Aladdin is fine. Everything’s fine. How could it be otherwise? It’s the story you know already, almost exactly. They say the lines and sing the songs, the same songs, almost exactly. It’s a good story and they’re good songs. There are no spoilers in this review because how could there be?
When you take your kids to Disneyland and they stand in line to meet Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, they want to recognize them when they get to the front of the line. If they had Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott at Disneyland playing Aladdin and Jasmine, the kids would be thrilled.
They would be puzzled, on the other hand, by soft-spoken Marwan Kenzari in the role of Jafar, the treacherous Grand Vizier, and Jasmine’s father, the ridiculous, roly-poly Sultan, played by distinguished Navid Negahban.
Egyptian-born Massoud’s wry grin suits diamond-in-the-rough street-rat Aladdin, who will acquire the magic lamp and win the princess’ heart. Scott, a British actress whose mother is from India, blends regal dignity with fierceness in a role that tries to be more feminist than the story allows. (Massoud is an observant Coptic Christian; Scott’s parents co-pastor an evangelical church in London.)
Massoud and Scott lead an ethnically diverse cast making up the multicultural world of Agrabah, here a vaguely Middle Eastern port city with South Asian and other regional flavors.
Kenzari’s Jafar is less a traditional Disney icon of evil than a quietly ambitious schemer with an inferiority complex, a social climber who has risen from origins as humble as Aladdin’s, believing that you’re either the most powerful man in the room or you’re nothing.
Are deeply resonant male voices simply out of style? Watch both versions of The Jungle Book and compare the Baloos (Bill Murray vs. the inimitable Phil Harris) or the Bagheeras (Ben Kingsley, no slouch certainly, vs. Sebastian Cabot, with his rich, gravelly line readings). Compare Luke Evans’ Gaston to opera singer Richard White in the original Beauty and the Beast.
Disney’s Aladdin does more than give Williams an opportunity to let loose the comic giant inside him: It offers the Disney animators perhaps their greatest creative challenge, and inspiration, in over half a century.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.