Disney does Aida

Leave it to Disney to take a perfectly compelling story with a strong central character and turn it into a trite bit of fluff. Still, if you don't mind turning your brain off for a couple of hours, Aidahas at least one thing worth seeing -- specifically Simone in the title role (which she performed with the Broadway company). This soul-stirring singer nearly brought the house down with her solo on "Easy as Life," and plays the captured Nubian princess with conviction and the perfect touch of intelligent sass. It's too bad the writers (Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang) undercut her with groan-inspiring lines ("I'll say this for you Egyptians," she says, admiring some fabric, "you have amazing thread count"). While Simone manages to make the best of bad writing, Kelli Fournier (as the spurned Egyptian princess Amneris) fares less well. Her flirty personality and singing talent emerge in the fashion show number "My Strongest Suit," but her transition to a politically minded queen is unsupported by the text. The songs and music (by Tim Rice and Elton John, respectively) are as forgettable as the dialogue, especially the clichéd and extraneous "Like Father Like Son." But some songs (especially "Another Pyramid") provide a nice excuse for flashy, energetic, Janet Jackson-inspired dancing by the male ensemble -- a strong if odd fusion of ancient Egypt and modern-day culture. Add some dazzling sets (by Bob Crowley) of silhouetted palm trees, rivers painted on colorful cloth, and an especially imaginative palace bathhouse scene with swimming handmaidens, and you have a typical Disney production -- all spectacle, little substance.

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