The stars of the new “Aladdin” movie are on the ultimate magic carpet ride.
Like many kids, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott grew up watching and loving Disney’s 1992 animated classic “Aladdin.” But the new live-action adaptation is a whole new world, and the two are center stage, alongside box office titan Will Smith.
Massoud, who plays Aladdin, and Scott, who portrays Princess Jasmine, relished the chance to put modern twists on their beloved characters. For Scott, that meant developing Jasmine beyond the version introduced to viewers nearly three decades ago.
“Most importantly, you’re taking a character that’s from an animation and just humanizing,” Scott said. “We wanted her to be even more ambitious. In the original, she’s fighting for the choice to marry who she wants, which is amazing, but in this movie, she’s not just fighting for her own choice. She’s fighting for the freedom and the choice of her people.”
Massoud, too, faced the tall task of putting his own spin on Aladdin. He stopped watching the original after receiving his first callback during auditions to avoid being too heavily influenced.
The actor worked with director Guy Ritchie and the film’s creative team to tap into Aladdin’s selfless nature and eagerness to support Jasmine.
“He’s on a search for his personal identity, and I think that’s something that everybody goes through,” Massoud said. “I went through it in high school. It’s like, ‘Who am I? Am I good enough? Is my background good enough? I know I’m different, but do I have a voice?’ (Aladdin) literally goes on that journey in the film.”
Many other aspects of the new “Aladdin,” which hits theaters Friday, feel like a trip down memory lane. Songs such as “Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali” and “A Whole New World” are featured, and it still centers on the street-smart Aladdin coming across a magic Genie (Smith) and wishing to become a prince to marry Jasmine, the isolated princess of the fictional city of Agrabah.
Massoud, 27, is of Egyptian heritage, and Scott, 26, has Indian and English roots. Both stars praised the diversity of the new film’s cast and are thrilled by the opportunity to provide representation for audiences who don’t often see themselves on screen in these types of movies.
“That’s, for me, one of the things that I’m most proud of with this film,” Massoud said. “This never happens. To be able to represent Middle Easterns and Indians and Asians, and hopefully that’s a symbol for all the other ethnic groups, for Latinos and everybody else, that you can make a big blockbuster movie like this,” Massoud said. “Hopefully it succeeds and they continue to make them.”
Massoud shares many scenes in the movie with Smith, whose eccentric Genie was voiced by the late Robin Williams in the animated film.
Williams set a high bar with his unforgettable performance, but Massoud and Scott agree that casting Smith was spot on.
“What (Williams) did with the Genie in the original was that he was just himself, essentially,” Massoud said. “He did all the things he was good at. He did all the different voices, and he was just his big personality, and Will’s the same way. He has a big personality, but he does all the things that he’s good at. So he raps in this, essentially. He brings his personality to it.
“When Will walks into a room, everyone is like, ‘Will Smith is here.’ And the Genie has to be like that,” Massoud continued. “When the Genie walks into the room, it’s like, ‘Who is this guy running the show?’”