Guy Ritchie, Will Smith soar in live action “Aladdin”
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Will Smith and Mena Massoud, born in Egypt, star as the Genie and Aladdin in the live-action Walt Disney remake of the 1992 animated classic "Aladdin." Guy Ritchie directs; he also co-produced and co-wrote the new script.
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; PG for some action/peril; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime (4K), Apple, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Guy Ritchie: A Cinematic Genie”
YOU AIN’T never seen a film like this! Disney knocks it out of the park with its live-action “Aladdin,” the first rebooted classic to show real heart and originality.
It’s not Shakespeare, but the bard’s plays are a good metaphor. No one bats an eyelash when a new version of “Hamlet” or “Romeo and Juliet” arrives, good or not. The issue with Disney’s live-action remakes is so few are as good as the original animated film. “The Jungle Book” (2016) directed by Jon Favreau, has been the best so far.
The new “Aladdin” had enormous shoes to fill. How can anyone follow the late Robin Williams, who made the Genie’s role his own? Will Smith takes over the lamp with a spirited yet smooth portrayal, blue skin, top knot, pointy shoes and all. He can sing, he can dance, and he keeps these 128 minutes flying. What was it like? “Robin did, arguably, one of the greatest performances in animation history. It was terrifying,” Smith says.
Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and Marwan Kenzari are equally fine as Aladdin, Princess Jasmine and a less clichéd Jafar, Grand Vizier of Agrabah, and determined to rule the world in this Arabian Nights story. Action master Guy Ritchie, who helmed the brilliant 2009 “Sherlock Holmes” reboot starring Robert Downy Jr., “RocknRolla” with Gerard Butler, and work with Madonna, takes the reigns of this magic carpet ride. He co-produced and co-wrote the script with John August.
(1) A mariner, who looks a lot like the genie, tells his children the story of Aladdin. (2) Aladdin meets Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) disguised as a peasant in the Agrabah marketplace. His pet monkey, Abu, jumps on her shoulder. (3 & 4) Aladdin, Jasmine and Abu escape the city guards in "One Jump Ahead."
“I’ve become a family man, and I live within a world of children. I want to make films that my family can see. So I was motivated and driven to remake this film.” — Guy Ritchie, director
Our favorite songs are here: “A Whole New World,” “Friend Like Me,” and “Prince Ali,” with new lyrics personalized to Smith’s portrayal, adding a hip hop vibe. It works, providing fresh distinction for the new production. Princess Jasmine gets a new song, “Speechless,” and a makeover demonstrating she’s more of a take-charge Disney Princess. Even the Genie’s role has been expanded to show more of what happened after he ceased being a magical being. Nicely done!
The story remains the same: Orphaned “street rat” Aladdin is a thief living on the streets of fictional Agrabah, his only companion a street-wise monkey named Abu. He meets Princess Jasmine in commoner disguise and saves her after she innocently hands out bread to some children. She has no money to pay for it, so the guards are on her in a flash. There’s a spark – a connection – and romance begins to bloom as she dashes back to the palace to meet the next prince arriving to ask for her hand in marriage.
Meanwhile, Grand Vizier Jafar, assisted by spy-parrot Iago, plots to take over the kingdom from the Sultan (Navid Negahban). He needs an all-powerful genie to help, however, and approaches the Cave of Wonders to find a magic lamp. When the cave’s spirit tells him only the “diamond in the rough” may enter – and the other conditions – Jafar goes in search of a willing stooge. Enter Aladdin and Abu, who manage to find a magic carpet, trash the cave and release the Genie, who is bound to help his new master.
Does it all end happily ever after – Aladdin and the Princess together, Jafar defeated, and the Genie free? Will a camel spit in your eye? You betcha – and it just gets better every time we watch it!
(1) The city of Agrabah by the sea sprawls beneath the ruined tower-top where Aladdin lives. (2) Grand Vizer Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) tries to convince the Sultan to go to war against a neighboring kingdom. He believes they should rule the world. (3) Prince Anders of Skanland (Billy Magnussen) arrives in court to ask for the hand of Princess Jasmine. (4) The Princes and her handmaiden, Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), are courteous, but unimpressed.
Just like the Genie, “Aladdin” looks pretty snappy in its 2160p and 1080p presentations (2.39:1 aspect ratio). Digitally shot in 2.8K and 3.4K resolutions, it was made into a 2K intermediate and upgraded to Ultra 4K.
HDR10 delivers amazing color throughout. “The set looks delicious,” Mena Massoud says in “Aladdin’s Video Journal: A New Fantastic Point of View.” But all the sets are beautiful from the streets of Agrabah to the Cave of Wonders and Sultan’s palace. “Aladdin” is a feast for the eyes and the Ultra 4K shows it off. So many strong, vivid colors – gold, red, orange, fuchsia, turquoise, blue. It’s a rainbow, but with shading and toning adding depth and warmth. In contrast, skin tones look natural – save the Genie’s blue skin.
You want detail and texture? You’ve got it from costumes to props and sets. CGI is used in practically every scene, but blends well in this musical fantasy production. Abu, Iago and Rajah, Jasmin’s tiger, are all CG constructs, as is the flying carpet. Design lends them an animated resonance in keeping with the fairy tale format. And, of course, Smith’s Genie is part-live and a lot performance-capture.
The 1080p also delivers a fantastic picture, pushing the format to its limits. Just check out the stunning “Prince Ali” number. It dazzles on both formats.
“Guy’s a director who plays with different ways of shooting different sequences, like the camera moves in different speeds,” says choreographer Jamal Sims. Choreography is complicated, especially in “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali.”
“‘One Jump’ was a challenge because 24 frames per second is what we normally shoot at, which is real-time. But in order to give a creative and new idea, everything within it is either fast or slow. But [Massoud] must remain in sync. So it’s all shot at 36 frames per second, which means that’s slow motion, which means he has to sing very quickly to keep up with the words. And vice versa. So we did the other stuff at 18 frames, which is fast motion.” — Guy Ritchie, director
( 1 ) Jafar convinces Aladdin to retrieve a lamp from the Cave of Wonders promising the riches there will allow him to win the love of his life. (2) Aladdin finds the Genie's magic lamp. (3) When the cave explodes, Aladdin steals the lamp back from Jafar, and becomes the Genie's unwitting master. (4 ) The wise and fun-loving Genie turns Aladdin into a prince to win Jasmine's hand in marriage.
The Ultra 4K offers a UHD Dolby Atmos soundtrack, while the 1080p uses a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless track. Both put viewers in control of their sound levels. Dialogue comes through strong and clear; background effects, music and songs blend in perfectly, with the Atmos boosting height effects as in the cave collapse and amazing dance sequences.
“Guy really wanted to shake things up. He’ll say, ‘In this scene, I wanna toss a hand grenade.’ You know, I’d never think of tossing a hand grenade in ‘Aladdin.’ But we do actually have hand grenade moments, things that just sort of explode. And it works.” — Alan Menken, composer
Seem a bit on the light side and all are super-short, but that’s okay. You’ll want to get back for another re-watch soon. “Guy Ritchie: A Cinematic Genie” is a five-plus minute look at the director’s vision for the film, the qualities he brings to “Aladdin,” and how much the actors and crew like him.
“Aladdin’s Video Journal: A New Fantastic Point of View” shares Mena Massoud’s phone-videos of his filming experience. “A Friend Like Genie” features Will Smith, who talks about the challenges of following Robin Williams’ stellar performance and what he hoped to bring to the role. There’s a deleted song, “Desert Moon,” six deleted scenes, and blooper reel, along with three music videos.
“You know when you’re talking ‘Aladdin,’ something that people know, the new signatures that you make are super critical and wildly dangerous. There was potential for absolute tragedy but there was potential to deliver something special.” — Will Smith
Happily, the live action “Aladdin” has heart and warmth not found in other Disney reboots and remakes. It’s a fresh and fun companion to the original. Have no fears jumping onto this magic carpet!
— Kay Reynolds
(1) Agrabah's citizens cheer as "Prince" Ali enters the city. (2) In human-guise, the Genie announces Ali's arrival and intention in "Prince Ali," the film's most colorful musical sequence. (3) Prince Ali takes a bow. (4) Dahlia and Jasmine like what they see.
(1 & 2) Despite some horrendous flubs, Aladdin/Ali is able to reconnect with Jasmine. Their romance truly begins during their magic carpet ride in "A Whole New World." (3) Jafar recognizes Aladdin, and attempts to have him killed. Iago watches. (4) Jafar regains the magic lamp. He summons the Genie to fulfill his evil plans.
(1 & 2) Jafar's continues to be foiled. He decides to wed Jasmine. (3) Aladdin, a "street-rat" again, uses his last wish to free his friend, the Genie. (4) Greedy Jafar uses his last wish to become the most powerful man in the world. It doesn't work out for him. (5) Aladdin and Jasmine are married - and it's a happy new beginning for all!