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'Aladdin' Goes Dark, Political and Not As Much Fun

By Rebecca Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
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Disney's 'Aladdin' stars Will Smith as the Genie, Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine.

Welcome back to the "Mom Review"! My sidekick Noelle is now a teenager at 13 but she is still willing to share her thoughts on the movies, plays and other family-friendly events we experience to give our Berkshires.com readers a different take on the local cultural scene. First, I'll share my thoughts, and then Noelle will share hers.

Well, I liked this one more than "Dumbo." Which isn't saying much, because I didn't like "Dumbo" all that much. In fact, I haven't much liked any of the Disney live-action remakes of the classics. (Spoiler alert: I will not be seeing "The Lion King." I hate talking animals that aren't cartoons.)

But OK. "Aladdin" wasn't ALL awful.

We saw it at Hathaway's Drive-In Theatre under the stars, which is always fun - if you don't mind the bugs and the less-than-stellar sound quality. Yes, I know, both of those would be improved if we sat INSIDE the car, but I still don't know how that would work with four people. So instead, the kids cozied up with a pile of blankets and pillows in the hatchback of my little Pruis with the backseat folded down and their heads sticking out and we adults gripped cans of bug spray while sitting on folding chairs flanking the car - well away from my admittedly wimpy radio playing the soundtrack on front-seat-only speakers. Hence the less-than-stellar sound quality. (And while we're talking about drive-in etiquette, if you own a large car - which includes crossovers like a Kia Sportage, Mr. and Mrs. Rude Vermont Couple - please follow the rules and don't set up camp in the spots reserved for little cars. And once the movie starts - I'm looking at you, Mr. and Mrs. Chatty Massachusetts Family - stop talking already. Sound does carry in a large open field. Who knew?)

Back to the movie. In "Aladdin," a magical genie helps a charming street rat find love with a princess. If this isn't too creepy for a 40-something mom to say, Aladdin was pretty charming, all right. Played by Mena Massoud, he was sweet and cute and devilish and I just wanted to hug him tight. Unfortunately, he seemed too young for Naomi Scott, who played Jasmine and who seemed much older even though the she's actually a year younger than Massoud in real life.

That might have been because Disney got a little political with Jasmine in this remake. The cartoon Jasmine had an independent, stubborn streak, for sure, but this Jasmine was all about becoming the sultan and women's rights and speaking up for herself; in fact, she sings a new song in this version that's actually called "Speechless" (I won't be silenced/you can't keep me quiet/won't tremble when you try it/all I know is I won't go speechless.) As the mother of a daughter, I appreciate Disney's effort to try to take the original princess in her belly-baring clothing and make her a little more of a modern feminist figure. But more modest clothing and one song don't really change the fact that she's a princess whose father has basically locked her up for fear of losing his precious little girl. So, yeah. It's nice for Disney to try to modernize its princesses, but this particular one was a tough sell.

And now to the elephant in the room: the Genie. I was a huge fan of Robin Williams, not just as the voice of the Genie in the original Aladdin but in pretty much everything else he did, including the silly but classic "Mrs. Doubtfire." He was the perfect actor to portray the versatile, funny, cranky, swanky, loveable and insecure Genie.

Will Smith tried. And in many ways, he succeeded - but mostly when he tried to make the Genie his own creation, not just a copy of Robin Williams. In those cases, he failed, because all I could think of was that he just wasn't as good as Robin Williams. I'm not sure any living actor could fill those shoes, so kudos to Smith for trying and not falling flat on his face.

The other characters were kind of mediocre - Jafar was evil but didn't really steal any scenes. The Sultan wasn't quite as dopey and bumbling as in the original. The animal sidekicks seemed to play a lesser role. There were two new characters - Jasmine's maid, who (spoiler alert) ends up falling for the Genie in an unnecessary plot twist, and the head guard, who gets to play out a nice little ethical dilemma of whether to stay loyal to the Sultan or to Jafar when Jafar steals the throne. A moral message, parents!

Overall, as with most of the live-action remakes, younger kids likely will be less entertained than with the cartoon versions - not only because they aren't exactly the same (and we know how kids like things that are familiar) but also because they just are darker than the originals. Granted, it's hard to turn the casual violence of the animated "Aladdin" into real life without some of that, but it's just the nature of the movie business these days, it seems. Even "kids movies" are dark and serious. Maybe that's why I'm not liking them as much. Maybe, just maybe, there's enough darkness in the world that I want happy and bright and light.

We'll be watching "Toy Story 4" next. We'll see if that fits the bill.

Noelle says: "Aladdin" was OK. There was nothing to make my mom cry, so that was good. I liked watching it from the back of the car in the drive-in, except it starts so late I fell asleep for some of it near the end. I don't know who could stay awake for the second movie after it! But I thought the Genie was really funny. I agree with my mom that little kids probably won't like it. I might try to get her to see "The Lion King" anyway. We'll see.


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