IF I say the name One Thousand And One Nights there is a good chance many of us here in the Western neck of the world wouldn’t know what I was referring to. But say Aladdin and that all changes.
The story, made famous to us by Disney, comes from Middle Eastern folk tales that were written down in English in the 1700s. It is from these folktales that we got Sinbad the Sailor, and Ali Baba and the 40 thieves — but it is Aladdin that truly captured the minds of filmmakers.
The first recorded filmed account of the young thief is a live-action film made in 1917 and the first animation was produced in 1926. Over the years he has appeared in films, books and TV, but the 1992 Disney cartoon took the story to a whole new level.
This week, Disney is back with a live- action musical. Mena Massoud steps into the shoes of Aladdin, an orphan who is forced to steal to survive. He is a decent thief and only steals from the rich. He lives in the great city of Agrabah, a place of beauty and colour, but one that has been tinged by sadness.
Since his wife’s death, the Sultan (Navid Negahban) has kept his daughter locked in the palace for fear of anything happening to her. Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) itches to know the outside world. One day she dons a disguise and sneaks outside the palace walls, where she sees the poverty many of her subjects have succumbed to.
Jasmine doesn’t quite understand the way of the world and helps some hungry children, but it results in her being pursued as a thief. Luckily for her, a friendly local thief is on hand to help her out. Aladdin knows every nook and cranny in the city so they climb over walls and through windows to lose the soldiers who pursue them. As they run, they fall in love.
Hiding out with Aladdin, Jasmine reveals she can’t be free because of her position as the princess’s handmaiden. Of course, this is a rouse and Aladdin finds out she, is in fact, the princess, who is destined to marry a prince and not free to love as she wishes.
Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) the villain of the piece, the Sultan’s head advisor, has plans to take the throne for himself but first he needs a certain magic lamp that contains a Genie (Will Smith) who has the power to grant three wishes.
When it was announced that Guy Ritchie would be in the directing chair, he seemed an odd fit for Disney, but despite his over-reliance on slo-mo, there are very few of his hallmarks here, which is good because they just wouldn’t work in a Disney flick.
At first, I thought this would be grating, it’s a colour overload with songs fired with lightning speed, and what I thought was going to be an over the top Will Smith, but a few minutes later my mind was changed.
The songs are great, the colour an exciting sugar rush, and Smith is a beacon of warmth and humour. The dialogue is corny, the villain limp, and Massoud is bland in the lead, but this colourful fantasy is sure to set young hearts racing. Not quite a brand-new world, as the song says, but it will do as a pleasant escape. A three star with a little bit extra on top.
Aladdin, out now nationwide, cert PG, ***