New This Week
Aladdin, Disney’s latest live-action version of one of its animated classics to hit the home video market, is a film I wasn’t expecting much from given its mostly negative reviews but was instead pleasantly surprised to find that I liked it.
Most of the negative reviews of the film come from comparing it to Disney’s 1992 animated version but my go-to version of the Arabian Nights story is 1940’s live-action The Thief of Bagdad, which was a remake of the 1924 silent classic of the same name. Although the stories are somewhat different, I find the live-action version of Aladdin closer in spirit to The Thief of Bagdad than Disney’s animated version, which may be why I liked it.
The principal characters in Aladdin are the titled orphan thief, his monkey Abu, the princess Jasmine, the evil Jafar, and a Genie who grants Aladdin three wishes. In one of the wishes, Aladdin is turned into a prince. In the more complex The Thief of Bagdad, the thief isn’t Aladdin but a younger orphan named Abu who is turned into a dog by Jaffar (with two f’s), the evil Grand Vizier who is plotting to become the next sultan. The prince is a separate character. In Aladdin, Abu the monkey is temporarily turned into other animals by the Genie, not Jafar whose name is now spelled with one “f”.
In the 1940 version, Conrad Veidt as Jaffar and Sabu as Abu have top billing with John Justin as the prince, June Duprez as the princess, and Rex Ingram as the Genie also in starring roles. In Disney’s animated Aladdin, it’s the Genie voiced by Robin Williams who dominates. In the live-action version, the Genie is played by Will Smith, but Smith is less dominant in the role, which to me is a good thing. It gives the other actors a chance to make more of an impression in their roles. Smith, as well as Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as the princess, Jasmime, are equally fine as actors, singers, and dancers. Marwan Kenzari makes an interesting Jafar under the direction of Guy Ritchie (The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ).