Guy Ritchie‘s filmography is splattered with heavy amounts of witty dialogue and gritty action sequences. While it may not necessarily lend itself well to a Disney family-friendly film, his filmmaking style works in Aladdin. Based on the 1992 animated film of the same name, the upcoming live-action version is part of a successful trend that has Disney going through their vault to see which one of the animated classics they could reimagine into a live-action film next.
There’s action, suspense, and a bit of romance. But there is also humor, singing, and dancing. All of these are key aspects the animated original had. So to say that director Ritchie and the cast had a huge responsibility to do the film justice would be a vast understatement. And yet, they pulled it off.
Geeks Of Doom attended the Aladdin global press conference with their fellow journalists to talk to Ritchie about the production, how he stayed true to the spirit of the animated original, his style of filmmaking, the positive vibes that helped set up the camaraderie and set the tone, and more. Check out what he had to say here below.
Ritchie talked about the camaraderie on set that was established by Will Smith, who plays the charismatic Genie. The director says that the actor’s “incredibly positive spirit” had an impact on the set that started from him and flowed all the way down.
“What became fun is everyone kept his spirit in those small ways because when Will [Smith] came, he was number one on the call sheet, his positivity sort of flowed all the way down. It started from the top and went right down. And then everyone had this incredibly positive spirit throughout the whole process. My job was really to encourage them to be more of themselves. So everyone had a degree of improvisation.
This even reached some of the behind the scenes creators like set designer Gemma Jackson and composer Alan Menken.
“But people like Gemma Jackson and Alan Menken, what was conspicuous to me, it’s really that they are still like children in the best possible sense in the fact that they are still incredibly excited about their jobs. So working with them is a tremendous pleasure for me it’s like your own kids. So from Will’s point of view and the actor’s point of view, they all are having a tremendous amount of fun, but from Alan’s point of view and from Gemma’s point of view, everyone is like kids. No one is cynical in that sense, and I give most credit to you Will. Will is not cynical. By the time you have been doing what we’ve been doing for 30 years, it’s very easy to become jaded and cynical, and actually, no one, on the set, was cynical. It was the most fun creative process I have ever been through.”
This also extended to Jamal Sims, the film’s dance choreographer.
“Every time you would see him, he would be so excited about what he was about to do. He just remained so positive throughout the project. Whenever someone asks what my favorite scene is, I do say that my memory is that of a goldfish, so I always say the last scene because it’s the last thing I could remember. And Jamal came up with this dance sequence at the end, and I snickered.”
To which, Massoud and Scott also expressed their gratitude towards Sims’ assistant choreographer Nikki Sims and the rest of the dance crew.
Smith says “choreography was the vortex of everything,” including “wardrobe and set design.” He added:
“All of the actors decided how our performance was and things our characters would and wouldn’t do. They didn’t have to get worked into the dancing of it. Everything sort of fell on Jamal to make it all come together in a dance sequence, and he really just captured all of that stuff, even the things like in the big sequence where I switch into the woman and I go behind and timing those things out. I wish he was here. He really captured the center of all those things and turned into something that looks hot.”
These positive vibes would reverberate throughout the production. So much so, the entire film itself was a joyous experience. Although the director could not surmise how a person should feel after the live-action adaptation into one word, he wanted them to leave with a certain kind of sensation:
“It’s hard to be specific about what you are supposed to derive from it other than the sensation that can really be encapsulated by a positive version of being uncynical. We want people to leave with a sense of positivity and a hope of freshness.”
That may be a step away from the Guy Ritchie films we are accustomed to seeing. But just because it’s a Disney film, doesn’t mean the director had to sacrifice any of his filmmaking style. In fact, the original animated film is already gritty and full of colorful characters who can hold witty banter. Additionally, Aladdin was the perfect fit for the director as it ticks off a lot of boxes.
“You will be surprised by how familiar I am in this territory considering that I got five kids, and the oldest one is 18, which means I have been up to my eyeballs in Disney production for 19 years. And I suppose by family demand, it was about time I make a movie that we could all watch together.
So Aladdin ticked the box in the sense that he is a street hustler, and I was familiar with that territory. My wife is a big Disneyphile, and anything to do with Disney princesses is high on her list. So it was really the question of demand by the family. Frankly, I was ready to do something in this world. And, of course, it is very hard to be objective about your own work, but what inevitably happens is that you leave an imprint on it. Some director once said the lion’s share of directing is casting and I think that’s true. I think once we got our team together, then we are all on the same frequency and it didn’t take us long to dial into that same frequency. And then it all sort of worked from there.”
And Massoud credits the director for creating that kind of atmosphere on set.
“I think the beautiful thing that guy does on set is he creates a sense of family and community. Everybody feels free to create and bring their take on it, then he kind of molds it from there. But he allows us to play, and I think that is something that no one else could have done as well as Guy.”
Smith echoed those sentiments, saying that “it was a really beautiful approach,” and compared it to some of the ideas in “The Alchemist” where the shepherd leads from behind.
“It’s like the first five or six takes, he doesn’t say anything, because I think he just watches. He just lets you do it and you do it and he sees what everybody’s choices are naturally, and everybody gets excited and we’re playing and we feel like we are making it and then he comes in to gently start to guide back towards what he wants. He’s wildly collaborative and open. It is a rare combination to be that open and that definitive at the same time. It’s a very difficult thing to do and he has mastered that really well.”
Ritchie joked that he wasn’t sure if he was actually doing that and that they were doing everything for him.
Menken then shared how collaborative Ritchie was with the song “One Jump Ahead.”
“One Jump Ahead is one of those songs in the animated movie which is almost choreographed. It’s very sweet, very clever, and very stagey. I know Guy wanted to get to the truth underneath it to go ‘who is Aladdin in this? He is more than his guy performing Jazz Hands.’ So we tore that song apart. We tried it this way and we tried it that way to get a swagger into it. He challenged me and the whole music team to go to a different place. We went to some pretty extreme places and then when we came back to it, it still feels like ‘One Jump Ahead’ to me but it feels very real. So whatever happened in that process worked.”
Nasim Pedrad, who plays Dalia, one of Jasmine’s handmaidens, said that all of that had to do with the fact that Ritchie is one of the least rigid filmmakers in the industry.
“When I watched the film, so much of the joy that is there came from his spontaneity and his comfort in finding something on the day, which I would imagine is a challenge for a movie on this scale. I mean, you look around you’re like, ‘The money is being spent.’ There are so many pieces in place it is so easy just to be locked into an idea that you have of something. But he was so open to finding new things on the day. It made it just so fun for us.”
One of the touchstones the live-action film follows up on, even enhances to a certain degree, is the idea of female empowerment. In the animated original, she says that she “is not a prize to be won.” Scott’s take on the character dials that up to show that not only is she not a prize to be won, but she is also a natural born leader. Scott then added,
“I think it’s a wonderful thing when you have a vision for a character and you think ‘I’d love to see Disney do this with this character and it aligns with the people involved like Guy [Ritchie] and the producers. For me, I really think it was a natural progression. I mean, Guy [Ritchie] said something that I thought was really great. He was talking about equality of challenge, the idea that Jasmine needed to be more of a challenge in this movie. It’s a natural progression. The fact that she wants to become the leader, I kind of want people to walk out and go, ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense. She should be the leader.’ As opposed to this thing that has been shoehorned in, it just makes sense.
She’s a human. For me, as an actor, my main thing is, ‘okay, how do I humanize her? How Do I give her depth?’ So those things just came naturally.”
“What was conspicuous, if there was anything that looked like there should be some evolution in this narrative, it was there needed to be a voice given to Jasmine. We know Aladdin has been given enough challenges to dig up, The Genie had his hands full, and the most conspicuous character there afterward was Princess Jasmine, who was arguably a tad bit passive in the original. It just felt like there was an obvious space there that we could work on. It was really, to me, it was about the quality of challenge.”
The director then pointed out a moment during the production where he was so caught up in Scott’s performance that he got the reputation for being called “Cry Ritchie.”
“Naomi [Scott], who is a tremendous pleasure to work with, as a performer, she is very light of spirit, but when it comes to committing to a performance, she is profound. She can immediately switch into that moment. Which is the best of everything because you could talk to a human being before they perform and as they perform they deliver 100%. So she was wonderful doing that, so was actually everyone else, but in that particular part of the scene, I am very proud of, as we all should be, because we all worked on this together. But she earns her right there.”
To me, it’s not really about gender as much as it is about an individual standing up for themselves at a pertinent time and then they can illustrate that point, and they can articulate that point, and they have the breath and personality to do that. I think it really works because it is backed up. So that just felt like it was the most obvious place that this narrative could evolve, was to give Princess Jasmine a voice and that she could back that voice up.”
Aladdin opens in theaters on May 24, 2019.