Three stars

If a blue genie emerged from a magic lamp and granted me three wishes, I’d contemplate using the first to completely overhaul the unconvincing digital trickery in Guy Ritchie’s musical fantasy.

Every time the army of special effects wizards casts a spell over this live-action remake of the Oscar-winning 1992 Disney animation, charm and believability vanish in a puff of smoke.

Abu the kleptomaniac monkey, Rajah the Bengal tiger, and Flying Carpet, which exist on computer hard drives, fail to meld seamlessly with the performances, lavish costumes and colour-drenched set design. Fantasy and reality are at loggerheads throughout Aladdin, never more so than in Will Smith’s motion-captured performance as the wise-cracking inhabitant of the lamp.

Materialising as an oversized Smurf with an angry man-bun, the Fresh Prince feels stale and synthetic as he attempts to replicate the quickfire verbal gymnastics performed by Robin Williams in the original film.

His performance only catches fire and burns bright when he’s allowed to interact in the flesh with co-stars, leading a spectacular rendition of Prince Ali or nervously courting the princess’s spirited handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad).

The unlikely hero is street urchin Aladdin (Mena Massoud), who runs amok on the streets of Agrabah with pet monkey Abu, stealing just enough to survive.

He falls hopelessly in love with Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who resents the rules imposed by her fusty father, the Sultan (Navid Negahban).

Tradition dictates that Jasmine must marry a man of similar social standing so Aladdin is denied the thing he desires most and Jasmine must entertain oafish suitors including Prince Anders (Billy Magnussen).

The live-action Aladdin wisely pilfers the toe-tapping soundtrack from the 1992 film, updating the songbook by composer Alan Menken and writers Howard Ashman and Tim Rice with creative sparkle courtesy of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

The Oscar-winning duo responsible for The Greatest Showman and La La Land provide empowering lyrics for Jasmine’s MeToo-era anthem Speechless, which Scott delivers with fist-pumping gusto.

She shares a gently simmering screen chemistry with Massoud and big musical numbers, especially the romantic duet A Whole New World, are beautifully choreographed for maximum visual impact.

It’s a kind of magical.


Three stars

Executive produced by Elton John and directed by Dexter Fletcher, substitute captain of Oscar-winning juggernaut Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman is an occasionally thrilling but largely conventional biopic that won’t go breaking the hearts of the singer-songwriter’s fans.

Scriptwriter Lee Hall, who pirouetted to the Academy Awards with Billy Elliot, attempts to serve John’s competing personalities: moments of quiet introspection for the self-doubting introvert who is emotionally bruised by his childhood, and splashes of eye-popping spectacle for the flamboyant peacock who escapes reality with snorts of nose candy.

The polite amalgamation of Bohemian Rhapsody and The Greatest Showman is easy to admire but harder to unabashedly adore, and only truly achieves lift-off in the spectacularly choreographed musical set-pieces that energise a briskly sketched opening hour.

The lyrics of I Want Love becomes a cri de coeur for young Reginald Dwight (Kit Connor) and his fractured clan – stern military father Stanley (Steven Macintosh), flighty mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and supportive grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones).

The film traces Reg’s metamorphosis into Elton Hercules John via formative years signed to DJM Records, whose profanity-spewing founder Dick James (Stephen Graham) simply demands “songs that grey-haired tramps can whistle in the street”.

John and lyricist Bernie Taupin oblige and are rewarded with two gigs at The Troubadour club in Los Angeles owned by Doug Weston (Tate Donovan).

The touch paper on stardom is lit and John Reid (Richard Madden) worms his way into Elton’s affections and bed, adopting the role of personal manager as the singer gorges on all-you-can-eat buffet of sex, drugs, booze and self-loathing.

Rocketman labours the damage wrought by John’s old man, who rejects little Reg’s request for a hug by tersely retorting: “Don’t be soft.”

Taron Egerton is endearing as the adult Elton and goes one better than Oscar winner Rami Malek by singing John’s songs rather than lip-syncing original vocals. The script doesn’t sidestep John’s homosexuality nor does it convincingly unravel the psychological power struggle between the singer and the Machiavellian and controlling Reid, who was a similarly toxic presence in Bohemian Rhapsody.


Three stars

Chris Renaud and Jonathan de Val co-direct a tail-wagging sequel to the award-winning 2016 computer-animated comedy, which imagined what our four-legged, feathered and finned friends get up to when our backs are turned. In the follow-up, mischievous terrier Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt) and lolloping mongrel Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are fascinated when their owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) falls in love with Chuck (Pete Holmes). The couple get married and raise a baby boy called Liam, who Max vows to protect. The family heads out of Manhattan to visit Chuck’s uncle on a farm, where Max faces canine-intolerant cows, lackadaisical sheep and vicious foxes.

Elsewhere, maniacal white rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) adopts his superhero persona to help a fearless Shih Tzu called Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) rescue a caged white tiger from a cruel circus master.