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Film Review: “Aladdin”

The musical production of “Aladdin” has a long history. The Disney animated feature “Aladdin” was released in 1992, inspired an animated TV series (1994-1995), then took over the stage at the then-new Hyperion theatre at Disney’s California Adventure in 2003. 

It ran there until 2016 when it was replaced by Frozen. The musical was staged as an off-Broadway production, opened on Broadway in March 2014 and has been produced all over the world since then. Now it is a remarkable live-action film directed by Guy Ritchie, which netted $207 million worldwide in its first weekend.

The real star of all the above productions of “Aladdin” is Alan Menken. His musical score is one of the best ever written, and it started as a cartoon! Note that Menken also wrote the scores for Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid. His music becomes great artistry when brought to life by talented performers. 

I had attended the show at the Hyperion at Disney’s California Adventure several times over the years to watch some of our clients perform. Eddie Kaulukukui, was one of the finest Aladdin’s to grace that stage. He brought a wide-eyed innocence and exuberance to the role from 2008 to 2010. So, I thought I might be disappointed with the current Aladdin in this new movie. However that was not the case. Egyptian/Canadian actor Mena Massoud has created an Aladdin with his own unique character, perhaps more modern. His street urchin is honest, pensive, troubled by what he sees, still innocent, yet feels the pain of his existence.

Director Ritchie has pulled together a superb cast in addition to Massoud. Naomi Scott is wonderful as a “Jasmine” who is highly intelligent and has the power to realize her wish to lead her people. Marwan Kenzari is a great “Jafar,” smoothly and quietly evil. Navid Negahban (Homeland) as the “Sultan” and Nasim Pedrad as “Dalia,” Jasmine’s courtesan, are excellent. Will Smith as the “Genie” has an energy and passion that the rest of his cast called “contagious” that carries through every scene in the film.

There are rich vistas that pull you into the landscape of the Middle East. This cinematic version of the story is bookended by a story within the story that highlights family. 

There are some flashy, colorful special effects – sometimes I felt that they distracted from the music and the relationships of the characters. This is a lively, fun movie with some of the best music ever written, and great players to perform it. There is a message too, about how wealth and poverty do not define us, and in this production, neither does gender.

Though the film is still a simplistic representation of Middle East cultures, underneath it all is a universal story about rising up from hardship through perseverance and exuberance. As Aladdin says, “If you don’t have anything you have to act like you own everything.”

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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