The story of the diamond in the rough is back, with some of the rough spots worked out.
Disney’s live-action version of “Aladdin” debuts Friday, 27 years after its animated original. Writer-director Guy Ritchie gives the story some necessary updates, like having Jasmine (Naomi Scott) aspire for more than choosing the right husband.
“We love the original movie, but when you watch it now, there are some things that are dated,” said producer Dan Lin on the purple carpet of Tuesday’s world premiere at Hollywood’s El Capitan Theatre. “Some of the political issues and the way they treat women just needed to be updated for today.”
The Times spoke with Scott, Mena Massoud (Aladdin), and other cast and crew members about the many modifications made to the 1992 classic.
1. The costumes are more conservative
Sorry, Mena Massoud stans, Aladdin is not shirtless in the new film. Those midriff tops worn by Jasmine and other women of Agrabah did not make it past costume designer Michael Wilkinson, either.
“I think my wife told me, ‘If you put Jasmine in a midriff, I’m divorcing you,’” said producer Jonathan Eirich.
2. The original ‘Arabian Nights’ lyrics that sparked controversy have been nixed
The verse that was slammed as racist was, “Oh, I come from a land / From a faraway place / Where the caravan camels roam / Where they cut off your ear / If they don’t like your face / It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”
Those lyrics were changed in 1993, a year after the theatrical release, once the studio obtained approval from the estate of late lyricist Howard Ashman and his collaborator Alan Menken.
The song was updated again for the live-action movie. It doubles in length, with new lyrics that make the description of the Arabian city more positive.
“As soon as you read them, you just know it’s a new time. It’s a different time,” said music producer Matthew Rush Sullivan of hearing the 1992 song. “There was an automatic rewrite.”
3. That cringe-worthy moment when Jasmine becomes a sexual slave was cut
Thankfully, we don’t have to watch Scott reduce herself to this original Disney scene. In the 1992 film, Jafar takes Jasmine against her will, as he attempts to forcibly make her his wife.
She appears to give in, using powers of seduction to distract Jafar — and even kisses him — to help Aladdin sneak into the room and set her free.
In Guy Ritchie’s film, Jasmine makes more choices for herself, but it still takes a man to save her.
Naomi Scott describes the plot changes as “a natural progression” from a script written 27 years ago.
“I love what Disney is doing with their Disney heroines and I had no worries with Jasmine that they were going to do the same thing,” she said in front of the El Capitan marquee.
“She was outspoken, [but we’re] pushing those themes, making her even more ambitious.”
4. Nor are there any dancing ladies in bikini tops in any of Genie’s imaginations
Massoud’s Aladdin admires only one woman.
5. In fact, Genie becomes more family-oriented, and his story line bookends the film
It was important for the producers to continue the Middle Eastern tradition of having a story within a story. But instead of a shopkeeper narrating Aladdin’s journey, a human version of Will Smith’s Genie introduces viewers to Agrabah’s infamous “street rat.”
6. After stealing, Aladdin is never sentenced to be beheaded
Jafar is still a threat, but the biggest challenge for Massoud’s Aladdin is arguably his flirt game. Luckily for him, Genie steps in to coach.
“It’s like ‘The Hitch’ element,” said producer Dan Lin, referring to Smith’s 2005 flick with Kevin James.
Working with the Genie actor was “a dream come true” for Massoud, he shared at the premiere, as Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and son Jaden navigated the crowd behind him.
Ad-libbing with Smith came naturally to Massoud.
“I was like that in high school, man. I didn’t even get to the flirting part, I was so shy. So, I just pulled from some of that,” he said with a laugh.
7. There’s less shapeshifting, but you can probably blame that on the live-action
While Robin Williams’ Genie transformed into countless creatures and even impersonated Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jack Nicholson in the 1992 film, we see fewer variations with Smith’s take.
But both movies show Genie in drag. Pay close attention during the “Prince Ali” parade.
8. Jasmine gets a new friend
“Saturday Night Live” meets Disney with the addition of former cast member Nasim Pedrad, who portrays Jasmine’s best friend and confidante.
9. There’s a surprising new love story
Smith’s Genie practices what he preaches and impresses his crush.
“When you have Will Smith in a movie, you want to feature him as much as possible and give as much as you can for his character to go through,” producer Lin explained. “And to honor what Robin did in the past, but bring something new to it — to the performance and the character itself.”
10. While Jasmine has always been defiant, she breaks gender norms this time
Jasmine’s trajectory shifts from resisting a forceful marriage to wanting to become sultan. The producers discussed the change with Scott early on.
“Quite honestly, she wouldn’t have done the role if it weren’t for that,” said producer Eirich. “A lot of that character came out of conversations with her, and who she wanted to embody for a new generation of women.”
Scott added, “I kind of want people to come out of the cinema and go, ‘Oh, it makes sense that she leads. It’s not just something she wanted.’
“She does showcase the skills necessary to lead and she cares about her people,” she added, “so for me that’s what I want little girls to take away from it — the idea that you can lead, and you can have love. You can have both.”
Moments later, Scott knelt on the carpet to give two aspiring princesses some advice.
11. There’s hip-hop
Letting Smith add some of his flair to “Friend Like Me” was a “no-brainer,” said music producer Sullivan.
“The way Robin Williams attacked the song is all Robin. So when you hire Will Smith, you want to show his strengths and abilities,” Sullivan said.
12. And DJ Khaled is on board, too
“[Zayn] looks like Aladdin and he just exudes it. We just knew right away we wanted to work with him,” Sullivan said.