Walt Disney Studios has seen success in recent years with live-action adaptations of their animated classics. Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella stayed true to the story of the 1950 animated feature, and earned a sizable box office haul with a $543 million worldwide gross. Last year’s The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau, helped Disney break box office records in 2016 with its worldwide total of $966 million. Plus, both Cinderella and The Jungle Book earned positive reviews from critics and casual moviegoers alike as well. The successes of these films help to justify the number of live-action adaptations Disney currently has in development based on their library of animated classics.
Up next is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which opens in theaters next month, but the Mouse House has live-action versions of Mulan, The Lion King, and Aladdin in the works as well. Mulan made headlines last year when a leaked early version of script inserted a white male protagonist in a story that typically focused on the titular Chinese female hero, drawing criticisms for whitewashing – though a source later confirmed Disney had plans to include an all-Chinese main cast. Still, given the discussion surrounding Hollywood whitewashing has been especially pervasive in recent years, many have wondered how Disney plans to adapt Aladdin to live-action.
Collider recently had a chance to interview Aladdin producer Dan Lin ahead of the release of The LEGO Batman Movie, on which he is a producer as well. When asked about whether he, Aladdin director Guy Ritchie (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) and Disney have plans for a diverse cast, Lin said:
Look at me. (Laughs) I mean I’m not a typical guy. Listen I’m very fortunate working in Hollywood; I am diverse. So when I came in to make the movie, I wanted to make a diverse version of the movie. Luckily for me Guy Ritchie has the same vision and Disney has the same vision, so we’re not here to make Prince of Persia. We want to make a movie that’s authentic to that world.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of worst cases of whitewashing in recent Hollywood memory since Jake Gyllenhaal was cast as the titular Persian prince in Disney’s adaptation of the Ubisoft game franchise. But, given the tale of Aladdin originated in the Middle East and Disney’s animated version starred characters of Middle Eastern descent, it should give fans hope that Ritchie, Lin, and the studio are aiming to cast diverse leads. Lin goes on to admit that casting the roles will prove difficult since actors will not only need to act, but sing as well since Aladdin will be a musical adaptation, following in the footsteps of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast:
We’re gonna be discovering new people because it’s a real challenge, because not only does an actor have to act, but they really have to have singing chops. Disney’s done an amazing job from Cinderella to now Beauty and the Beast. … So they’ve really raised the bar for these musicals and these animation-to-live-action adaptations, that we have to then raise the bar on Aladdin. … Disney’s done such a good job between Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and then Aladdin will hopefully be the next one up.
Of course, considering the topic of whitewashing has been discussed at length recently in response to casting decisions made for Doctor Strange, Marvel’s Iron Fist, Paramount’s Ghost in the Shell, and Legendary’s The Great Wall, it’s likely many will pay close attention to Disney’s Aladdin. Certainly, the studio, Ritchie, and Lin have the chance to produce a diverse live-action adaptation of a beloved animated classic, and considering they all seem to be on board with the idea, there’s a good chance Aladdin will be just that. We’ve got our own ideas of who could star in Disney’s live-action Aladdin, but it remains to be seen who the studio will go with. Since the film has no release date just yet, it’s unclear when casting will start, but hopefully Lin’s comments indicate Disney will get rolling on Aladdin soon enough.
We’ll bring you more information on Aladdin as it becomes available.