The Magical Story
The streets of Agrabah are home to Aladdin (Mena Massoud), a lovable street rat
who is eager to leave his life
of petty thievery behind, believing he is destined for greater things. Across
town, the Sultan's daughter, Princess
Jasmine (Naomi Scott ), harbors dreams of her own. She longs to experience life
beyond the palace walls and
use her title to bett er serve the people of Agrabah, but her father is
overprotective and her handmaiden, Dalia
(Nasim Pedrad), keeps close tabs on her. The Sultan (Navid Negahban) is
preoccupied with finding a suitable
husband for his daughter, while Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), his loyal and trusted
advisor and a powerful sorcerer,
is frustrated with the Sultan's passive stance on Agrabah's future and is
devising a plan to assume the throne
Aladdin comes to Jasmine's rescue when she visits the marketplace disguised as a
commoner and is immediately
struck by her beauty and fiery spirit, having no idea as to her true identity.
Following her back to the palace,
he gets caught up in Jafar's evil scheme and comes into possession of a magic
oil lamp intended for Jafar and
accidentally conjures up the Genie (Will Smith) inside. A colorful and
larger-than-life presence, the Genie grants
Aladdin's wish to become someone worthy of Jasmine's love and the Sultan's
respect: Prince Ali. As Aladdin and
the Genie become friends, Jasmine too, succumbs to his charms, and together they
embark on a dangerous and
exciting adventure that will test their faith in themselves and their love for
A Whole New World
Producer Jonathan Eirich has loved Disney's animated classic
"Aladdin" since he was a child, and over the years has entertained
the idea of bringing it to life as a live-action movie on the big
screen. Eirich shared the idea with Dan Lin, the founder and CEO
of Rideback, the production company where Eirich serves as
president, who agreed there was a unique opportunity to update
the original 1992 film.
"It's a great love story, but it's also a great friendship movie and a
great buddy movie," says Lin. "So on one hand you have a classic
romance between Aladdin and Jasmine, and then you have this
growing friendship between Genie and Aladdin."
Loosely based on a Middle Eastern folktale from "One Thousand
and One Arabian Nights," "Aladdin" is a timeless story, and, as luck
would have it, was one Disney was looking to revive as well. The
year was 2015, and, while there was obviously much to discuss in
terms of how to reinvent the Oscar-winning box-office hit, the
question they kept coming back to was, why? "It is so beautifully
structured and the music is so incredible that we realized there
isn't anything we would ever want to fundamentally change
here," says Eirich. "The challenge then became, how do we make
it as fresh as possible to ensure we are still giving audiences something new,
while delivering on what they love?"
"Aladdin" is an everyman's story with a classic narrative and universal themes
that appeal to multiple age groups
and demographics, and as producers they were sensitive to keeping one foot in
the past, in the familiar, and the
other foot in the future and the unfamiliar.
Lin and Eirich envisioned the film as a big event film but also knew that it
needed to have positive portrayals of
Middle Eastern culture grounded in an authentic Arab context. "We had this
amazing blueprint in the 1992 film
that we already knew worked," says Lin, whose credits as a producer include "The
Lego Movie" and "Sherlock
Holmes." "We just needed to find ways to further enhance and contemporize it."
The next several months were spent refining the narrative and determining what
it was about this particular story
that would bring audiences back into theaters, and John August ("Dark Shadows,"
"Big Fish") soon delivered a
screenplay that was a more modern retelling of the story. When Guy Ritchie added
his signature touch to the
script and signed on to direct, things began to fall into place.
The director behind such films as "Sherlock Holmes" and "Lock, Stock and Two
Smoking Barrels" has a singular
filmmaking style and a fl air for fast-paced, gritty, visceral action, which
was just what the film needed. He knew
instinctively how to bring the character of Aladdin to life. Many of his films
feature various incarnations of street
culture and street hustlers, and the character of Aladdin is, at his essence, a
thief struggling to survive.
"I saw this as a sort of clash between two worlds. It's a story about a street
kid dealing with his insecurities in a
Disney environment. The Disney environment gave me a new space in which to
discover and experience a world
familiar to me that I already feel confident in," says Ritchie. "I like
embarking on new, creative challenges, and
this certainly was one."
While "Aladdin" is one of the definitive tales about a hustler who ultimately
makes good, it is also a full-fledged
musical, something Ritchie found appealing. "I was interested in doing a
musical," he says. "I've got five kids, so
that does influence the decisions that you make, and my house was all about
Disney at the time."
Assembling the Cast
One of the biggest challenges for the studio and the film-but a huge
opportunity as well-was the casting
process. They wanted to see fresh faces in the roles of Aladdin and Jasmine,
faces that represent the diversity
of the Middle East and the greater region, and launched a massive casting search
in 2016 to find them. Over the
next 12 months they saw 2,000 actors from London to Egypt to Abu Dhabi to India.
(The film turned out to be
the most diversely cast Disney film in history.) "We really wanted to find
people who were culturally true to the
part, either someone of Arab descent or from the Middle East and the surrounding
region," explains producer
For Aladdin, they were looking for someone
charming and self-deprecating who audiences
could root for and who could sing and dance and
execute the substantial amount of stunt work
the role required. Mena Massoud was cast in
the title role and received the call informing him
of the good news on the set of "Tom Clancy's
Jack Ryan," just three weeks before principal
photography was scheduled to begin.
The Egyptian-born actor raised in Toronto was
drawn to the role for a number of reasons. "Guy
wanted to shoot the film in a very real, gritty,
fantastical kind of way while still focusing on the
friendships and growth of the main characters," says Massoud. "Guy has a very
specific vision in his head of what
he wants to do and how he wants to get to it, but he lets the actors play with
it as well. I really appreciated the
fact that he trusted us to bring his vision to life, which is such an amazing
responsibility to be given."
Aladdin's journey of self-discovery is the backbone of the story. As someone who
lost his parents at an early age
and has been on his own for most of his life, Aladdin wants to find his place
in the world. "He has big aspirations,"
says Massoud. "He sees a future for himself that's greater than what's been set
out for him at the present
moment. He doesn't know exactly what it is or how he's going to get there, but
he knows it is out there."
"The thing that's so universal and endearing about Aladdin is that he's a
good-hearted person who can't help but
look to others for validation. He chooses to become a prince but still feels
that he will never be good enough,"
says Eirich. "Even though he has this amazing connection with Jasmine early on
just by being himself, and even
though we see him as funny and charming and capable of anything, what's so
relatable is that he just doesn't
realize it yet."
Massoud participated in physical training, vocal lessons, juggling lessons,
dance training and dive training while
the film was shooting, but the filmmakers were careful to not make Aladdin
appear too slick or polished. "If
every jump he makes is perfect, you stop liking the guy because all of a sudden
he's a little too perfect for who
we think a street rat should be," says Ritchie. "You need a few stumbles to make
the audience feel like, 'Okay,
this guy is one of us.'"
"Aladdin is a good soul," adds Massoud. "He's very selfless and usually does
things for other people, but as he
falls in love he loses himself a little bit and starts to become someone that
he's not. But he's a good person with
good intentions and has good people surrounding him who lead him back to where
he's supposed to be."
With Jasmine, the Sultan's beautiful and headstrong daughter, the filmmakers
were hoping to create a more
contemporary interpretation of who a modern princess could be and give her
layers to help better establish who
she is and what she wants from life...and there was a multitude of talented
actresses eager to be considered for
According to Guy Ritchie, "All the girls we
saw had magnificent voices, they all looked
spectacular, they had tremendous charisma
and they were all wonderful actresses...all the
prerequisites an audience and a director could
desire. But there was something about Naomi
Scott and her enthusiasm and her boundless
generosity of spirit."
Naomi Scott ("Power Rangers"), a singer/
actress of South Asian descent who grew up in
London, has always related to Jasmine and was
thrilled to have the chance to bring the princess
to life on screen. Many different cultures saw
themselves represented in the animated film, which is something the studio
wanted to embrace. It was common
for arranged marriages to take place between countries as a way of forming
alliances, and in the film, Jasmine's
deceased mother comes from the South Asian kingdom of Shehrabad so Jasmine is
half South Asian and half
Arab (and her mother's influence is visible in her clothing, which is inspired
by South Asian design).
Scott saw the princess as someone who yearns to lead the people of Agrabah and
has an opinion and a perspective
on how that should be done. "I see Jasmine as resilient and independent. She's a
leader who wants to feel
connected to the people of her kingdom and do right by them," says Scott . "She's
not just fighting for her own
choices, she's fighting for the choices of others and she's fighting to make
other peoples' lives better. She's more
ambitious and is looking out for the kingdom as a whole and for everyone's
"Naomi is perfect as a more contemporary princess," says producer Dan Lin.
"She's a very modern thinker who
has strong opinions about some things but manages to balance that with a
natural, warm demeanor and great
sense of humor."
Lin continues, "Jasmine wants to be her own person and she wants to be
independent, and we all loved the idea
of a strong, female character who knows what she wants, but at the same time is
completely selfless because
she is there to look out for the people of Agrabah."
Jasmine and Aladdin come from two different worlds. She spends all her time in
a magnificent palace and Aladdin
gets a chance to show her a world she's never seen before. And like Aladdin,
Jasmine can't escape the life she
was born into, and both are stuck in situations where they cannot be themselves.
"The Sultan is over-protective
and wants to keep her in the palace and separated from everyone," Scott explains.
"Jasmine wants to know what
goes on in her kingdom and reconcile the distance that has been created, and
Aladdin gives her the courage to
do just that."
Finding the right actor to play the Genie, the
shape-shifting blue entity confined to an oil
lamp, was crucial, and the bar had been set
high with Robin Williams. The first real celebrity
performance of an animated character, and
possibly one of the best ever, Williams' work was
universally acclaimed, but the filmmakers were
not looking to recreate his iconic performance.
It was the energy of the performance that
needed to be different, but who could bring an
energy that would feel akin to the spirit of the
original yet be distinctly his own?
They needed an actor with tremendous range...
someone who could play funny and dramatic, who could be emotional, who could
sing and entertain...someone
like Will Smith, who it turns out was interested. The actor, producer, comedian
and rapper with credits that
include "Ali," "Men in Black" and "Independence Day" - and who has been
nominated for five Golden Globe
Awards and two Oscars, along with winning four GRAMMY Awards - liked the idea
of reinventing the character
and making it his own. But it wasn't until he met with Guy Ritchie that the
prospect became real.
"Once we sat down and he explained that he wanted to make the story more authentic and put it in more of a
realistic space and bring in occasional pop culture references, I was in," says
Smith. "Guy's style is somewhere
between action and music, and he wanted to concentrate on aspects of the
characters that were different from
what you would expect in a Disney film and were unique, clever and fun."
"Will is a tremendously generous artist in every sense," says Ritchie. "A lot of
my job was encouraging Will to just
be Will, but he was also very open to new ideas. We would riff on different
ideas and found a rhythm between
us where it quickly became apparent which ideas were going to fl oat and which
ones would sink."
They both shared the same vision for the Genie character. "The Genie is both a
trickster and a mentor, and he
is trying to guide Aladdin to the truth of the greatness that's already within
him," says Smith, "and I love that
idea...to be yourself. For me at this point in my life, I love playing a character
that is trying to help a young boy
become a man."
Smith continues, "Robin Williams did an absolutely brilliant job on the film,
and it's such a memorable
performance, and for me, when I'm looking at a role-especially one that has
nostalgic value to it-I ask myself,
'Is there any meat left on the bone? What is it that I could add to the role?'
One of the major aspects was going
from animation to live action and the idea of being able to pay homage to the
original character and to honor
Robin, while at the same time giving a new voice to modernize the Genie...there
was the potential to create
something that did both of those things."
"This was the first project since 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' that has used
so many of the things that I like to do,"
says Smith. "In this film I get to sing and dance and rap and perform and do
comedy and drama, so it was a great
opportunity to use myself fully as an artist."
While working for Aladdin, the Genie begins to care for him. Serving as his
conscience more or less, he encourages
Aladdin to be himself and convinces him that wealth and a title are not
necessary in love.
"The repartee between the Genie and Aladdin
showcases Smith at his finest, moving at the
same velocity and equally as entertaining," says
To help give the newly emboldened Jasmine
more dimension, the screenwriters created
a new character, Dalia. A second female lead
with her own story arc and personality, Dalia is
the princess's handmaiden, who has a strong
and supportive relationship with Jasmine and
is the girlfriend she confides in. Through their
conversations, the audience is given an insight
into what the princess is really thinking.
Funny, sassy and carefree by nature, Dalia is played by Iranian American actress
Nasim Pedrad, best known for
her five-season run on "Saturday Night Live." Pedrad was a big fan of the
animated film growing up, and says,
"There weren't many portrayals of Middle Eastern culture in Hollywood at the ti
me, so to see that as an Iranian
American girl and identify with it was hugely impactful."
"Jasmine is strong, and in the face of tradition can be a bit of a rebel, so
Dalia is always trying to keep her out of
trouble," says Pedrad. "She's been by Jasmine's side for years and really looks
out for her. I have a younger sister
who I'm very close with, and it reminded me a lot of that dynamic."
In addition to giving the princess more depth, the character of Dalia also
enhances the Genie's character. Smith
explains, "This was a nice, delicate addition to the story that more humanized
the Genie, and there's a beautiful
comedic naivetÃ© in Nasim's performance...it will be fun to see how audiences react
Dutch Tunisian actor Marwan Kenzari ("Murder on the Orient Express") is Jafar,
the Sultan's loyal and trusted
advisor and a cunning and powerful sorcerer who wields a snake-head scepter with
mysterious powers. "We
created a back story for Jafar to give the audience a glimpse of the person he
was before he came to the palace,"
says Eirich, "and it turns out he is, like Aladdin, an orphan, who rose up off
the streets and worked his way up to
become second in command to the Sultan."
As a result, Jafar is now a villain the audience can better identify with. "Marwan
really grounded the character,"
says Lin. "Now you understand why he's so bad, and I think that's what makes him
such a good villain. He's been
the Sultan's Number Two for a long time, and it's really wearing thin on him.
And Jafar just wants the power...
and he's not patient."
Navid Negahban ("Legion") is the Sultan, the ruler of the kingdom of Agrabah in
search of a husband for his
daughter. A wise and respected leader, he is also a loving and devoted father,
but the two roles are often in
conflict with one another. Billy Magnussen ("Maniac") is Prince Anders, the
handsome and arrogant but
bumbling and dim-witted suitor from Skanland who hopes to wed the princess.
Turkish-German actor Numan
Acar ("Homeland") plays Hakim, Jafar's right-hand man, who oversees the palace
Ritchie's humor and easygoing attitude made for a fun and productive atmosphere
when filming. "Guy leads a
relaxed set and lets everyone have creative input; in fact, he encourages it,"
says Eirich. "He listens to the actors
to get their take on the character's point of view, and as a result everyone has
a sense of joy in what they do,
which comes across on screen."
"Guy brings a tremendous kinetic energy to everything" adds Lin. "He has a
twinkle in his eye and a little bit of
mischief about him. He's not afraid to be bold and to try new ways of doing
The cast and crew were equally effusive in their praise for the director. "As
actors, we felt really supported, and
with the confidence of everyone involved with the project we felt comfortable
to take chances and experiment,"
says Smith. "So it was a spectacular experience."
Agrabah: A City of Beauty and Enchantment
Principal photography on "Aladdin" took place August 2017 through January 2018
on practical stages at
Longcross Studios and Arborfield Studios in the U.K. and on location in Jordan.
The talented creative team
supporting director Guy Ritchie was comprised of: director of photography Alan
Stewart, production designer
Gemma Jackson, editor James Herbert, costume designer Michael Wilkinson,
choreographer Jamal Sims and
visual effects supervisor Chas Jarrett .
"Aladdin" is set in Arabia and the fictitious port city of Agrabah, a trading
city on the Silk Road, which is the
trade crossroads between the East and the West. The responsibility of bringing
Agrabah to life lay in the hands
of production designer Gemma Jackson ("Finding Neverland"), whose Emmy Award
winning work on "Game of
Thrones" is visually similar to what the filmmakers wanted for the bustling
They envisioned Agrabah as a multicultural
gateway to the Eastern world that is international
in its feel and scope, and heavily influenced by
Arabia and Arab culture. "We made a decision
early on to root this world in some expression
of Middle Eastern culture that, simultaneously,
had elements of a contemporary multi-cultural
universe," says Ritchie. "The challenge was
getting the balance right so it felt authentic."
Jackson has always been fascinated by the
Middle East and Persia and set out to infuse
Agrabah with a vibrant array of colors, cultures
and sounds. Drawing inspiration from Moroccan,
Persian and Turkish architecture, her designs incorporated elements of Arab
culture and the general region in a
beautiful and exciting way.
The massive Agrabah set was built at Longcross Studios on a tarmac the size of
two football fields in just 15
weeks. Everything about the layout - from the Marrakesh pink walls, the
courtyard and market stalls to the
narrow alleys and cluttered rooftops - was designed to accommodate filming of
the musical numbers "One Jump
Ahead" and "Prince Ali." Says Lin, "There was a logic behind every single
building placement, the direction each
street turned and the way each house was oriented because of the intricately
designed musical numbers and
Eirich agrees, and adds, "When you walked around that set you could bask in the
textures and the colors and
experience all the different types of people and languages and animals...it was
just a magical world."
Set decoration for Agrabah included a multitude of fabrics, textiles, colorful
woods, metals, fruits, vegetables
and a 1,000-year-old olive tree. "There was an entire marketplace, a bazaar,
someone making Turkish Delights,
someone selling lamps and someone making scarves...it was insane," says Mena
The Agrabah set was also used as the main parade ground in front of the gates to
the Sultan's palace, where
the musical number "Prince Ali" is set. The sequence is a lavish,
carnival-infused, circus-like parade for Prince
Ali when he arrives at the palace. He makes his entrance on a 30-foot high camel
made of 37,000 flower heads,
which took 15 model makers three weeks to build.
The biggest production number in the film, featuring 250 dancers and 200
extras, "Prince Ali" was shot over five
days, with director of photography Alan Stewart ("Sherlock Holmes") and team
using seven cameras to capture
all the action.
For the "One Jump Ahead" sequence, which also takes place on the streets of
Agrabah, Stewart attached a
GoPro camera to Mena Massoud's waist to capture footage from Aladdin's POV as he
runs and jumps through
the narrow alleys and rooftops.
The sequence was shot in both slow and fast motion to make the action feel new
and fresh. "There is no real
time within it," Ritchie explains. "We shot some of it at 36 frames [slow motion] and some at 18 frames [fast
motion], then Mena had to sing in sync with the playback, which made it look
like it's in slow motion and vice
versa." A film is normally shot at 24 frames.
The Sultan's colossal palace is located on the outskirts of town and it was
important to Jackson that there
be a stark contrast between it and Agrabah. To help illuminate the two different worlds, she created a color
and texture palette for each setting. "I didn't want to get stuck with some
statutory castle," Jackson says, "and
because I was given the opportunity to reinvent this world as it were, it is
extremely opulent and represents the
wonders of the East."
The palace interiors, including the massive Great Hall and the sumptuous throne
room, feature magnificent
marble floors, beautiful archways, ornate wooden carvings and massive
tapestries. Actual fabrics, doors and tiles
accumulated from Jackson's scouting are visible throughout the palace as set
Jasmine's feminine yet scholarly enclave and bedroom were designed to exemplify
the intelligence and strength
of her character and were dressed with books, maps, lavish tapestries and pieces
of art. The bed was doubled in
size, as it needed to accommodate both the princess and her tiger, Rajah. The
bedspread was hand-embroidered
in Pakistan to honor Jasmine's late mother's kingdom of Shehrabad, which is
based in South Asia.
The Costumes: A Stunning Array of Fabrics, Textures and Colors
Oscar-nominated costume designer Michael Wilkinson ("American Hustle") sat down
with the filmmakers and
studio early on in pre-production to review the wardrobe themes for each of the
principal characters. It was
important to everyone involved behind the scenes that the clothing be authentic
to the characters' ethnicity and
the geographical area they come from. To colorfully saturate the world they were
creating on screen, Wilkinson
scouted locations in Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and Pakistan in search of
beautifully colored and richly
woven fabrics and textiles.
While the majority of women in Agrabah dress in traditional Arab fashion (big,
bold prints and Arabesque fl oral
motifs), Jasmine's wardrobe was South Asian inspired (silks, paisley prints,
beads and embroidery) to honor her
late mother, who came from the neighboring kingdom of Shehrabad. Naomi Scott is
South Asian herself, and the
connection between the character and her own cultural heritage is something Scott
feels very strongly about.
Wilkinson designed nine outfits for the princess,
all of which incorporate fantastically strong colors
to signify her strong personality and passion for
life. "She has as many beautiful outfits as she
needs, but all she really wants to do is go out and
see the people," explains Naomi Scott . "It's a great
juxtaposition having her restricted in these very
opulent gowns, because that's not really what she
wants and that's not really who she is. She has
her duties and things she must do because she's a
princess, but when she's out in the market or with
Aladdin she prefers wearing trousers or harem
Some of her most eye-catching ensembles include a formal orange dress with an
embroidered veil and sheer
sleeves, which she wears to greet Prince Ali at the palace. "It is more South
Asian in style, but you can see
influences of Arabic culture like the high-waistcoat bodice and the jewelry,"
When introduced to Prince Anders in the palace, Jasmine wears a sleeveless
magenta gown with turquoise
accents and a 10-foot train, which suggests the formality of the environment.
Highly decorative with lavish
coin trimming and beautiful jewels that sparkle, the skirt, which is split in
the front, is worn over turquoise silk
trousers to give it a slightly modern feel.
The turquoise two-piece outfit Jasmine wears when she dances with Aladdin as
Prince Ali at the Harvest Festival
is hand-embroidered and embellished with crystals, gold trim and colored stones.
"It has wonderfully, huge,
fl owing turquoise harem trousers with a peacock feather and refers directly to
her costume from the animated
film," says Wilkinson.
Designing looks for the Genie character was a different kind of creative
challenge for Wilkinson. He is a CG-rendered being for part of the film, so
while he wanted to honor Will Smith by creating a wardrobe akin to his
personality, it also needed to be somewhat recognizable to audiences. "Will was
so fun to work with; he's so bold
and can pull off anything," says Wilkinson. "We decided his character would be
quite mercurial, so every time
you see him he is making tweaks and adjustments to his outfit."
Wilkinson played around with a number of different styles before deciding to
create his own, which he crafted
by layering hundreds of meters of beautiful, strong, blue fabrics. His hats
become the character's signature look,
and blue his signature color.
"Prince Ali" was an enormous undertaking for Wilkinson and his department, due
to the sheer size and scope of
the staging and the number of actors and extras involved. More than 200 costumes
were created from scratch
specifically for these scenes, and each individual had
their own unique look that encompassed wardrobe,
hair and make-up.
Like the film's production design, there is a marked
contrast between the two very different worlds: the
clothing worn by the people of Agrabah and the
world of the royal family and its luxurious life in the
palace, something the costume designer had fun
The transformation Aladdin undergoes was
equally fun to create. "We get to see his amazing
transformation from a lowly, street kid to a majestic prince," says Wilkinson.
"We played around with different
silhouettes and decided that his costumes as Prince Ali should slightly
The Breathtaking Landscape of Jordan
The production moved to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in late November, filming on the stunning desert
vistas of Wadi Rum and Wadi Disi. "It's always great to film on location
because it really puts you in that space
and provides another layer of authenticity to the performances," says Will
Smith. "And I think the contrast of the
raw land and the visual effects will be really special."
"I was born in Cairo, and I've been back there a few times to see the desert and
the pyramids," says Mena
Massoud, "and there's something really incredible about going back to a place
you feel rooted in."
The Royal Film Commission of Jordan provided invaluable support during filming,
production services, assistance in facilitating logistics with local authorities,
securing film permits and the hiring
of 150 locals to supplement the existing U.K. crew.
"Jordan did not only provide the amazing landscape needed for such a beautiful
story, but also all the support
needed to make it a success," says Princess Rym al-Ali, managing director by
interim of the Royal Film Commission
- Jordan. "The Royal Film Commission is committed to helping good stories
materialize on screen. And this goes
beyond offering production services. Local professional crew are available. We
care about training as well as
building an audience appreciative of quality movies."
Dan Lin, Jonathan Eirich, Guy Ritchie and executive producer Kevin De La Noy
looked at a number of different
countries in the Middle East and North Africa before deciding on Jordan. It was
the region's aesthetic beauty and
the benefits afforded the production through the Royal Film Commission that
had the biggest influence on their
decision. "Jordan was just beautiful, and we had a spectacular welcome from the
Royal Family," says Smith. "So
many wonderful and historical things happened in those deserts...you could just
feel them in the textures of the
light and the rocks."
"You feel a sense of the epic, and I think the word epic is more applicable to
film language than any other
language," says Ritchie, "and if anywhere is epic, it's got to be there. The
cornerstone of epics is 'Lawrence of
Arabia,' and we tread in those footsteps."
The Treasured Music
While director Guy Ritchie had never helmed a musical prior to "Aladdin," his films are heavily influenced by
music. "This is a musical in its purest traditional form," he says, "and I liked
the challenge. I didn't try to be too
ambitious or try to reinvent the wheel in terms of a musical, but I did want it
to feel like it was fresh enough while
still keeping the original tone of the first film."
The score and songs by eight-time Academy Award winning composer Alan Menken
and Oscar-winning lyricists
Howard Ashman and Tim Rice from the 1992 film are perfect as is, but Ritchie
wanted to make them feel more
contemporary, both lyrically and musically...an idea that Menken embraced
wholeheartedly. The songs in the
animated film were embedded in the music of
the Arab world with flourishes of jazz here and
there. Menken's new arrangements incorporate
pop elements and showcase the musical talents
of Will Smith.
The lyrics for "Prince Ali," the film's biggest song-and-dance production
number, were tailored
to better fit the actor's persona. Says Smith,
"'Aladdin' is a rare combination of cinematic
tools. Very few films have singing, dancing,
drama, comedy, action and special effects...all
those elements in a single movie, and we have
it in a single scene."
"Guy really wanted to take chances with the music but at the same time he was
deeply respectful of the original
songs," continues Smith. "He knew how he wanted it to sound and how he wanted it
to feel but gave me the
freedom to use my hip-hop background and bring a fresh vibe to it."
The live-action score is very symphonic and resonant of old Hollywood in many
aspects. "Most of the time Guy
likes things to be very spare, but there are times when the score just
explodes," says Menken. "It is obviously
pulled from the themes of the songs, almost exclusively, but it is much more
live action in its textures and its
"Arabian Nights" is now a complete musical number that serves as an introduction
to the story and its enchanted
setting. Menken worked with Oscar-and Tony Award-winning songwriters Benj Pasek
and Justin Paul ("La La
Land," "Dear Evan Hansen," "The Greatest Showman") to create new lyrics. "The
job really was to be following
along with the camera as it soars through Agrabah, setting up this world for the
audience," says Menken. "We
rewrote some of the lyrics to go with the visuals that Guy had in mind,
introducing Jafar and basically setting the
stage for the rest of the film. It's a much bigger, much more ambitious number
than it was originally."
For Pasek and Paul, working with the legendary composer was the opportunity of a
lifetime. "Alan and Howard
were our childhood heroes...they wrote the songs that made us want to be
songwriters," says Pasek. "We think
the reason our generation is so in love with musical theatre and the reason this
resurgence is happening right
now is because of Howard and Alan. We grew up loving musicals and musical
theatre storytelling and that's
because of what these guys wrote."
"When we were first starting out and someone would ask us what we wanted to do
or who we wanted to be,
it was always, 'We want to be Alan Menken, Howard Ashman. We want to write for
Disney, like for a Disney
animated musical...that's our dream,'" says Paul.
And the admiration is mutual. "Benj and
Justin are like my progeny, so to speak;
they are wonderful," says Menken. "I'm
tough on writers, but these guys are really,
really good. I wanted this to be a real
collaboration between Justin and Benj and
me, not just, 'Oh, Alan Menken and the
next collaborators or whatever,' that wasn't
the point. The song is a collaboration of our
styles, as it should be."
"Speechless" is an original new song written
by Menken and Pasek and Paul, performed
by Jasmine, who is ready to find her voice. "It starts with a solo piano, very
intimate, and really gets into the soul
of Jasmine," explains Menken. "And then as it builds, it builds in the
arrangement and the intensity and then at
the end comes back full circle to that intimate piano with her voice reaching
out over it. It has a beautiful arc to
it, but the sound is orchestral and pianistic."
"This is Jasmine's big breakout song where she decides she is going to stand up
for what she believes in," says
executive producer Marc Platt ("Mary Poppins Returns"), who worked with Pasek and
Paul on "La La Land." "The
song parallels her arc in the story, sung timidly by Jasmine early on and then
as a big empowering moment later
in the film. Jafar has seized power as her father stands by helpless, and she
finally has the strength to tell him
what she envisions for her future."
"As the script was developing, it became clear that this Jasmine was going to be
more powerful and outspoken
than ever and that it was time for her to have a big number," says Paul. "Her
character was emerging as someone
who would have this moment to really stand up and say, 'I do have a voice, and I
will not remain speechless.'"
"This is a woman who is being told who she has to be and how she has to live in
the world, and then she doesn't
have a voice," adds Pasek. "So it made a lot of sense for this really strong
woman that so many girls have grown
up loving to talk about reclaiming her own power."
The choreography designed by Jamal Sims
("Hairspray," "Step Up") was somewhat
contemporized as well. Both "Prince Ali"
and "Friend Like Me" feature break-dancing
moves, giving them a modern feel and sense
of authenticity, too. "These are both big
performance pieces," says producer Dan Lin.
"It was both the Genie's time to shine and
the perfect opportunity for Will to show how
multitalented he is-he has to act, sing and dance
in the iconic set piece."
For "One Jump Ahead" performed by Aladdin as
he and Jasmine are being chased through the
streets of Agrabah, the choreographed moves were fast-paced, athletic and more
appropriate for a Guy Ritchie
film. "We never intended for Aladdin to dance in that song," Sims says. "It is
more of a stylized action sequence.
There is a lot of movement, but the moves belong more in the stunt category."
The Visual Effects
Bringing this story to life on screen required the latest in state-of-the-art
technology. The filmmakers enlisted
the support of visual effects powerhouse Industrial Light & Magic under the
guidance of visual effects supervisor
Chas Jarrett ("Poseidon," "Troy"). While it was exciting for the filmmakers to
create a fully immersive, cinematic
experience from a world that previously existed only in animated form, it was a
Many types of VFX work are utilized in the film, including character animation,
performance capture, set
extensions, digital environments and FX simulations. The one directive from Guy
Ritchie was that everything look
as real as possible. "Guy was clear from that outset that the film had to take
place in a viably real world that felt
tangible and authentic," says Jarrett . "For us this meant that while there's a
strong fantasy element to the story,
the world needed to feel grounded with environments and characters that were
plausible, so our environments
were inspired by real locations and the characters leaned towards naturalism,
rather than caricature."
Ritchie has always been open to trying new technical methodologies in his films,
and Jarrett 's team certainly
pushed those boundaries with "Aladdin," but working on practical sets and on
location is the director's preference.
For the times when digital sets and extensions were necessary, Jarrett 's team
used scans and plates of locations
in Morocco and Jordan to make sure they stayed grounded in reality.
Jarrett is a fan of filming on location, as it offers real sun and daylight,
and the production was fortunate to
have production designer Gemma Jackson's Agrabah streets on the backlot at
Longcross on which to film.
Unfortunately, the weather in London is somewhat erratic, even in summer, and
the production was constantly
at its mercy.
As a result, some sets were built on interior stages to give the production more
reliable weather cover. "In these
cases we created digital extensions and skies to offer the shots more depth,"
explains Jarrett . "As with all the VFX
on 'Aladdin,' we were very careful to use textures and color palettes which
supported the set and stayed true to
The scenes taking place in the Cave of Wonders were created via a combination of
practical sets and VFX work.
The vast interiors were built on soundstages at Longcross Studios and included
an enormous lion's head at the
cave's entrance and artificial rock formations covered with miscellaneous
treasures. Set decorator Tina Jones
sourced jewels from across the region as they are quite colorful, sparkling and
bright. Some were recast in
rubber and placed on the floor of the cave so the cast and crew could walk
When Aladdin takes Jasmine on a magic carpet ride in the "A Whole New World"
musical number, it is a crucial
moment in the story. Aladdin is offering Jasmine an escape and a chance to feel
free for the first time in a long
time, and the filmmakers wanted to make it as easy as possible for the actors
to feel comfortable and to capture
that in their performances.
The magic carpet Jarrett and his team created
was built on top of a six-axis hydraulic platform
controlled by a hand-operated input device that
moved hundreds of metallic pins up and down
and from side to side. The rig was placed in front
of pre-filmed backgrounds on blue screen with
the camera filming from a Technocrane.
"Funnily enough, it was pretty uncomfortable,"
says Naomi Scott . "We were kneeling on this
foam mat which had lots of prods in it, and we
were surrounded by a blue screen and were
basically tied in. There was supposed to be this
sense of a gentle, smooth ride, but really it wasn't. The magic comes with the
music when you're singing it and
feeling it...that's when it all came together."
Several on-screen characters were realized completely with VFX, most significantly the blue Genie. The visual
effects team worked closely with costume designer Michael Wilkinson, as
elements of the Genie's costume
created for Will Smith had to also be created within the digital world for the
CG version of the character.
Others, like Abu the monkey (who was based on a capuchin monkey), Carpet, Iago
the parrot and Rajah the tiger,
were also entirely digital, and during principal photography, puppeteers stood
in as proxies to give the actors
something to interact with and to react to. "I had to basically create Abu from
my imagination," explains Mena
Massoud. "I worked with the puppeteers for weeks, just seeing what the weight
would be like on my shoulders,
how I would put him down, how I would pick him up, how he would interact with
me...just his physical nature.
But then when we were shooting I had to take all that information I had gathered
and just imagine Abu was
Flying into Theaters
Director Guy Ritchie's visual panache and contemporary sensibility are perfectly
suited to "Aladdin." With a live-action format he was able to bring a stylized
look and feel to the breathtaking and visually-stunning world on
screen while adding more depth to the story and characters.
"'Aladdin' is a visual spectacle of people, places and events that audiences
don't see in everyday life," says
producer Dan Lin. "You see this amazing palace, the huge Cave of Wonders with
stunning jewels and gems, a
Genie who shape-shifts at the snap of his fingers, and Aladdin and Jasmine flying on a magic carpet. These are
things you want to see cinematically on the big screen."
Will Smith was honored to be a part of "Aladdin," saying, "The images that we
portrayed in this movie are going
to affect an entire generation of children, and for me, that's part of what I
love about the ideas of 'Aladdin'; it's
about helping to grant wishes, it's about friendship, it's about being
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