What would you do with three wishes granted by a genie?
That’s a pretty big question, especially for a guy like Aladdin. He’s never had anything. After losing his parents as a boy, he’s had only his wits and his pickpocket skills to call his own. Well, that and a little monkey sidekick named Abu. But trust me, having a monkey as your only parental authority (as Aladdin wryly observes) is no picnic.
So when Aladdin gets his hands on a magic lamp and finds that it’s inhabited by a huge blue genie that will give him almost anything he wants, he has to think about things a bit.
I mean, he could wish to be wealthy beyond measure. He could have castles and servants. He could be incredibly powerful. But even the genie himself warns that drinking from that cup is never fulfilling. “There’s never enough,” the wispy blue giant says as he puffs forth from the lamp’s spout. And Aladdin can see the wisdom in that.
What he wants more than anything is the love of a princess. You see, Aladdin had serendipitously met the Sultan’s beautiful daughter, Jasmine, quite by accident in the city marketplace. He was there seeking a little sustenance for the day. Princess Jasmine was there in disguise, seeking insight into the people of her kingdom. But what they both found was a little unexpected romance: A smile. A laugh. A moment together with no boundaries of class.
Of course, a meager thief can’t hope to woo the daughter of a sultan, no matter how charming he may be. And the genie warns that there are certain things—such as causing someone to fall in love or raising the dead—that are outside the purview of even his great big cosmic powers.
But there may yet be a way. Aladdin just needs to be careful about his choices, about how he uses the potent magic wishes that the genie bestows.
But his plan faces one major obstacle: Jafar, the wicked vizier to the Sultan. He’s the power-hungry sorcerer who sent Aladdin crawling into a cave seeking out the magic lamp in the first place. If Jafar got his hands on the lamp, well, there’s no telling what horrible things that man might do.
So Aladdin must be wise. He must consider carefully.
What would you do with three wishes?
The film makes it clear that seeking solely after wealth and power can be—in fact, almost always will be—a destructive path to take. (And those ends are, of course, the very things Jafar yearns for with all of his wicked heart.) Such self-serving pursuits are defined as a trap that will keep a person ensnared in them, endlessly seeking after more and more.
On the other hand, being wise and caring for others is a fulfilling endeavor, the movie tells us. Jasmine, for instance, repeats her mother’s belief that, as royalty, “We can only be as happy as our least happy subject.” She dresses up in disguise and hands out food to hungry children in the streets. And that’s the sort of thing that motivates her to someday follow in her father’s footsteps as sultan: not for the sake of power but to make wise and compassionate choices on behalf of those she would rule.
After being told to stay quiet and keep her opinions to herself, Jasmine pushes back with a song called “Speechless” that declares why she won’t be silent about what she believes. But it’s not so much a song about claiming power as it is a tune focused on using one’s influence to do the right thing, to serve others and do right by them.
Aladdin, for his part, is described as a “diamond in the rough.” Despite his difficult circumstances (and his sense that he must steal to survive), Aladdin is ultimately shown to be a person of real character, too. He’s forced to face his fears of telling Jasmine the truth about who he really is after posing (with Genie’s help) as a wealthy prince. As he’s caught up in that deceptive masquerade, Genie points out that his lies will increasingly box him in: “The more you gain by pretending, the less you actually gonna have,” Aladdin’s blue friend earnestly tells him.
[Spoiler Warning] Ultimately, several people make selfless, sacrificial choices. And Genie gets his wish to become a normal human, which enables him to marry and raise a family after being trapped in a lamp for thousands of years.
Obviously, a huge part of the action here revolves around a magical genie and the idea that this spiritual being, who’s held captive in a lamp, springs forth with nearly unlimited power when he’s summoned by someone rubbing it. In fact, Genie’s called the most powerful being in the universe a couple of times (with no reference to where or how God might fit into that understanding of things), though the ultimate source of his power is never identified.
We see Genie’s potent magical abilities manifested in a variety of broad, fantastical ways. He magically whips up vast displays of riches and power to temporarily make Aladdin appear to be a wealthy prince named Ali. He also transforms Abu the monkey into an elephant, as well as creating an entourage of dancing male and female servants.
However, the film makes it clear that even fanciful magical things of that sort come at a price. Genie is, by definition, captive to his lamp and at the compulsory service of whoever rubs it. He states that he’d readily give it all away in exchange for a normal life as a human man, with a wife and children. Genie also warns that nearly everyone who’s ever summoned him has put his magical power to work in destructive ways.
Illustrating this anti-magic perspective, the evil Jafar eventually gets his hands on the lamp and forces Genie to imbue him with even greater powers than he already has. We’ve already seen the Sultan’s sorcerer hypnotize and manipulate various characters with his magical, cobra-shaped staff; but Jafar’s powers are magnified massively once Genie grants his wish.
Jafar uses his powers to imprison and physically torment others. He also says that he can kill someone with his abilities whenever he feels like it. But, as so often happens in movies, the evil sorcerer’s appetite for ever-greater power eventually proves to be his undoing.
Early on, Jafar takes Aladdin to a magical cave where the lamp resides. Jafar knows that only someone deemed to be a true “diamond in the rough” can enter the cave with any hope of coming out alive. While looking for the lamp in that cave, Aladdin comes across a flying magic carpet that’s trapped by a huge stone on top of it. Aladdin removes the stone and frees the carpet, earning its everlasting friendship and service.
Jasmine and some of the other women in the sultan’s court wear outfits that are a little low cut or midriff-baring. Jasmine and Aladdin kiss a few times.
Genie, obviously, is shirtless a good portion of the time here, though his blue hue somewhat distracts us from that fact. He’s also strongly attracted to Jasmine’s handmaiden. And when he masquerades as Aladdin’s servant in human form, the handmaiden returns his affection.
Guards run after Aladdin through the marketplace after he steals something (and after Jasmine takes something from someone and doesn’t seem to think that she needs to pay for it). Some sellers’ stalls are destroyed and the guards fall from a tall scaffold in the frantic, comical chase that ensues.
We hear that Aladdin lost his parents as a boy, and Jasmine talks of her mother being killed in the past; but the details of those deaths are never discussed.
Jafar puts Aladdin’s life as risk on several occasions. When that magical cave is crumbling and filling with molten lava, Jafar kicks Aladdin back into the chaos (though the hero is saved by his flying magic carpet). Jafar also ties the young man up later and pushes him off a tall tower into the ocean below. Aladdin nearly drowns before being rescued.
Jafar also sends someone else into the cave, the entrance to which looks like a huge lion with an open mouth. The mouth closes, and presumably Jafar’s lackey loses his life. It’s implied that there have been quite a few such failed “diamonds in the rough.”
Later, a magically enhanced Jafar causes several people to writhe in pain as he magically tortures them. He also causes Aladdin to puff out of existence and reappear in a frozen tundra, a teleportation trick he employs on several other enemies as well. Jafar transforms his parrot into a massive beast that claws at people and destroys some nearby structures. There are multiple thumping and sword-swinging scenes in the mix throughout the film as well.
Genie magically whips up a martini for himself a couple of times.
Jafar and others make it very clear that Jasmine, as a woman, should be “seen but not heard.” (The young woman pushes back against this mindset in song and in action.) Abu tends to steal anything of value that his little monkey eyes rest upon. Aladdin likewise steals fruit, but he says he only takes what he needs to survive. (And in one case, he gives food he’s stolen to a needy mother and her two children, perhaps an indication of the young man’s noble character even as he steals.)
Along with managing all its other many media interests, Disney has taken on the self-imposed task of remaking its classic animated fare into live-action flicks. And the results have been, shall we say, mixed. Some have soared, such as Cinderella. Others have flopped, such as the poorly executed Dumbo earlier this year.
With that in mind, people have been a bit worried about anyone messing with a beloved classic like Aladdin. After all, the original 1992 animated version—featuring Robin Williams’ rapid-fire genius, a fun Arabian Nights love story and an Academy Award-winning musical score—is right there at the top of nearly every family’s “favorites” list.
So, what can Mom, Dad and the kids expect from this 200 million dollar flesh-and-blood extravaganza?
Well, there are some abracadabra changes made in this live-action translation, but nothing too drastic. On the positive side, the story has been lightly tweaked in colorful and lively ways. The princess ingénue (played by Naomi Scott, who has the best singing voice in the cast) belts out a new female empowerment ballad. And actor/singer/comedian Will Smith probably fills Robin Williams’ unfillable shoes as well as anyone could. Oh, and some of the production numbers are impressively glittery and bombastically fun.
On the not-so-stellar side, the musical numbers can sometimes seem like they’re interrupting a scene rather than melodically driving it forward with an emotional flow. And this version’s 40 extra minutes of screen time can feel like … 40 extra minutes.
As for the film’s minor content issues, keep in mind that this is a fantasy featuring a foul villain, evil sorcery and loud, perilous dangers. And little tykes might find a few of those perilous scenes a bit scarier in a live-action film compared to the animated original. A few female outfits are a tad revealing as well.
All in all, though, Aladdin is certainly an entertaining effort. Like its predecessor, the new version of this story delivers solid moral messages about choosing truth, love and wisdom over the empty, deceptive promises of wealth and power.
No, this version of Aladdin isn’t “A Whole New World.” But that’s actually a good thing.
Like Aladdin, it can be confusing to know the right path for your family. Yet here at Focus on the Family’s Plugged In, we hope to be a friend walking this journey with you—and we don’t limit the helps to just three. A whole new world of insights include:
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.