The cast and creative team behind Aladdin celebrate a new take on a Disney Classic
Aladdin, directed by Guy Richie (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Sherlock Holmes) starring Mena Massoud as the diamond in the rough, Naomi Scott (Power Rangers) as Jasmine and Will Smith as The Genie.
We all know how beloved the animated film is to its deep fan base, however, this Aladdin adds layers to its supporting cast through endearing arcs and vibrant new characters which enrich the world of the original 1992 film in unexpected and delightful ways.
Before the cast took the stage at the Aladdin Press Conference, eight time Academy Award winner Alan Menken took the stage to perform a medley of his past Disney collaborations that garnered such acclaim. This was especially moving to all in attendance as these songs have informed and shaped our childhood soundtracks and will always be forever fondly engrained in our hearts. With Aladdin, you’ll hear a new piece that you will add to that tapestry, but more on that later.
(Via The Pop Culture Geek Channel on YouTube)
Following that performance, the creative team and talent talked to press about what it was like on set living as these new versions of some of our fave characters to how Will Smith approached his Genie, along with, Jasmine’s character progression in leadership and the importance of representing the shared folklore of Aladdin to the world with an inclusive cast.
Naomi Scott on Jasmine aspiring to more than being a Princess.
NAOMI SCOTT: First of all, I think it’s a wonderful thing when you have a vision for a character or you think ‘Oh, I would love to see Disney do this with this character’ and it aligns with the people involved. It aligns with Guy [Richie] and our producers. For me, I really think it was a natural progression. Talking about equality of challenge–the idea that Jasmine needed even more of a challenge in this movie as well. It’s a natural progression. The fact that she wants to become the leader. I kind of just want people to walk out and go, oh yeah, that makes sense, right? She should be the leader. It’s not this thing that’s been shoehorned in. It just makes sense. And she’s a human. For me as an actor, my main thing is, how do I humanize her, how do I give her depth. So those things just came naturally.
Speaking of this new female energy, one of the new characters introduced in Guy Richie’s Aladdin is Dalia portrayed by Nasim Pedrad, who you may recognize for her stint on Saturday Night Live.
NASIM PEDRAD: It was so fun, because I think all the joy of creating something from scratch, but then watching that intersect with this story we all know and love. Which I had so much respect for coming into it. I’m a 90s kid. So for me, Aladdin was like golden age Disney. I’m so proud to be part of the most diversely cast Disney movie of all time I think. And it really is that that film resonated with me as a child because it was the first time I saw a Middle Eastern protagonist in a major motion picture. So to get to be a part of that and play a little fun role in being Jasmine’s friend and handmaiden and especially under the guidance of Guy who is so collaborative and fun and every day, you’re like ‘Oh my gosh,’ he puts the scene up on its feet, and it turns into a whole fun new thing that you wouldn’t have necessarily even seen on the page. It was just such a blast. A lot of my scenes were with Naomi And we got to spend [a lot of] time together before and during filming. There was such an instant camaraderie and friendship that I think, hopefully, translates into the dynamic of the characters on screen.
NAOMI SCOTT: She won’t say, but she kills it in this movie. I think also she does so much improv because she’s such an amazing writer as well. She was just coming out with like I was just laughing the whole time. I couldn’t keep it together. But I think she brought more to the character than I think anyone could have ever imagined for this role. And literally, she just annihilates it.
With the cast coming together and bringing a sense of family to it, it’s no wonder Will Smith signed on. Even though he was apprehensive at first, due to the respect he had to Robin William’s original take on the character of the Genie.
WILL SMITH: This is my first Disney movie… ‘there’s something that Walt Disney did in the design of these stories that at the core is something that shocks the inner child within you and forces it to come alive and smile and appreciate the moment. So for me, coming into this, first starting with fear, it definitely started with fear. What Robin Williams did with his character was, he just didn’t leave a lot of room to add to the genie. So I started off fearful. But then when I got with the music, it just started waking up that fun childlike silly part of me. This was the most joyful experience of my career.
Ultimately reimagining the music helped him find his take on Genie and guided him to explore what he wanted to share as an artist with the world.
WILL SMITH: The song that got me over the hump of ‘Yes, I can play Genie” was “Friend Like Me.” I went into the studio the first day and I really wanted to play with it and see if I could add something to it. And literally 30 minutes in the studio, I started to find that in the 94- 96 Beats Per Minute range, we were playing around in there thinking ultimately that range is right old school hip-hop. So I grabbed the Honey Drippers – “Impeach The President” which is a really classic old school hip hop breakbeat. And I had them throw that breakbeat under there. And I was like ‘Oh my God. I’m home, I’m home.’ And then I started playing with the hip hop flavor and then the Genie was really born in my mind from the music.
Aladdin was really my first sort of coming back in and seeing if my heart was even still in this kind of performing. And what I discovered is everything starts with what am I saying to the world? How does this piece contribute to the human family? Can I go around the world with the ideas that the movie represents and can I teach and preach these ideas in good conscience? And Aladdin checks all of those boxes. I love the idea of Genie and one of the things that I related to in Genie is that he has shackles. The Genie has these spectacular powers, but he’s shackled. Like he is a prisoner of his spiritual fate. And that is sort of how I felt with Will Smith. I was sort of shackled by Will Smith. And in these last couple of years, I’ve just started finding my freedom, were getting free of Will Smith and I’m getting more comfortable being me. So Aladdin was that first step back out.
Mena Massoud brings the titular character Aladdin to life in this new film and you’ll see by his performance that he was made to play this role. Mena exudes the right fun-loving charisma needed to pull off Aladdin for this 2019 update and authentically represents the character.
MENA MASSOUD: You know, I’m especially proud of the representation and the ethnically diverse casting that was put together for this. It’s not often you can go to a movie theater and see all people of color represented like this. It’s certainly something that I was missing in my childhood. So I’m proud of the cast and the casting that Guy and Disney put together. So I’m excited for little boys and girls to go see people that look like them on screen, man. That’s what I’m proud of.
WILL SMITH: Right. I think it is critically important to be able to pull stories and colors and textures and tastes from around the world. I think that in this particular time in the world, that kind of inclusion and diversity will be a critical part of turning our connectivity because we have more connectivity than ever, but transitioning that connectivity into harmony is going to be really critical. And I think these kinds of interactions in these types of movies are a powerful global service. It was critical and important to me.
You’ll also be glad to know that Alan Menken gave Jasmine a new song. He was very delighted by the opportunity to work on the film and even more excited to add to the character of Jasmine.
ALAN MENKEN: I’m happy to come back to these films and continue to add to them. Writing ‘Speechless’ was a surprising benefit, It was one of those songs that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.
NAOMI SCOTT: The fact that they wrote a song and I get to sing it, first of all, I was like wow. That’s already surreal. But also then when I heard it and just the words and the lyrics and how timely it was, the message behind the song and the idea of not going speechless, that everyone has a voice, doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter what you look like, doesn’t matter what your gender, your voice matters. And speaking out against injustice matters. Not just standing by and being a spectator. It was really emotional because I wanted it to feel raw. And I wanted it to feel like it’s what she’s going through in that moment. And we did some of it live as well which was a different type of challenge. And yeah, you know, it’s out there, it’s the world’s song. Like whatever it will be, it will be. And then whatever people take from it, they will take. I’m just obviously very blessed to be the person to kind of embody it in the movie.
Aladdin opens this Friday so grab your tickets now!