Aladdin is one of my all time favourite Disney movies. For me, it is up there with the likes of Tangled, Hercules, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Therefore, it is important to me that Disney put together their live action remake in the very best way they can, as not to tarnish its reputation. Disney had previously made it known that they were struggling to find actors to take on the roles of Aladdin and Jasmine. Finding performers of Middle Eastern descent who could sing and act seemed to be proving difficult. However, last week, during Disney’s D23 Expo celebrations, they officially confirmed that they had finally cast their chosen actors. In the role of everyone’s favourite street rat Aladdin will be Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud. He will be joined by British-Indian actress Naomi Scott as Jasmine and Hollywood legend Will Smith as the Genie.
Initially, part of me had immediate reservations about the fact that the actors cast as Aladdin and Jasmine just aren’t carrying enough resemblance to the original cartoons for my liking. Obviously, it is not exactly easy to resemble a cartoon character, but I don’t really see any at all between the chosen actors and the original characters. After seeing fan suggestions such as Avan Jogia, who is basically a real life version of Aladdin, it was difficult to picture somebody else in the role, who doesn’t show the same likeness. Similarly, there were many different suggestions for who should play the part of Jasmine being thrown around twitter, many of whom held an uncanny resemblance to the Princess. Of course, realistically, I can’t judge them based on their appearances, at least not yet, as I have not seen any of their other performances. At the end of the day there must be a reason they have been selected from the thousands of others that could possibly have been chosen for the roles. I don’t suppose looking like the original cartoons is too important if they can successfully portray the characters through their acting, so I will let that one slide.
With that being said, I do like the fact that Disney have veered away from very well known actors and actresses for the lead roles. With Emma Watson being cast in the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast, the focus seemed to be on her, rather than the film itself. In a way, the film was overly hyped due to the A-list nature of its cast. Granted, Watson did a decent job, and is essentially exactly how I pictured Belle as a real life person, and I was impressed with the entirety of the case, but I think Disney have made the right choice in casting lesser known performers in Aladdin. Naomi Scott is perhaps more recognisable than Mena Massoud, known from her role as the Pink Ranger in ‘Power Rangers’. Massoud is practically a newcomer and only has a small handful of appearances to his name, including the role of Tarek Kassar in up and coming Amazon TV series ‘Jack Ryan’ and Jared Malik in the Teen Nick series ‘Open Heart’.
Of course, they had to throw a household name in there, and that came in the form of Will Smith. Again, I was initially (and quite frankly I still am) unsure about this choice. I picture Smith as the fresh prince, or one half of Bad Boys, I definitely don’t picture him as the Genie! Anybody was going to have a hard time filling the shoes of the late, great Robin Williams, but Smith was not the one I imagined taking on that challenge. That being said, Will Smith is an incredible actor, with a recognisable voice, which I think is important for this particular character. I am sure that he will bring the required humour and charisma to the role, and he will certainly pull in an audience.
When discussing Guy Ritchie’s choice of casting for this movie, it is impossible to ignore the racial debate that surrounds the movie’s casting. Now, nobody seems 100% sure where the fake city of Agrabah is actually supposed to be as it holds links to the Middle East, India and even China. Most people seemed to be hoping for actors with Arab descent, with many claiming that Bollywood was not an appropriate place to look. Massoud is of Egyptian descent so appears to be an appropriate choice that fans seem to have accepted. However, the casting of British Indian actress Naomi Scott has caused some controversy, with many saying the role should have gone to a Middle Eastern actress, not an Indian one. It will be interesting to see the response she receives for her performance.
At the end of the day, I am not going to judge the movie until I have seen it. Disney will have their own reasons for choosing the cast that they have, and I have faith that they will pull it off. The people of the internet seem sceptical, and rightly so. With representation becoming more and more talked about and important, it is understandable that people are feeling slightly betrayed by Disney’s choice. It is still early days and it will be a long while before we are able to witness them in action and form our own opinions. I am looking forward to seeing who Disney will cast in the roles of the Sultan, Jafar and Iago, hopefully it won’t be too long until we find out.
Aladdin’s release date is yet to be announced.