criticism, absent from the original as it was just painted as a fun romp.

There is much to like with this movie in the many of the performances as well as the mise en scène and the pace of the plot which will keep any audience engaged unless they are looking to pick holes or endlessly compare this remake to the original animated movie. It is not difficult to point out flaws or apply some form of toxic fandom to this new movie, but to be honest it is an admirable remake that can bring new audiences in as well as maybe spur an interest in the original which is no bad thing.

Technical Commentary

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment brings “Aladdin” to Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. with a flyer for a Disney Digital Copy. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc. Both are housed inside a black, eco-vortex case with an embossed, glossy slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken directly to the movie.

Video

“Aladdin” arrives on Ultra HD with a good looking if also somewhat ordinary HEVC H.265 encode that ultimately doesn’t look much different to its Blu-ray counterpart. There are some noticeable improvements throughout to make the 2160p picture an admirable step-up, but they are relatively few and small. Coming from a 2K digital intermediate, the upscaled transfer enjoys an incremental bump in overall definition.

In similar fashion, the 4K video sails into home theaters with spot-on contrast, displaying slightly crisper whites, but frankly, the overall balance is not any more dynamic or improved, floating comparatively the same as the HD version. Thankfully, delineation remains strong with good visibility of the finer details, providing the 2.39:1 aspect ratio with a lovely cinematic appeal. All things considered, though, this 4K edition is still a small step-up.

Audio

“Aladdin” offers an outstanding Dolby Atmos soundtrack, offering a few notable improvements over its DTS-HD MA counterpart to make this the preferred listen. 

Special Features

All bonus material is contained in the accompanying Blu-ray disc. 

  • Aladdin’s Video Journal: A New Fantastic Point of View (HD, 11 min): From Mena Massoud’s personal collection of footage taken while on set and chatting with cast & crew.
  • Music Videos (HD, 12 min): Three videos featuring performances by Naomi Scott in “Speechless” and two versions of “A Whole New World” Zayn, Becky G and Zhavia Ward.
  • Guy Ritchie: A Cinematic Genie (HD, 6 min): Several minutes of praise for the director.
  • A Friend like Genie (HD, 5 min): Will Smith on his performance compared to Robin Willaims.
  • Deleted Song (HD, 2 min): With an intro by composer Alan Menken.
  • Bloopers (HD, 2 min).
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 11 min).

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