Quick Review: Aladdin

Music score composed by Alan Menken
Songs by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
Conducted by Michael Kosarin
Music arranged by Christopher Benstead
Additional music by Christopher Benstead
Songs orchestrated by Doug Besterman
Score orchestrated by James Shearman, Tom Kilworth 
Music recorded at AIR Lyndhurst, London
Total album running time: 76 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

Ready or not, another live-action Disney remake.  2019 alone gets Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King.  Just like most Disney productions, the music plays an important role.  Let's check out this 2019 Aladdin soundtrack.  

The beginning of the album features the all the "tentpole" songs from the original, plus one new song.  Countless videos, press and blogs go over the song performances, so I'll skip that and discuss the newly reworked score.  Similar to Beauty and the Beast (2017), we find a new but similar song score by Alan Menken.  Carrying over much of the team from 2017's live-action Beauty, Christopher Benstead arranged and wove the melodies through the new score. 

The biggest change is the overall live-action tone to the score.  Many moments are more sparse, but we do get a few big sweeping Hollywood moments.  The flavor throughout the score is more Middle Eastern influenced - the instrumentation alone gives you that sense.  We hear some featured duduk, quanun and oud among the traditional Western orchestra.  

The Big Ship uses the Arabian motif (Arabian Nights) opening right away, with the bigger orchestration setting our scene.  Agrabah Marketplace begins exactly like Marketplace in the original score, with a more modern percussion arrangement.  As we transition to Aladdin's Hideout, we get some great statements of Aladdin's motif ("riff raff street rat") with some hints at A Whole New World.  Jasmine Meets Prince Anders introduces Jasmine's theme with the chorus of Speechless.  Breaking In continues the Arabian motif in both small and large settings.  Returning the Bracelet uses Whole New World before the melody of Proud of Your Boy is referenced.  That lovely song was cut from the original film, but still remains one of my favorite Menken & Ashman songs.

The Dunes is one big sweeping orchestral statement of Arabian Nights, while the same melody is bit more mysterious and quiet in Simple Oil LampThe Cave of Wonders hides bits of the Arabian Nights melody and A Whole New World melody among the choir and varied swirling textures.  
The Basics features a bit more "ethnic" instrumentation and choir, in a more stop/start animated scoring style.  The end of the cue introduces the opening flourishes of the Friend Like Me intro. Escape From the Cave gets to work with brass and percussion taking charge while little bits of song melody are used.

Prince Ali's Outfit is a bit of fun lighter score, with ethnic flair and some Arabian Nights melody.  The orchestra comically bounces between Friend Like Me and the Prince Ali fanfare and melody.  Until Tomorrow begins with a lighter Prince Ali melody.  A straightforward but lovely rendition of A Whole New World continues for the rest of the track.  
Aladdin's Second Wish starts with a flourish and adds some piano hints of Prince Ali.  The orchestra builds to a soaring moment of Whole New World before leading to some quieter moment for choir and flute.  Never Called a Master Friend has a tender but dark reprise of Prince Ali, with some solo cello and flute.  Harvest Dance is a fun arrangement of Speechless mixed with a bit of Friend Like Me.  The orchestration naturally fits Aladdin and Jasmine's dance, helped by Genie's magic.  

Jafar Becomes Sultan is a bigger cue, using percussion, and choir among Friend Like Me's intro.  Hakim's Loyalty Tested works as underscore for an emotional plea from Jasmine, featuring the introduction of Speechless with a hint of Whole New World.  Most Powerful Sorcerer again uses the Friend Like Me intro as a motif of the Genie's powers as the score builds.

Carpet Chase gets the percussion groove going with quick strings runs in one of the big action cues, while Jafar Summons the Storm brings the large choir and percussion.  Strings and choir add a bit of Whole New World at the end of the track.  Jafar's Final Wish builds slowly with rising brass and sliding strings to a big reprise of Arabian Nights.  
Genie Set Free, the longest track on the album, encompasses most of the final scene.  Past themes get their reprises throughout: Aladdin's motif, Whole New World, and Speechless.  It's probably the most directly influenced by the '92 score.  The Wedding begins with Speechless and builds to a splashy arrangement of A Whole New World.  Friend Like Me (Finale) is the orchestral version of the song before the end credits.  

For the score, it's a mixed bag.  Adding more authentic instruments and pop elements aren't necessarily bad changes.  The musical motifs from the songs are handled nicely and in interesting ways.  And the song performances are enjoyable for the most part.  That said, the end credits pop versions are atrocious.  Unfortunately, in certain spots the new score hits almost the same emotional and musical beats as the original.  Each Aladdin is a product of its time and this one fits the style director Guy Ritchie wanted.  It's less Broadway and Hollywood sounding.  If that is enough to scare you away, there's the 1992 Oscar winning original, which still can't be beat.          

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