Release Date(s)2019 (September 10, 2019)
Studio(s)Walt Disney Pictures/Rideback (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C+
[Editor’s Note: The film portion of this review was done by Dennis Seuling. The 4K audio/visual analysis and features breakdown was done by Bill Hunt.]
Aladdin is a live-action remake of Disney’s 1992 animated musical feature. The title character (Mena Massoud) is a petty street thief in the fictional city of Agrabah who, with his pet monkey Abu as his accomplice in crime, spends his days pilfering from merchants and eluding capture through acrobatic maneuvers. One day, Aladdin encounters a pretty young woman who claims to be a handmaiden to the princess but is, in fact, Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). He’s taken with both her beauty and her intelligence, but Jasmine is reluctant to open her heart to a lowly thief even though she’s hardly thrilled with the royal suitors for her hand. Her attention is on her people and she wants positive change in her kingdom.
Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), seeing a way to use Aladdin to overthrow Jasmine’s father and become Sultan himself, convinces him to retrieve a magic lamp hidden in a cave in exchange for vast riches. Aladdin finds the lamp and accidentally rubs it, bringing forth a Genie (a blue, muscular Will Smith) who grants him three wishes. With the Genie’s advice, Aladdin tries to win Jasmine’s heart and defeat the power-hungry Jafar while making the most of his three wishes.
The Disney machine is on a roll with remakes of its classic animated musical features. We’ve already seen Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Dumbo transformed into live-action films, and The Lion King remake hit theaters in July. So Aladdin has a hard act to follow, particularly since the Genie in the animated version was voiced by Robin Williams, who gave the character a zany spirit and sense of humor.
Will Smith’s Genie is more like a mentor than a magical force, more a supporting character than a centerpiece. Smith does his best to give the Genie personality, but his jokes lack spontaneity and he’s overshadowed by special effects that render the lower half of his body a blue mist. When the Genie takes human form, dropping the blue make-up, he has eyes for Jasmine’s actual handmaiden, Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), and the attraction is mutual. Now that he has experienced being human, his foremost desire is to be set free from the lamp to become a real man.
Massoud and Scott have nice chemistry, but never really heat up the screen. Scott’s Jasmine overdoes her enthusiasm for personal empowerment and concern for the welfare of her subjects a bit too often, long after we’ve gotten the message. Massoud is a charming actor with a broad smile and lots of charm, but his performance never rises above routine. What’s missing from his portrayal is passion. He goes through the motions but never seems committed.
Production design is opulent and often breathtaking, ranging from narrow marketplace streets, to spacious palace rooms, to the Cave of Wonders with its treasures strewn about on the rocks. The CGI elements, including the monkey Abu and a tiger that roams freely through the palace, make possible what live action couldn’t. Abu is convincing but that tiger is far too big compared to the human characters. The best bit of cinematic magic is the sequence in which Aladdin and Jasmine fly on a magic carpet over the rooftops and minarets as they sing A Whole New World. The movement of the carpet is beautifully rendered and we accept, at least for the duration of the number, that a rug is a serviceable means of transportation.
Aladdin has more of the stamp of Disney than of the ancient tale on which it is loosely based. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the politically correct dialogue and attempts to be contemporary often seem forced.
Was a big-budget remake of the animated film merited? Yes. The animated version is regarded as one of Disney’s second-tier classics, but audiences will find lots to enjoy in this live action version. The production design is spectacular, Will Smith adds his star power and sidekick humor, the special effects are dazzling and contribute to the fantasy milieu, and Mena Massoud has charm and connects far better with the viewer than his animated Aladdin counterpart. Rated PG, Aladdin has the feel of a Broadway musical, with a tuneful score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice (with additional input from La La Land’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), sumptuous settings, and inventive costumes. It is lavishly produced and offers an enjoyable escape to a fantasy world of wonder.
Aladdin was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 2.8 and 3.4K) using Arri Alexa cameras and Panavision Primo anamorphic lenses. It was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 “scope” aspect ratio, upsampled for its Ultra HD release, and graded for High Dynamic Range (in HDR10—Dolby Vision is available only on the Digital 4K version). Detail is good but not great, though texturing (of skin, stone, sand, and other elements) is quite lovely. The HDR deepens the shadows to a satisfying degree and there’s nice detail in them too. Highlights are modestly bold. The palette is warm and benefits well from the 10-bit color depth with vibrant and nuanced hues, particularly reds, golds, and blues. On the whole, this presentation is serviceable, but not one that stands out.
The English Dolby Atmos mix is a modest improvement upon the Blu-ray’s audio (7.1 DTS-HD MA), but it suffers from Disney’s typically low mastering levels. Once you turn it up, though, there’s nice heft and fullness, with a wide and engaging soundstage, firm low end, and excellent clarity. Surround activity is both atmospheric and blustery, with smooth and lively moment, and height channels that engage often for overhead enclosure and to add a bit of vertical bombast in set pieces. There’s a nice musicality to the tone, which is good given the nature of the film. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus in French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Japanese, and 5.1 Dolby Digital in Quebec French. Subtitles include English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Quebec French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Japanese.
There are no extras on the 4K disc itself, but the package includes the Blu-ray version which offers the following (all in HD):
- Aladdin’s Visual Journey: A New Fantastic Point of View (10:39)
- Deleted Song – Desert Moon (2:20)
- Guy Ritchie: A Cinematic Genie (5:28)
- A Friend Like Genie (4:31)
- Deleted Scenes (6 scenes – 10:44 in all)
- Music Videos (3 music videos – 11:33 in all)
- Bloopers (2:07)
- Sneak Peeks (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Frozen II)
There’s also a code for a Movies Anywhere Digital copy on a paper insert in the package. You can refer to our Blu-ray review of this title (available here at The Bits) for more detail on the content and quality of these extras.
For those viewers for whom a live-action version of Disney’s 1992 animated Aladdin (reviewed here at The Bits in 4K) has any appeal, the good news is that Guy Ritchie has delivered a solid and entertaining experience, with good performances, and lavish production design. As a 4K Ultra HD experience, it’s also a solid—if rather middling—title on the format.
– Dennis Seuling (with Bill Hunt)