Sunday, 16 July 2017

Casting Announced for Disney's Live Action Aladdin at D23

There's always big news out of Disney's D23 Expo and this year certainly didn't disappoint as Disney Studios officially announced the stars of Guy Ritchie's live action Aladdin to a packed Hall D23 at the Anaheim Convention Centre yesterday.

Mena Massoud will be bringing to life my favourite Disney hero in the title role, Naomi Scott will be Princess Jasmine and Will Smith be the Genie.

First impressions?  I've got to say I really happy with this cast.

Full disclosure - it's no secret I've championed Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed and James Monroe Iglehart for these roles.  Heck, I've been shouting it all over Twitter since The Hollywood Reporter's claims that Disney was struggling to find its Aladdin and Jasmine last week.  I stand by that 100%.  I've followed them in these roles for 6 years, from Seattle to Broadway, and they are perfect to me.  I always knew it was a crazy long shot but it was a beautiful dream.  And I'll still continue to champion Jonathan Freeman and Don Darryl Rivera as Jafar and Iago until those castings are revealed.  But just because my dream castings weren't chosen doesn't mean I can't be happy with the people who were cast.

So let's start with Aladdin and Jasmine.  What excites me the most about Mena Massoud being cast as Aladdin is one simple thing - I've never heard of him.  I know that sounds crazy but it really is.  Because this means he's been cast for one simple reason, Disney believe he's the right man for the job.  Heck, they even delayed production trying to find him as filming was originally due to start this month!  The same goes for Naomi Scott.  Outside of this year's Power Rangers movie (which I actually really enjoyed) she's unknown.  Disney have made good on their promise from earlier this year and cast newcomers rather than stars, cast on ability rather than name.

Now, this is a musical just like Beauty and the Beast was, so the first thing I do whenever Disney announce the cast for these live action remakes is search for videos of the new stars singing.  Normally you can at least find something but you try searching for Mena Massoud videos - the first five pages on Google are all just video news/reactions to the Aladdin casting.  I did manage to find his acting demo reel (I'm not the best at judging based on short scenes but I think he shows a good range) but nothing of him singing.  This worried me when Emma Watson was cast in Beauty and the Beast but it doesn't with Mena Massoud.  He wasn't cast for his name, so if he couldn't sing he wouldn't have got the job.  Plus, Naomi Scott can sing!  Like, seriously sing.  Check out her YouTube channel!  There's no way they're casting an Aladdin who can't vocally match with Jasmine.  If she's a strong singer then I'm sure he is to.

So, yeah, I'm really excited by these two and can't wait to see them in costume and hear something of them singing together.

And now the announcement that seems to have split the internet.  After months of rumours it's finally official, Will Smith is the Genie.  And I think he'll be great.

Let's get one thing straight, he's not Robin Williams.  No one is.  No one is ever going to replace or replicate that iconic performance.  But he won't play it like Robin Williams.  When recreating the Genie for Broadway, James Monroe Iglehart was given the freedom to put his own spin on it, bringing the character closer to his original Fats Waller/Cab Calloway inspiration he maintained the spirit of the character Robin created whilst creating something new and uniquely his own that saw him take home a Tony Award for the role.

As long as Will Smith is given this same freedom, to truly make Genie his own whilst honouring the spirit of what Robin created, then I believe he could do something equally special with the role.  The man oozes star power and charisma, for all the movie's flaws he (along with Margot Robbie) pretty much carried Suicide Squad and even succeeded in making Deadshot a more likable character than Superman in the DCEU.  Plus, he can sing.  Genie was always going to be a big name, especially once it was confirmed Disney wanted unknowns for Aladdin and Jasmine.  Will Smith brings that star power to the movie but also has the skills to do a good job with the role as long as he's allowed to make it his own.

Now the waiting begins and it's gonna be a long one.  Disney revealed their production slate through to 2019 yesterday and Aladdin wasn't on it.  That means this movie is likely to be a 2020 release!  Best start saving for 2019's D23 as that's likely where we'll get a first look!

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