In its never-ending quest to recycle great animated films as live action reboots, Disney has finally cast actual, flesh-and-blood actors to play the iconic roles from 1992’s Aladdin. We now know who the three main stars will be (though we’re still waiting on word about Jafar). Mena Massoud will play Aladdin, Naomi Scott will play Jasmine, and Will Smith, of all people, is in line to play the Genie.
So, what do we think? Here are a few reactions and questions that rise to the surface.
Massoud Is A Total Unknown To Global Audience
Mena Massoud has been acting for years and may be better known to certain audiences than others. But on a global scale, he’s essentially a newcomer. His biggest role may have been as Jared Malik on the TV series Open Heart, and fans will get a chance to see him in the upcoming Jack Ryan series as well. That series is being produced by Amazon, so it should have pretty good reach, and depending on Massoud’s role he may become more of a known commodity.
For now, our future Aladdin is essentially a stranger, and that may actually be a very good thing. Typically, a studio will spring for a star actor in order to sell tickets. But if anything can sell tickets all on its own, it ought to be the title Aladdin. Plus, with Will Smith on board as the genie, the project already has at least one A-lister to help get people intrigued.
The Scott Pick Is Uninspired
Naomi Scott may do a very good job as Jasmine. She actually carries at least a slight resemblance to the image of the character, and she’s young enough that we don’t really know what she’s capable of as an actress. So this is not meant as any sort of slight of her abilities or potential.
That said, this appears to be an uninspired and potentially problematic casting decision. Disney is already taking heat for it, largely because of the actress’s heritage. Scott is British and of British/Indian descent (not unlike Dev Patel, actually, and we’ll get to him shortly), and many believe an actress with Arab heritage would have been more appropriate. This is actually a questionable claim, though.
Aladdin takes place in a fictional country, undeniably influenced by ancient Arab culture, but not without some Indian influence as well. The bigger problem here is that Scott ‘s major career got off to a rocky start with Power Rangers. It’s a little hard to take her seriously in that film’s aftermath.
Dev Patel Would Have Been Interesting
If you looked around the internet, you probably noticed Dev Patel was among the popular choices for Aladdin. It would have been somewhat “easy,” and you don’t want the studio to automatically go with the most famous Indian (or Indian-English) actor working. But the truth is that Patel has been proving his acting chops for some time now, and his work tends to come off pretty spectacularly well.
Go back to his explosive debut in Slumdog Millionaire, and the film won the Oscar for Best Picture (not an individual recognition, but still an achievement). Focus on his work in TV, and you get perhaps acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s most underrated effort, The Newsroom.
And just last year, Lion had him in the Oscar talks once more. You wouldn’t’ have known it, really. One site that serves as a prediction market for entertainment industries posted odds heading into the Oscars and almost exclusively mentioned three other films.
La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, and Fences stole the show (not to mention Best Picture winner Moonlight, in the end). But Lion was also nominated, and this time around so was Patel, for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He has become an outstanding actor and would have brought serious star power to the role of Aladdin.
Is Will Smith Doing Motion Capture?
This is a big question we still have, and it doesn’t really require an explanation. Right now we still don’t have concrete evidence of how exactly Will Smith will be playing the Genie.
He could offer a more human take on the character, simply playing himself but with magic abilities. Alternatively, he might just be voice acting for a fully animated character.
Most likely, he’ll be doing motion capture for a half-animated creation. Whatever the case, it’ll be interesting to see how this character plays out. The Genie probably has the potential to make or break the project.
We Need To Know Who Plays Jafar
There’s definitely a fourth “main” character to this story that’s as yet unaccounted for (not to mention a sultan, a parrot, and a monkey that need sorting out). It’s almost surprising the studio would announce three casting decisions without telling us who will play Jafar, and it could be because they’re having trouble coming to a decision.
Early rumors swirled around Tom Hardy, but an immediate whitewashing outrage might have stopped the studio from pursuing the actor, and now it’s anybody’s guess who winds up in the role.
He’s neither of Arab nor Indian descent, but are we crazy for thinking Jason Momoa could offer a really cool take on the character?