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THE MOVIE GUY: Jasmine, front and center in ‘Aladdin.’

THE MOVIE GUY

Sean McBride

“Aladdin”

Walt Disney Pictures

Rated PG

3 Stars

 

Walt Disney has been a cultural juggernaut for nearly a century, but the studio is facing some interesting challenges as they try to incorporate contemporary sensibilities into their traditional brand of family-friendly values.

One of the most notable examples of this may be found with their popular (and highly profitable) line of Disney princesses. Many of these beloved characters were initially conceived as beautiful-but-helpless maidens who did little more than wait for Prince Charming to charge in and save them. The Mouse House has been trying to modernize these characters knowing that they are increasingly problematic for parents who are trying to raise empowered daughters.

I bring this up as preamble to reviewing Disney’s new live action version of “Aladdin.” I could talk about the spectacular visual imagery, the changes to the musical numbers or even Will Smith’s pretty good performance as the Genie, but the biggest surprise for me was the elevation of Princess Jasmine into the role of a fully fleshed out heroine.

In addition to giving Jasmine (Naomi Scott) some new songs, the writers have made her far more active, with her desire to become a wise and just ruler taking front and center. Don’t worry, the romance is still integral to the overall story, it’s just that Princess Jasmine has evolved into more than just Aladdin’s love interest this time out.

As for Aladdin, Mena Massoud brings a nice physicality and an endearing awkward manner to the role. He turns in a fine performance, but it pales in comparison to the antics of his pet monkey, the newly empowered Princess Jasmine, and the wild abandon of the Genie.

Speaking of Genie, kudos to Will Smith for taking on the role which will always be associated with Robin Williams’ gonzo performance. Smith brings some fresh hip hop touches to his musical numbers, but he never comes close to matching the manic energy of the original performance. Give the man credit for putting his own stamp on the role, but it’s hard to watch him without thinking that Robin Williams did it better.

That being said, I did quite enjoy the subplot where Genie falls in love with a handmaiden to the Princess (Nasim Pedrad). I also loved the film’s visual style, which frequently features Bollywood moments that fill the screen with color and energy. This is definitely a movie that will make you want to jump up to sing and dance along with the performers.

All of which make “Aladdin” into a delightful family adventure. Visually, musically and artistically, it is a triumph. It’s not perfect — I think the new music isn’t very memorable, and that Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) and Iago (Alan Tudyk) prove to be somewhat toothless villains. Those are notable issues, but they don’t derail this otherwise very enjoyable remake.

 

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.