After months of speculating how much of Guy Ritchie’s live-action Aladdin remake would resemble Disney’s 1992 animated classic, fans can finally get answers as the new film hits theaters this weekend.
With rising stars Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, the biggest spotlight in Ritchie’s remake is the multi-hyphenate box office powerhouse Will Smith, who steps into the big, blue role of Genie.
Below, we examine the biggest additions and deviations that the live-action Aladdin makes from the animated version. Needless to say, we’re getting into heavy spoiler territory, so if you haven’t seen Aladdin and don’t want plot elements to be spoiled, look away now!.
The Handmaiden Dalia
One of the most notable new additions in the live-action Aladdin is a new character named Dalia (Nasim Pedrad, left), handmaiden to Scott’s Jasmine. “Aside from her pet tiger Rajah, it made sense that Jasmine would have a human girlfriend to confide in,” Pedrad told EW. “I thought there was a real opportunity there to show this very loving relationship between these two women.”
And Pedrad was able to draw on her Saturday Night Live comedic talents to bring fun, scene-stealing lines for Dalia.
Her gems include: “Yes he’s a little dim but you’re just getting married, you don’t have to talk to him,” she tells Jasmine about the dumb but pretty Prince Anders of Skanland (Billy Magnussen), who comes to woo the princess.
“I have to go clean my cat,” she cracks when pretending to be Princess Jasmine after Aladdin sneaks into the palace to return Jasmine’s bracelet, still believing that the beautiful woman he met in the market is the princess’ handmaiden and not the princess herself.
“Do you like sheep’s cheese?” she asks the Genie after she accepts his offer to go on a nighttime stroll so that Aladdin as Prince Ali can sneak over to Jasmine and take her on that magic carpet ride.
From Agrabah’s Princess to Agrabah’s Sultan
Jasmine has always been one of Disney’s rebel princesses, yearning for a world bigger than her gilded palace cage and not wanting to be a commodity whose sole purpose is to marry a suitable prince – after all, how many little girls were left fired up when Princess Jasmine tells the Sultan, Jafar and Prince Ali (Aladdin in disguise), “How dare you, all of you, standing around deciding my future? I am not a prize to be won!”
In the live-action film, Scott’s Jasmine is breaking the rules right from the start as she tells her handmaiden Dalia that she wants to lead her people. When the attractive but goofy Prince Anders of Skanland comes to Agrabah for Jasmine’s hand, she enters poised in full regal attire and dismisses him quite eloquently with her pointed words. In the animated film, Jasmine’s arc is tied to her wanting to find the right man to marry and not just someone for the sake of a political alliance. When Aladdin finally vanquishes Jafar and frees the Genie, the Sultan changes the rules of the kingdom to allow Jasmine to marry whom she chooses.
In the new film, after Jafar is trapped and banished by Aladdin with help from Jasmine, there is a touchingly poignant moment when the Sultan recognizes his daughter’s true potential. He names her the new Sultan of Agrabah, freeing her from the traditional confines that she was born into as a female. By doing so, Jasmine is no longer required to marry and has the freedom to choose whether she does take a husband or not. It’s a powerfully modern moment in an age-old fairytale as rarely does the princess get to become the leader of her people, and especially one passed onto her willingly by her father. And luckily for Aladdin, she does decide to wed the endearing street rat.
The Cultural Melting Pot of Agrabah
It’s never been entirely clear exactly where the fictional Agrabah might have been set in the 1992 animated movie, but it was clear that the characters and the cultural influences drew from the Middle East and South Asia. In Ritchie’s Aladdin, Agrabah’s geography is a little better defined in order to reflect its cast.
On one side, Agrabah sits next to a large body of water that connects it to other lands (such as the Scandanavian-inspired Skanland), while on another side, there are miles of arid desert dunes. As a port city on the Silk Road and on the crossroads of the Eastern and Western worlds, Agrabah becomes a trading hub and a melting pot of cultures. Jasmine’s late mother is said to be from a neighboring nation called Shehrabad, which Jafar is intent on invading as he believes they are no longer allies.
Production designer Gemma Jackson said that she pulled inspiration and designs from a variety of Middle Eastern, South Asian and East Asian cultures. Agrabah’s makeup also helps to reflect the diverse cast of actors, such as the Egyptian-Canadian Massoud (Aladdin), British star Scott, who is of part Indian ethnicity, and Dutch actor Kenzari (Jafar), whose parents are Tunisian.
Jasmine’s Solo Song
In the animated film, Jasmine never got to have her own solo “I-want” song, so Disney drafted La La Land composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul to conjure a new track just for her. To do so, Pasek and Paul went back to the animated film, where they found inspiration in Jafar telling Jasmine, “You’re speechless, I see. A fine quality in a wife.”
“Speechless” is the new song that Jasmine sings in response to Jafar reminding her of her place as a woman, telling her that life would be better for her when she accepts the traditions and realizes that it is “better to be seen and not heard.” She walks away, and once in her room, she goes to the balcony that overlooks the city and the oceans that she can’t reach, and sings, “I won’t be silenced / You can’t keep me quiet / Won’t tremble and you try it / All I know is I won’t go speechless.”
Later, she belts out the number when Jafar has returned with the lamp and steals the Sultan’s title for himself, forcing Jasmine to agree to marry him in order to spare her father and Dalia from harm. Watch Scott sing the song here.
A Younger, Hotter Jafar
With his heavily arched eyebrows, razor sharp cheekbones, and meticulously groomed goatee, Jafar was the caricatured menacing villain in the animated film. For the live-action version, Ritchie went for a younger Jafar with a far less menacing face (played by the handsome Marwan Kenzari) and far more backstory to his ambition, thus making Jafar quite an attractive villain.
Through snippets, it is revealed that Jafar also grew up in poverty – “You see, I was once like you, a common thief. Only I thought bigger,” Jafar tells Aladdin. As Vizier, Jafar is intent on invading Shehrabad and attempts to convince the Sultan by hypnotizing him. Jafar’s military ambitions to conquer new lands is something he touches on when he leads Aladdin to the Cave of Wonders, saying, “Steal an apple, you’re a thief. Steal a kingdom, you’re a statesman.”
The Vizier’s sore point is being told he’ll always be second to the Sultan because he can’t escape the fact that he was not born into royalty. That “blind ambition,” as Kenzari describes, is what leads Jafar in his dogged pursuit for the magic lamp, in order to finally be the most powerful being in the land.
The Jam Plan
With Aladdin disguised as Prince Ali Ababwa, his entrance into Agrabah plays out much like the animated film as Smith puts his showman skills to full use as the Genie, singing “Prince Ali” while accompanied by dozens of dancers. But when Genie and Prince Ali enter the palace to meet the Sultan and Jasmine, the scene feels straight out of Smith’s 2005 rom-com Hitch as Aladdin manages to fumble his own introduction to the Sultan and Jasmine, much to the despair of Genie. (EW posits Aladdin might actually just be Ritchie’s remake of Hitch…)
Upon awkwardly announcing they have gifts for the Sultan, Prince Ali presents spices, golden camels, tiny spoons (“how did they make them so tiny?” he exclaims), and jams. After listing a slew of jams (“Yam jams, fig jams, date jams”), Genie has to tell Aladdin to “move away from the jams.” When Jasmine asks Prince Ali what he hopes to buy with the gifts, he excitedly answers “You!” When she replies calmly, “Are you suggesting I’m for sale?,” he responds with a bright “Of course!… not.”
“It is cold and dark in the lamp … but I’d rather be back there,” Genie tells Prince Ali after Jasmine curtly leaves, saying she needs to get bread (for the jams?). “In 10,000 years, I have never been that embarrassed.”
The Genie Gets A Happily Ever After With Dalia …
The live-action Aladdin begins with a rugged, Cast Away-esque Will Smith on a boat with a woman and two children. “I think it’s time I told you the story of Aladdin, the princess and the lamp,” Smith says, before belting into a new, extended version of “Arabian Nights” that introduces a whole new Agrabah.
Little do fans know that the beginning of the film actually reveals the Genie’s happy ending. If you remember the animated film, the Genie’s main wish was to be free so that he could travel the world. Smith’s Genie has the same desire, but he goes one step further – he wants to be human. When Genie transforms Aladdin into Prince Ali so that he can properly woo Princess Jasmine, the magical being doesn’t let Aladdin have all the fun for himself. Indeed, Genie finds himself quite taken by Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia, and as Aladdin clumsily fumbles his way to winning Jasmine’s heart, Genie also finds himself fumbling over his attempts to win over Dalia (again, much like Hitch).
When Aladdin tricks Jafar and traps the villainous Vizier into his own magic lamp, he uses his third and final wish to do as he promised: set Genie free. As a human, the first thing Genie does is propose that Dalia join him in his quest to travel the world. Dalia agrees and tells him she wants children.
And so, after thousands of years being trapped in a lamp, we finally see the Genie free, happy, and with his own little world right there on his boat as the beautiful family sails towards the horizon.