Disney's live-action remake of 'Aladdin' promises to deliver the magic of the original animated film, while keeping it, literally, real

Starring Will Smith, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, the remake of the 1992 classic is set to wow even the most sceptical fans

Veronica Lin |

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'Aladdin' premieres in Hong Kong on Thursday, May 30.

Disney’s Aladdin is a highly-anticipated live-action remake of its 1992 animated classic. From the magic carpet ride to the flamboyant blue Genie, and beloved musical numbers such as A Whole New World, the original animated film has been etched into the collective memory of Disney fans around the world.

Starring Canadian actor Mena Massoud in the title role, British star Naomi Scott as Jasmine, and American rapper-actor Will Smith as the Genie, Aladdin is directed by Guy Ritchie, and features the original scores and new arrangements of songs by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, as well as new music written by Menken and songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, known for their work on The Greatest Showman, and their Oscar-winning song in La La Land.

Based on the Middle Eastern folktale from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, the story follows the street-smart commoner Aladdin as he falls in love with Princess Jasmine of Agrabah, an independent woman who yearns for a life beyond the palace walls. As her father the Sultan (Navid Negahban) tries to find her a suitable husband, Alladin accidentally befriends a genie who lives inside a magical lamp and subsequently grants him three wishes to help him become worthy of Princess Jasmine’s love.

While the tale is obviously fictional, Ritchie’s ultimate goal was to make everything look as realistic and authentic as possible.

“Guy was clear from the outset that the film had to take place in a viably real world that felt tangible and authentic,” says visual effects supervisor Chas Jarrett. “For us this meant that while there’s a strong fantasy element to the story, the world needed to feel grounded with environments and characters that were plausible, so our environments were inspired by real locations and the characters leaned towards naturalism, rather than caricature.”  

The film was shot in studios in Britain, and on location in Jordan. Although Ritchie and Jerret prefer to shoot on location and incorporate the use of natural light as much as possible, England’s unpredictable weather meant filming was a laborious process that included a wide variety of visual effects, such as performance capture, set extensions, digital environments, as well as practical sets on interior stages.

Mena Massoud (left) and Will Smith (right) star as Aladdin and Genie respectively.
Photo: Disney Hong Kong

An example of this is the scene where Aladdin and Princess Jasmine go on a magic carpet ride in A Whole New World.

Don’t let cinematic magic fool you - bringing the iconic scene to life is less romantic than what you’d expect. The magic carpet was built on top of a six-axis hydraulic platform controlled by a hand-operated input device that moved hundreds of metallic pins up and down and from side to side. The rig was placed in front of pre-filmed backgrounds on blue screen with the camera filming from a crane.

British-born Naomi Scott plays Princess Jasmine in the new live-action remake of the film.
Photo: Disney Hong Kong

“Funnily enough, it was pretty uncomfortable,” says Scott. “We were kneeling on this foam mat which had lots of prods in it, and we were surrounded by a blue screen and were basically tied in. There was supposed to be this sense of a gentle, smooth ride, but really it wasn’t. The magic comes with the music when you’re singing it and feeling it … that’s when it all came together.”

But combined with a talented cast, well-loved and brand new songs, and a whole bunch of very clever effects, there’s little doubt the film will be breath-taking

Aladdin is a rare combination of cinematic tools. Very few films have singing, dancing, drama, comedy, action and special effects … all those elements in a single movie, and we have it in a single scene, ” says Smith.


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