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Aladdin (2019) (4K Ultra HD)
If you read my recent review of Aladdin, you know I hold the 1992 Disney animated movie in high regard. I was not particularly excited for this 2019 remake, which follows on the heels of The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Dumbo and others in Disney's push to revitalize older properties. Early trailers for Aladdin met with backlash over Will Smith's appearance as the digitally enhanced Genie, though I suspect this was more about a collective love for the late Robin Williams than actual displeasure with Smith's work here. This live-action retelling is certainly sanitized compared to the 1992 original; gone are references to sword swallowing, ear slicing and "Prince Abubu." This Guy Ritchie-directed spectacle is, however, a lot of fun, thanks to colorful visuals, energetic musical numbers and enjoyable performances from Smith, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott.
Disney as a whole has been killing it of late at the box office and often with critics. Between its acquisition of Marvel Studios, the new Star Wars films, Pixar animated movies, and these live-action remakes, the studio may as well be printing money. I have not seen all the live-action remakes. I did enjoy The Jungle Book, which updated the classic story in a satisfying manner, but found Beauty and the Beasty to be somewhat dull and overly faithful to the source material. Aladdin falls somewhere in between, and does benefit from Ritchie's intricate, energetic direction. The story is much the same as in the animated film, and begins with Agrabah street rat Aladdin (Massoud) stumbling upon a runaway Princess Jasmine (Scott) in the local market. The Sultan's (Navid Negahban) Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) has his sights on power, which he hopes to acquire with the help of a magical lamp. Aladdin is, of course, the "diamond in the rough" that can free the lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Jafar tricks him into doing so, and Aladdin unleashes Genie (Smith), who agrees to grant his new master three covetable wishes.
I suspect Egypt-born actor Massoud is ecstatic to be playing the lead here just eight years after his debut in TV show "Nikita," in which he played "Al Qaeda No. 2" in an episode. Ahead of the film's debut in the Middle East, Massoud thanked his Arab and Muslim fans in Arabic, and, if the online response is any indication, the affable actor is adored across the world. He is an excellent choice to play Aladdin, and brings an exuberant energy to his performance. His vocal work is also quite strong, and, unlike in the original Aladdin, he handles both the dialogue and singing for the lead. Smith is imperfect here but still entertaining to watch. His signing voice leaves something to be desired, which is surprising since he is probably known as much for "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" as Bad Boys. No one was ever going to match Williams's performance in the original, but Smith brings his own charms and humor to the role. The CGI also looks better than in the first previews, and Genie's appearance never distracts from the action.
Speaking of the action, there is plenty of roof-jumping and choreographed dancing in Aladdin, which offers more musical numbers and song selections than the original. Old favorites like "Friend Like Me" and "A Whole New World" are present, as are a new version of "Arabian Nights" and "Speechless," a new solo track for Jasmine. Ritchie offers elaborate production design, assisted with CGI backgrounds in some shots, and the extended choreography during the arrival of Aladdin to the royal palace is quite engaging. This new Aladdin cannot match the lean effectiveness of the original, and the old proverb "less is more" applies here. At 128 minutes, the film is slightly overlong, and the climax is underwhelming compared to that of the original. That may be because the Jafar character here is not particularly menacing, and has little screen time. Although he is provided the same hypnotizing cobra walking cane, Kenzari's Jafar is not given much to work with in Ritchie and John August's screenplay. The animated Jafar was a real villain and Aladdin faced danger at his hands; here Jafar feels like an afterthought. Even so, this live-action Aladdin is a well-made, modern spectacle that families should enjoy.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Disney releases Aladdin on 4K Ultra HD with a 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with HDR10, upscaled from a 2.8K and 3.4K digital source. This is a good, if not exceptional, transfer that offers more natural highlights and deeper blacks than the 1080p image on the included Blu-ray. The HDR10 pass does allow for bold, nicely saturated colors, which are particularly impressive during scenes in the marketplace or palace. Detail is strong but not especially improved over the HD version, though close-ups reveal abundant texture and wide shots are deep and clear. The 4K transfer is overall a bit darker but appears pleasingly realistic.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is immersive and appropriately balanced. Yes, it suffers from the typical Disney quirk of being mastered at a low volume, but once that is accounted for, the track is full and impressive, with good LFE and frequent surround pans. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and is appropriately balanced with the effects and score. The soundtrack and musical selections are weighty and given full license to use all channels. Ambience and action effects play through the entire sound field. French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian and German dubs and subtitles are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K disc, a Blu-ray and digital copy code. The discs are packed in a black 4K case that is wrapped in a slipcover. All extras appear on the Blu-ray disc: Aladdin's Visual Journey: A New Fantastic Point of View (10:39/HD); Deleted Song: "Desert Moon" (2:20/HD); Guy Ritchie: A Cinematic Genie (5:28/HD); A Friend Like Genie (5:28/HD); Deleted Scenes (10:44/HD); Music Videos (11:33/HD); and Bloopers (2:07/HD).
This 2019 live-action remake of Aladdin is not as charming or memorable as the original 1992 animated film, but Guy Ritchie's update offers enough energetic family entertainment to come Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.