Cast: Will Smith,Mena Naomi Scott, Billy Magnussen, Nasim Pedrad,Marwan Kenzari, Numan Acar, Navid Negahban, Alan Tudyk (voice)
Director: Guy Ritchie
Rating: * * * *
Like Genghiz Khan, the Mongol warlord with a Muslim-sounding name, the titular Aladdin of Arabian Nights fame, was NOT an Arab but a Chinese youth with an Arabic name. His exploits were immortalised in an early 18th century French edition of Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights by French translator, Antoine Galland, who first heard it from Syrian storyteller Youhenna Diab.
China, not an imaginary Arab Kingdom, is the setting of the original Aladdin and the Magic Lamp story. After Monsieur Galland added it to his compilation, it became one of the three most famous tales spun by the concubine Scheherazade to save her life from a randy murderous Sultan, the other two being Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and the Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.
Disney, like many other film-makers, proceeded to make further changes in its many adaptations of the rags to royalty story. Such as renaming Aladdin’s love-interest Badroulbadour ( full moon of full moons in Arabic) as Jasmine. ( played by the gorgeous Naomi Scott )
For its lavish 2019 live action remake of its 1999 toon, helmed and co-written by Guy Richie, Disney employed an appealing band of unknown actors ( Will Smith is an exception ) and a melodic soundtrack. Richie’s reboot revolves around the titular hero, (essayed by Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud) a street-smart petty thief who falls in love with a princess, and is ordered by the power-crazed Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) to fetch a very special lamp from the Cave of Wonders. What makes the lamp unique is its inhabitant, a wish fulfilling blue.genie ( Will Smith, over the top but endearing )
Interestingly, the ensemble cast which includes Iranian-Americans as Jasmine’s father the Sultan of Agrabah (Navid Negahban) and her lady-in-waiting Dahlia ( Nasim Pedrad) wear costumes which are more Bollywood than Arab.
Like Saudi women, Jasmine lives in a gilded cage; she is not allowed to venture outside the palace and when Aladdin takes her on a memorable date – a ride on a magic carpet ride around Agrabah, her eyes are opened to a whole new world.
I’m happy to say Disney’s Jasmine is a spirited feminist who sings
“I don’t want to be silent / You can’t keep me quiet”. That’s just one of several lovely songs, apart from Bollywood-style song and dance item numbers and plenty of CGI chases and falls from great heights. The magic carpet and Aladdin’s pet monkey Abu add to the movie’s exuberance. But Alladin is also -and more importantly – about friendship, bravery, humility and honesty.