On November 25, 1992, Walt Disney Pictures released their animated musical Aladdin, which received critical acclaim and became the highest grossing film of that year. Twenty-seven years later, a new vibrant live-action version of the animated classic, comes to the screen. It stars Will Smith and is directed by Guy Ritchie.
It tells the story of a loveable petty thief, Aladdin (Mena Massoud), who longs for greater things, and Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who longs for freedom outside the palace walls. When she disguises herself as a commoner, Aladdin rescues her in the marketplace, having no idea of her true identity. They are attracted to each other, but Aladdin soon discovers she is a princess. With the help from a genie (Will Smith), that he conjures up from a magic oil lamp, he is transformed into Prince Ali, in the hope of courting Jasmine.
Aladdin’s journey is funny, colorful and exciting, as all the characters strive to find a better life for themselves.
Will Smith and Guy Ritchie participated in the press conference at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, to discuss their updated version of the story. Aladdin opens on May 24th, 2019, for the Memorial Day weekend.
Aladdin - Mena Massoud and Will Smith
Aladdin – Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and the Genie (Will Smith) © 2019 Disney Enterprises

What made you want to do this movie and tackle such an iconic role as the genie?

Will Smith: Disney magic is real. This is my first Disney movie and there’s something Walt Disney did in the design of these stories, that at (their) core is something that shocks the inner child in you and forces it to come alive, smile and appreciate the moment.

What Robin Williams did with this character 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.

You’re not the blue genie throughout the whole movie. Did you do a lot of green screen work for those parts?

Aladdin - Mena Massoud and Will Smith
Aladdin – Aladdin (Mena Massoud) meets the larger-than-life blue Genie (Will Smith) ©2019 Disney Enterprises

Will: A lot of people don’t even recognize this, but the (blue) genie is 100% CGI. People look at it and they think it’s my face blue and it’s my body. There is none of me in the genie. The work was so good that they don’t even get credit for it.

It was great for me. I would just be on set and we’d run the scenes, and I would improv because I knew it wouldn’t necessarily be in the movie. Then (they) would do the first round of the CGI work. Then we could go again, and we could work it. Guy watched the whole movie, and I had another chance to go back and we could play with lines and make adjustments because they were going to create it anyway. So for me, there was tons of improv.

Guy, what are you most excited about for people to see in this film?

Aladdin - Naomi Scott, Mena Massoud and Director Guy Ritchie
Aladdin – Naomi Scott, Mena Massoud and Director Guy Ritchie on the set © 2019 Disney Enterprises

Guy Ritchie: It’s hard to be specific about exactly what it is that you’re supposed to derive from it, other than a sensation which can only really be encapsulated by a very positive version of being un-cynical. We want people to leave with a sense of positivity, and hopefully a sense of freshness.

What was it like working with Guy?

Will: He has a really beautiful approach that he takes. The first five or six takes he doesn’t say anything, he just watches and he lets you do it and he sees what everybody’s choices are naturally. Then he comes and gently starts to guide everybody back to what he wants. He’s wildly collaborative and open and it’s a rare combination to be that open and that definitive at the same time. He has mastered that very well.

Guy: When Will came, who was number one on the Call Sheet, his positivity flowed all the way down. There was an incredibly positive spirit throughout the whole process. My job was to encourage them to be more of themselves. No one was cynical, and I give most of the credit to Will. Will is not cynical and by the time you’ve been doing what Will has been doing for 30 years, it’s very easy to become jaded. For me, it was the most fun, creative process I’ve ever been through.

Aladdin - Naomi Scott and Director Guy Ritchie
Aladdin – Naomi Scott aka Princess Jasmine and Director Guy Ritchie on the set © 2019 Disney Enterprises

Guy, can you talk a little bit about Princess Jasmine and how she has been updated for the 21st Century, particularly when she stands up for herself and sings the song ‘Speechless?’

Guy: It’s not really about gender as much as it is about an individual standing up for themselves at a pertinent time. I think it really works at that part in the film because it is backed up. So that just felt like it was the most obvious place that this narrative could evolve to give Princess Jasmine a voice, and she could back that voice up.

Will, can you talk about what you look for these days with your career?

Aladdin - Will Smith
Aladdin – Will Smith at the press conference in Los Angeles © 2019 Disney Enterprises

Will: I took a couple of years off. I sort of hit a ceiling in my life, I had created the things that I could create in my career. I was getting to the end of my wisdom with leading my family and I got to a point where I had a bit of a collapse of my life and creations. So I took a couple of years off, essentially to study and journey spiritually.

Aladdin was really my first coming back in and seeing if my heart was still in this kind of performing. What I discovered is everything starts with, ‘What am 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.

Aladdin - Mena Massoud and Will Smith
Aladdin – Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and the Genie (Will Smith) © 2019 Disney Enterprises

One of the things that I related to in Genie was he has these spectacular powers but he’s shackled. He is a prisoner of his spiritual fate and that’s sort of how I’ve felt with Will Smith. I was shackled by Will Smith. And in these last couple of years, I’ve started finding my freedom, getting free of Will Smith, and I’m getting more comfortable being me.

So Aladdin was that first step back. I’m going out into the world and I have a big voice and people look and people listen. And I just want to make sure I’m saying things that improve and contribute to people’s lives, growth, joy, and evolution.

Aladdin gets three wishes from the Genie. What would your three wishes be?

Will: I would have one wish and that would be divine understanding. I just turned 50 this year, and that lack of understanding, confusion is the mother of fear and violence. So for me, I would absolutely wish for divine understanding to be shared with all. I think understanding is the seeds of peace.

Aladdin - Mena Massoud, Will Smith and director Guy Richie
Aladdin – Mena Massoud, Will Smith and director Guy Richie at the press conference in Los Angeles © 2019 Disney Enterprises

Aladdin Press Conference Videobytes

Will Smith – What song resonated with you the most

Guy Ritchie – what did you bring to this movie nobody else could

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.