Disney has been busy making live-action versions of beloved animated classics, and perhaps none has been as closely watched — and criticized — as “Aladdin.”
The latest blowback started after the Hollywood Reporter reported Tuesday that Billy Magnussen is joining the cast to play a new character that wasn’t in the 1992 animated version.
Much of the scrutiny over how Disney would handle remaking “Aladdin” has centered around casting choices, fueled by increased attention on whitewashing in Hollywood and the representation of racial minorities and women on screen. First came reports that director Guy Ritchie was hoping to snag Tom Hardy to play Jafar. Stories emerged that Ritchie and the studio were having trouble finding leads of Middle Eastern or Indian descent during a worldwide casting search — sparking skepticism among fans and critics who took such claims as preemptive excuse-making for casting white actors.
Disney avoided the likely firestorm when it cast Mena Massoud for the title role. The Egyptian-born Canadian actor, a relative newcomer, is joined by Marwan Kenzari as Jafar and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine. The biggest star, Will Smith, will play Genie.
Meet the cast of #Aladdin: Will Smith (Genie), @MenaMassoud(Aladdin), @NaomiScott (Jasmine), and Marwan Kenzari (Jafar)! : @realguyritchie pic.twitter.com/1Sktyu5Sle
— Disney (@Disney) September 6, 2017
Filmmakers previously added another new character to their live-action remake — Mara, a handmaiden and friend to Jasmine — but that didn’t draw much negative attention, probably because the original “Aladdin” only had one notable female character, so adding another would help lessen that disparity. Plus, Mara is played by “Saturday Night Live” alum Nasim Pedrad, an Iranian-American actress.
But the news of Magnussen’s addition was met by critics on social media and some sites, who viewed the move as Disney going out of its way to find a way to add a white actor to the cast.
Working the internet like it was something Uncle Walt had sketched out at his trademark drawing table, Disney Studios unveiled its big live-action Aladdin casting announcement at the company’s biennial D23 Expo this weekend.
Canadian actor Mena Massoud, who has a few TV credits, will play the title character, Disney said July 15 in Anaheim, California. As had been rumored, the more widely known English actress Naomi Scott will portray his love Princess Jasmine. It was already pretty much out that American action star Will Smith will be the Genie, a role voiced brilliantly by the late Robin Williams in the 1992 animated blockbuster.
Disney’s #Aladdin remake will star @MenaMassoud and @NaomiScott as Aladdin and Jasmine https://t.co/5EtctYaWP8#D23Expo pic.twitter.com/Xtu55JsN7t
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) July 15, 2017
Still, nothing is simple when it comes to Aladdin. The casting of Scott especially made some fans upset on the racial and ethnic grounds that have featured within a long-simmering debate. A magic lantern to wish away all the resultant noise might come in handy for the studio—if Disney really minded it at all.
Marwan Kenzari is in negotiations to play Jafar in Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” reboot from director Guy Ritchie, sources confirmed to Variety.
He joins Naomi Scott, who will play Jasmine, Mena Massoud, who will portray the title character, and Will Smith, who will voice Genie (a role made famous by Robin Williams in the animated classic). Nasim Pedrad has also joined the cast as a handmaid and friend to Jasmine.
John August, whose credits include “Big Fish,” wrote the new “Aladdin” script. Dan Lin, who produced Ritchie’s two “Sherlock Holmes” movies for Warner Bros., is also producing “Aladdin” through his Lin Pictures company. Jonathan Eirich is exec producing.
The original animated movie was a comic take on the Arabic folk tale about a young man granted three wishes by a genie trapped in a lamp.
“Aladdin” was the highest-grossing film of the year in 1992, and won Oscars for best score and best song for “A Whole New World.”
Kenzari can be seen next in Fox’s “Murder on the Orient Express” where he plays the conductor. He also recently appeared in “The Mummy” opposite Tom Cruise, “Ben-Hur,” and “The Promise.”
He is repped by ICM Partners and Janey van Ierland at Nummer19 Films in Holland.