(Photo by Andy Hsiao)
California School of the Arts

The cast of the live-action ‘Aladdin’ speaks about taking on iconic roles

Disney’s remake of the classic film “Aladdin” brings a new modern twist while still upholding the nostalgia and vibrancy of the original film. The global press conference for “Aladdin” brought us Genie (Will Smith), Aladdin (Mena Massoud), Jasmine (Naomi Scott), Dalia (Nasim Pedrad) as well as director Guy Ritchie, legendary music composer Alan Menken, and production designer Gemma Jackson.

The press conference opened with Alan Menken performing a medley of classic “Aladdin” songs like “Arabian Nights” or “Friend Like Me,” combined with other Disney classics like “Under the Sea” or “Be Our Guest.” He even sang the newest solo song “Speechless,” performed by Naomi Scott in the film.

Scott, who previously portrayed the Pink Ranger in the 2017 Power Rangers film, as well as Mohini “Mo” Banjaree in the well-loved Disney Channel original film “Lemonade Mouth” took on the role of Jasmine, a strong, powerful woman who grows in confidence of her own voice throughout the film, especially with her solo song.

dsc 0980 The cast of the live action Aladdin speaks about taking on iconic roles
Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud (Photo by Andy Hsiao)

“Everyone has a voice, it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter what your gender is, your voice matters. Speaking out against injustice matters,” Scott said. “The fact that she wants to become a leader — I kind of just want people to go ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense, she should be the leader,’ it’s not this thing that has been shoehorned in.”

Along with her character comes her handmaiden and confidante Dalia, portrayed by Nasim Pedrad, known for her five seasons as a cast member on SNL. Dalia acts as a loyal friend to Jasmine, bringing even more life and perspective to the story.

“It was so much fun because of all of the joy from creating something from scratch and watching that intersect with the story we all know and love, which I have so much respect for coming into there as a 90s kid.” Pedrad said.

Massoud added his own thoughts on the diverse cast.

“I’m especially proud of the representation and ethnically diverse casting that was put together for this. It’s certainly something I was missing in my childhood so I’m excited for little boys and girls to go see people that look like them on screen,” Massoud said.

img 2245 2 The cast of the live action Aladdin speaks about taking on iconic roles
(Photo by Andy Hsiao)

Throughout filming, Smith was allowed to improvise frequently, as the entire blue, floating genie is completely CGI. Throughout the movie, we also get to see Smith portray the genie in real life, as he poses as a servant of Aladdin, or Prince Ali. As the genie, Smith expresses his relatability with his character, a mystical being that, internally, desires to be set free and recognized as a human.

“[Genie] is a prisoner of his spiritual fate. That’s sort of how I felt with Will Smith; I was shackled by Will Smith,” Smith said. “In these last couple years I’ve been finding my freedom, where I’m getting free of Will Smith and I’m getting more comfortable being me. Aladdin was that first step.”

Originally, Smith was fearful of taking on the role of Genie, but by adding in his own modern take with influences of hip-hop in the beats for songs like “Friend Like Me,” Smith was able to break out of his shell and add his own flair while still upholding the essence of the original character.

“I started off fearful but when I got into the music, it started waking up the fun, child-like, silly part of me,” Smith said. “Disney magic is real. At the core of these stories is something that shocks the inner child within you and forces it to come alive, smile, and appreciate the moment.”

Menken chimed in on Will’s musical ability.

“I designed the house, and Will, you threw a hell of a party in it,” Menken said.

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