The problem with remaking classic movies is they always will be compared to the original.
Thus, even if a film is funny, entertaining and worthy of a solid grade, it will have its critics — simply because it didn’t rise to the level of the movie that came first.
That’s the only explanation for Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin (PG) receiving ho-hum reviews from critics and teetering on a “rotten” score at the aggregator site RottenTomatoes.com.
It’s pretty good — according to the consensus among critics — but it’s not great. Or as the consensus summary at RottenTomatoes.com puts it, Aladdin retells the story with “spectacle and skill” but “never approaches the dazzling splendor of the animated original.”
That 1992 film won two Oscars for its music. The 2019 version has fine music but may or not be Oscar-worthy. We’ll have to wait.
Such comparisons are unavoidable but they can get in the way of the central questions moviegoers have when they read a review:
Is it good? (My answer: Yes.)
Is it worth watching? (Yes.)
Is it family-friendly? (Yes — assuming you’re OK with your children watching a romance and seeing two kisses.)
So what if Disney didn’t hit a grand slam? It’s a double or a triple, and most children will love every minute of it.
Aladdin tells the story of a swindling street urchin named Aladdin (Mena Massoud) who falls in love with a princess named Jasmine (Naomi Scott). They desire to marry but are forbidden from doing so because of tradition and law. (She’s a wealthy woman from royalty; he’s a low-class peasant.) Aladdin then stumbles upon a magic lamp and a Genie (Will Smith) who grants him three wishes. Aladdin asks the Genie to turn him into a prince.
The 2019 version mostly mirrors the 1992 classic but differs on a few points. In the newest film, Jasmine desires to succeed her father, the Sultan. In another change, the Genie falls in love with Jasmine’s servant. Both changes make for a better plot but also for a longer movie (two hours compared to 90 minutes.) Jasmine also wears more clothes than she did in the 1992 film (thank goodness). Of course, the 2019 film also has updated music (Smith sings a few hip-hop-type songs. I liked them.)
The plot includes a few hiccups that may need to be discussed in a post-movie conversation. First, Aladdin steals to make a living. (Children can be asked: Is it ever OK to take what’s not yours?) Second, Genie claims to be the “most powerful being” in the universe. (Ask kids: How does that differ from what the Bible teaches?) It contains no language or sexuality and only minor violence.
Still, Aladdin gives us plenty of solid positive lessons. We learn that money and power can’t bring happiness. We see one character resist the lust for power and another succumb to it. We also hear about the importance of discovering what’s on “the inside” of a person.
The newest Aladdin may not be perfect, but it’s still worth the price of admission.