On the whole Disney’s live-action counterparts to their classic animated movies have been received fairly well, The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast in particular – the former for its exceptional CGI and the latter for its subtle yet noticable and welcoming feminist message (specifically in its casting of Emma Watson as Belle). So far these films have proven to be fun, well-done, refreshing and, most important of all, faithful to the originals while bringing something new, something worthwhile. One of the most anticipated live-action versions currently is Aladdin, the casting of which the internet (as always) has been very excited yet very wary about. Well worry and wary no more, for Disney has finally announced its cast at the current D23 Expo in Anaheim, California and it’s good news.Mena Massoud has been cast as titular character Aladdin with Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine and Will Smith as Genie.
The initial aspect you can’t fail to notice from this casting is the faithfulness to the original story’s background. Aladdin is inspired by Arab folktale ‘Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’ from the book ‘One Thousand and one Nights.’ There have been numerous concerns that this upcoming Aladdin may be reminiscent of Prince of Persia in its whitewashing of Middle Eastern characters, sacrificing authenticity for stars to bring along an easy crowd. Fortunately, however, it looks as if fixing this issue is top of Disney’s agenda. In fact producer Dan Lim has kept to his word that this will be a “movie that’s authentic to the world.”
In fact, they seem to be going exactly the opposite way. Not only are they not casting white actors and keeping it ethnically authentic, but these chosen leads aren’t “stars” in the same way Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton were in Prince of Persia. Although not complete newbies to the film industry, this will be the biggest film yet for Massoud and Scott. Egyptian-Canadian Massoud has a few movie credits under his belt, but nothing like Aladdin – this will be a big challenge and a massive step up for him, but to have been cast by Guy Ritchie, I feel we can be confident in his abilities. Naomi Scott comes from London and has already dipped into a bit of Disney, starring as Mohini ‘Mo’ Banjaree in Lemonade Mouth on the Disney Channel, and has recently starred as the Pink Power Ranger in 2017’s Power Rangers.
Amazingly, perhaps the trending twitter hashtag of #OscarSoWhite may have affected Disney to the point where they’re actually making an effort. Disney’s initial Star Wars film included both a black actor and a female actor; something Hollywood in the early part of the 20th Century was convinced would never be successful. Now we have authentic Middle Eastern actors playing these Middle Eastern characters, exactly what you would hope for and expect from the 21st Century.
More than this, they’ve gone one step further with diversity by casting Will Smith as Genie. Sadly for the last 10 years or so Smith’s career hasn’t been as strong as it once used to be. With any luck, this film will restart his career much more than he may have hoped the disastrous Suicide Squad would. Far from the sort of charisma Robin Williams brought to Disney’s original Genie, this is a clear sign of something different, but something exciting.
Fortunately it seems that Disney is still strong in its vision and determination to be faithful to their original cartoons while bringing an exciting touch of modernity to keep them fresh and current. With a whole new cast and Disney keeping one jump ahead of what we want and expect, we ain’t never had a film like this.