It’s been weeks since we saw the teaser trailer for Disney’s live-action adaptation of their animated classic, Aladdin. Based on the Middle Eastern folktale collection “One Thousand and One Nights,” the film will see a street rat named Aladdin (Mena Massoud) finding an all-powerful magical lamp that holds a wish-granting Genie (Will Smith). Using its power, he’ll disguise himself as a prince in order to impress Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott).
The film isn’t due out in theaters until next year, but a handful of new images have been released that give us our first looks at Princess Jasmine, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), and, of course, Genie. Check these images out, plus a few tidbits on the film from the cast and director Guy Ritchie, below.
These new images come to us from Entertainment Weekly, who did some extensive coverage on Aladdin, including conducting interviews with the cast and crew.
In it, Ritchie tells EW his skills and experience were enough to make the live-action adaptation of the hugely popular Disney animated film “feel fresh and worth it, but not so much so that it would wash away nostalgia.”
However, there was one major hurdle he had to jump over: Genie. Robin Williams, who voiced the first Genie in Disney’s 1992 animated film, is one of the reasons why it remains as popular as it is. So finding someone who could even match that would be difficult. That’s where Will Smith comes in.
Smith tells EW:
“Whenever you’re doing things that are iconic, it’s always terrifying. The question is always: Where was there meat left on the bone? Robin didn’t leave a lot of meat on the bone with the character.”
So instead of trying to make the character better or upstage William’s voice performance, Smith took a different approach by using his performance to pay homage to him. At the same time, he infused some of his own roles to make it his own:
“I started to feel confident that I could deliver something that was an homage to Robin Williams but was musically different. Just the flavor of the character would be different enough and unique enough that it would be in a different lane, versus trying to compete.”
“I think it’ll stand out as unique even in the Disney world. There hasn’t been a lot of that hip-hop flavor in Disney history.”
In fact, a Disney exec described the performance as part Fresh Prince and part Hitch. Two of Smith’s most memorable characters of his career.
Finding the Genie was one thing. Finding the actor and actress to play Aladdin and Princess Jasmine proved to be more time-consuming. After a six-month-long audition process, Ritchie cast Massoud as Aladdin, and Scott as Princess Jasmine.
Massoud would travel to the English set to learn all about the singing, dancing, and stunt work that would be in the film. The actor hit it off with Smith, as Ritchie describes their chemistry as “brotherly.” Here’s what Massoud had to say about Smith:
“What was nice about Will was that the more I got to know him and the more I spent time with him, the stronger naturally our relationships became with our characters.”
As for Scott, getting a chance to play a live-action Jasmine held a lot of meaning to her. Seeing a strong leading female character, who doesn’t fall into those basic and tired damsels in distress tropes, meant a lot to her. But don’t expect to see a carbon copy of that in the live-action character:
“Jasmine’s main objective at the beginning is to really protect her people and to do right by them. She definitely isn’t a finished article at the beginning of the movie, but she has this beautiful arc and progression, and she goes from asking for what she wants to just taking it, and displaying that she is a leader.”
So it looks like she is being groomed to be a leader rather than just be a wife who sits idly by while the future sultan oversees Agrabah. And unlike the animated film, Jasmine will have a friend. A human friend. And yes, Rajah, Jasmine’s pet tiger will still be in the film.
SNL alum Nasim Pedrad plays the newly created role of Dalia, Jasmine’s handmaiden and best friend, who helps Jasmine navigate the suitors attempting to win her hand. Pedrad says Jasmine is more focused on being a leader than finding a suitable suitor. She tells EW that her character is there to help support and guide Jasmine along her journey:
“She really wants to be a leader, and Dalia really supports that but at the same time wants to make sure she doesn’t get in trouble.”
Speaking of being the leader of Agrabah, the fictional kingdom won’t be quite like its animated counterpart. While creating it was one half of bringing the kingdom to life, Agrabah still needed to have its people. There is no leader without its people. But in order to not fall into the same cultural inaccuracies and insensitivities that the 1992 film had, the live-action film will have something a little bit more inclusive. Here’s what Massoud had to say:
“We’ve covered almost every continent, which is rare these days, but I’m really proud to be in a film that represents so many visible and ethnically different cultures.”
Ritchie describes this new Agrabah as a “slightly broader world, a hybrid world,” one that is filled with some 500 extras of diverse backgrounds.
Production designer Gemma Jackson tells EW that Agrabah drew inspiration from Moroccan, Persian, and Turkish cultures, Victorian paintings, and Iznik ceramics. “An army of cultural advisers” also helped Ritchie make the film more culturally sensitive. Of this Ritchie said:
“The challenges that the individual has to transcend are the same for any ethnicity or culture. I’m loathe to shine a light on culture or color or ethnicity, because I feel as though that’s shining a light on the wrong part of the stage. The question should be, how sensitive are you towards humans?”
You can look at the full gallery of images here and the full interview with the cast and crew here.
Disney’s live-action Aladdin is set to be released on May 24, 2019. You can click right here to find more on the film.