Aladdin

 

This review is not only about the live action remake of the Disney film, but also inevitably about my first experience with 4DX theatrical exhibition.

The film is a colorful version of the story about the power of the magic lamp. Aladdin is coerced into retrieving the lamp so that the evil vizier Jafar can wield power over the kingdom and beyond. Aladdin discovers the power of three wishes before Jafar does, and the former street urchin leverages his wishes to win the affection of Jasmine, the princess longing to stretch beyond the limitations that tradition bind her.

Will Smith ably fills the shoes so memorably worn by Robin Williams in Disney’s 1992 animated version. Both lent a comic foil to the proceedings, and here Smith slyly riffs often as the 10,000 year old genie. When the genie falls for Jasmine’s handmaiden, Smith shows a softer more vulnerable side that is appealing.

In the title role, Mena Massoud is sufficiently expressive as he encounters the possibility (and limitations) of three wishes. His dance moves (and his escape moves) are impressive, and his singing voice is sufficient. Stealing the show, especially when Smith is offscreen, is Naomi Scott as Jasmine. She was generally wasted in her prior film appearances (2017’s Power Rangers and 2015’s The 33). Scott is persuasive as the motherless princess pushing against the strictures of tradition.

Director Guy Ritchie is best known for his snappy caper films (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Snatch, Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), so many folks had trepidation how Ritchie would handle a film with a strong female lead, and within the Disney context. Ritchie acquits himself well.

The look of the film is excellent, capturing the mythic Arabic kingdom and adding sufficient fantasy elements. Disney has done a good job engaging cultural experts to avoid stereotypes (especially successful in Coco), but here I am surprised that Genie is shown kicking back with a martini.

But what about 4DX? The history of theatrical distribution is marked by efforts to get folks out of their couch for something they could not get at home. Bigger screens, 3D, better sound and the like have been tried. 4DX leverages even more, adding seat motion, wind, rain, lights, and smells. The trick with any such augmentation is striking the right balance. In the case of Aladdin, I think the technicians went a bit too far; I did not need all the seat jerking as Aladdin was tumbling in the cave or getting chased by the bad guys. It was almost a theme park ride, but then again that is right in Disney’s wheelhouse.

 

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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