“Disney magic is real,” Will Smith declared over the weekend at the press conference for “Aladdin,” Disney’s latest live-action adaptation.
Eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken kicked off the event with a medley of several of his Oscar-winning tunes, from “Part of Your World” to “Speechless,” a new song he co-wrote with Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
Following the rousing and emotional serenade, director Guy Ritchie and Will Smith made their way to the stage, along with several of the cast and crew. The conference was a celebration of the magic, the music, and the blending of cultures that is “Aladdin.”
The first question to Ritchie asked what he was most excited for audiences to experience.
It’s hard to be specific about exactly what it is that you’re supposed to derive from it, other than sensation which can only really be encapsulated by a really positive version of being uncynical. We want people to leave with a sense of positivity and hopefully a sense of freshness.
Mena Massoud steps into the iconic title role and took a moment to celebrate the significance of the film in terms of representation.
I’m especially proud of the representation and the ethnically diverse casting that was put together for this. It’s not often you can go to a movie theater and see all people of color represented like this. It’s certainly something that I was missing in my childhood. So I’m proud of the cast and the casting that Guy and Disney put together. I’m excited for little boys and girls to go see people that look like them onscreen, man, that’s what I’m proud of.
As Princess Jasmine, Naomi Scott gets the opportunity to sing her brand new song, “Speechless.” She talked about why the song resonates.
When I heard it, just the words and the lyrics and how timely it was, you know, the message behind the song and the idea of not going speechless. Everyone has a voice. It doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter what you look like, doesn’t matter what your gender, your voice matters and speaking out against injustice matters. Not just standing by, being a spectator.
Navid Negahban is the Sultan and Jasmine’s father. He couldn’t wait to jump in and discuss the father/daughter relationship he shared briefly with Scott. “I think every father, no matter what, they see a princess in their little girl,” he said. “I have to say something about Naomi. There’s a princess inside her.”
He went on to share an anecdote from the set.
I’ll never forget we were on the set and we were working. Some of the ADs were stressed and yelling at background actors, and this girl took the mic and went over on the balcony and said, “We can be nicer to each other, can’t we?”
Negahban continued to discuss why “Aladdin” matters.
Finding your inner magic, believing in yourself, who you are, what you are is special. There’s nobody else like you and I think the film represents that. Mena discovered Aladdin inside him and it was beautiful to behold.
Nasim Pedrad had the opportunity to bring an entirely new character to the story as Dalia, Jasmine’s handmaiden. She talked about why playing Dalia was such a treat.
It was so fun because it was I think all the joy of creating something from scratch, but then watching that intersect with this story we all know and love, which I had so much respect for coming into it… I’m so proud to be part of the most diversely cast Disney movie of all time, I think. That film resonated with me as a child because it was the first time I saw a Middle Eastern protagonist in a major motion picture. So to get to be a part of that, and play a little fun role in being Jasmine’s friend and handmaiden, especially under the guidance of Guy, who’s so collaborative and fun… It was just such a blast.
Production Designer Gemma Jackson was excited to talk about creating the port city of Agribah, a place that blends many cultures and histories.
The most fun part was just throwing everything up in the air and letting it settle and thinking about the parts of the world that we wanted to explore for our kingdom and our land. And letting it all kind of gradually come together. As the different demands of the film grew, then different parts of that set grew and created a world for this fantastic bunch of people. I love my job!
Ritchie jumped in to brag about Jackson and Menken and the joy of working with them.
People like Gemma and Alan, what was conspicuous to me is really that they act like children in the best possible sense. In the fact that they are still incredibly excited about their jobs. So Gemma gets very excited. Working with them is tremendous for me because it’s like you’re all kids still. So from Will’s point of view and from the actors’ point of view, they were all having a tremendous amount of fun, but from Alan’s point of view and Gemma’s point of view, everyone was like kids. No one’s cynical in that sense. And I give the most credit to you, Alan. By the time you’ve 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. Will said it, but for me, it’s the most fun creative process I’ve been through.
Smith expanded on the idea of Disney’s magic.
This is my first Disney movie and there’s something that Walt Disney did in the design of these stories that at the core… is something that shocks the inner child within you and forces it to come alive and smile and appreciate the moment.
He continued, speaking about how he came to find the Genie for himself.
Coming into this… it definitely started with fear. What Robin Williams did with this character was, he just didn’t leave a lot of room to add to the Genie. So I started off fearful, but then when I got with the music it just started waking up that fun, childlike, silly part of me and… This was the most joyful experience of my career.
Check out the video below for a special look at Jasmine’s new song, “Speechless.”