Dis­ney is on to a good thing with its run of live-ac­tion re­makes. Jon Favreau’s The Jun­gle Book and Tim Bur­ton’s Dumbo have both been praised by crit­ics, while Bill Con­don’s Os­car-nom­i­nated Beauty and the Beast was the sec­ond-high­est gross­ing film of 2017.

But Aladdin could be Dis­ney’s most am­bi­tious re­make yet.

Filmed in Jor­dan’s Wadi Rum Desert and Eng­land’s Longcross Stu­dios, the mu­si­cal fan­tasy puts a new spin on the beloved trio of tit­u­lar street urchin Aladdin, his love in­ter­est Princess Jas­mine and his wish-grant­ing men­tor the Ge­nie.

Loosely based on a Mid­dle East­ern folk tale from One Thou­sand and One Ara­bian Nights, the orig­i­nal 1992 an­i­mated film was a box of­fice smash for Dis­ney, gross­ing more than half a bil­lion dol­lars glob­ally and win­ning the Os­cars for best orig­i­nal song and best orig­i­nal score.

“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,” says di­rec­tor Guy Ritchie, best known for his ac­tion-packed adap­ta­tion of Sher­lock Holmes and the gritty Bri­tish crime com­edy Snatch.

“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. I like em­bark­ing on new, cre­ative chal­lenges, and this cer­tainly was


“I was in­ter­ested in do­ing a mu­si­cal. I’ve got five kids, so that does in­flu­ence the de­ci­sions that you make, and my house was all about Dis­ney at the time.”

Ac­tor Will Smith has big shoes to fill as the Ge­nie, fol­low­ing on from the late Robin Williams’ ac­claimed vo­cal per­for­mance in the an­i­mated film. His live-ac­tion in­car­na­tion of the mag­i­cal Ge­nie, who is de­picted as both blue and Smith’s nat­u­ral skin colour in the new film, has re­ceived mixed re­ac­tions from fans and crit­ics.

“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?’,” Smith says.

“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 hon­our Robin, while at the same time giv­ing a new voice to mod­ernise 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. 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.”

Com­poser Alan Menken’s award-win­ning songs have also been given an up­date.

Ara­bian Nights is now a com­plete mu­si­cal num­ber that serves as an in­tro­duc­tion to the story, and the lyrics for Prince Ali, the film’s big­gest song-and-dance pro­duc­tion num­ber, were tai­lored to bet­ter fit Smith’s per­sona.

“Guy re­ally wanted to take chances with the mu­sic but at the same time he was deeply re­spect­ful of the orig­i­nal songs,” says 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.”

Naomi Scott, as Princess Jas­mine, also sings the new song Speech­less, writ­ten by Menken and The Great­est Show­man song­writ­ers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Aladdin opens in cine­mas on Thurs­day.

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