Guy Ritchie made a huge splash with 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which put a fresh spin on the cockney gangster genre. Subsequent films enhanced his reputation as a distinctive director of crime thrillers, which he used to branch out into the likes of Sherlock Holmes, The Man from UNCLE, and now Aladdin: the latest in Disney’s line of live-action remakes of their animated classics. He spoke about the project at a recent press day for the film.
Question: This is a resolutely Disney film, and yet I was also struck by how much of a Guy Ritchie movie it was. What kinds of things do you think your auteurial stamp brought to this production, especially considering that you’re mostly known for adult crime pictures?
Guy Ritchie: Aladdin ticked the box in the sense that it was about a street hustler, and I was familiar with that territory. But got five kids, and the oldest one is 18, which pretty much means I’ve been up to my eyeballs in Disney productions for 19 years. My wife is a big Disneyphile, so anything to do with Disney princesses is high on her list. And, by sort of family demand, it was about time I made a movie that we could all watch together.
It’s very hard to be objective about your own work. But inevitably, what happens is that you leave an imprint upon it. Some clever director once said that the lion’s share of directing is casting. And I think that’s true. And I think once we got our little team together and we were all on the same frequency, it just all worked from there. And it all came out very organically actually.
Q: How important was it to have Will Smith in this production?
GR: Besides having the right kind of onscreen persona, Will is exactly the person you want during a big production like this. When Will came, he was number-one on the call sheet. His positivity sort of flowed all the way down, and that led to an incredibly positive spirit throughout the whole process. That includes things like the costume and production design. They were all having a tremendous amount of fun. No one was cynical in that sense. I’ll give most of the credit there to Will. By the time you’ve been doing what we’ve been doing for 30 years, it’s very easy to become jaded and cynical. Will is not cynical.
Q: Princess Jasmine undergoes the biggest changes from the original, in the sense that she’s much more empowered. Talk about how that came about.
GR: If there was anything from the first film that looked like there could be some evolution in this narrative, it was that there needed to be a voice given to Jasmine. Aladdin has been given enough challenges to get on with. Genie had his hands full. And the most conspicuous character thereafter was Jasmine, who was arguably a tad passive in the original. We just felt like there was an obvious space to develop the ideas in a new direction. The most obvious place that this narrative could evolve was to give Princess Jasmine a voice and that she could back that voice up.
Really to me, it was about equality of challenge, because there’s no point banging on about something unless you can back it up. it’s not really about gender as much as it is about an individual standing up for themselves at a pertinent time. And they can illustrate that point. They can articulate that point. And they have the breadth and personality to do that So not only did Alan Menken come up with a new song that I think is the best song in the film, but we had Naomi Scott, who committed to that choice 100% and had the presence to convey it.