Marwan Kenzari is now in talks to play the villainous Jafar in Disney and director Guy Ritchie's upcoming live-action musical movie, Aladdin. While the story of Aladdin originated as one of the many folk tales in the centuries-old story collection One Thousand and One Nights, Ritchie's film is based on the Mouse House's Oscar-winning 1992 animated movie adaptation of the tale. That makes Ritchie's movie one of the many, many live-action retellings of older Disney animated films that are currently in development, along with such projects as Niki Caro's Mulan and Jon Favreau's The Lion King.
Although Disney has yet to set an official theatrical release date for Ritchie's Aladdin, casting on the film is already well underway. The list of official Aladdin cast members so far includes the relative newcomer actor Mena Massoud as the eponymous hero himself, as well as Naomi Scott (Power Rangers) as Princess Jasmine and Will Smith (stepping in for the late Robin Williams) as the A-list voice actor for The Genie.
THR was first to break the news about Kenzari being in talks to play Jafar in Ritchie's live-action rendition of the folk tale. In addition, the outlet reports that Nasim Pedrad has been cast in the role of Mara, an original character for Ritchie's film - one described as the "handmaiden and friend to Jasmine." Given that Pedrad was a longtime recurring player on Saturday Night Live, it comes as less of a surprise that the role of Mara is described as "comical" in nature, by THR.
The casting of a rising star in the form of Kenzari - an actor of Dutch-Tunisian descent who has appeared in such recent Hollywood films as Ben-Hur and The Mummy (and who plays a larger role in this fall's Murder on the Orient Express) - should by and large come as welcome news, especially in the wake of rumors that Ritchie was considering Tom Hardy to play Jafar. Similarly, the addition of a talented comedian in Pedrad, an Iranian actor whose body of work also includes recurring roles on TV shows like New Girl and Scream Queens, further ensures that Disney and Ritchie's live-action Aladdin retelling is not "whitewashing" the original story's characters.
Fan of Disney's beloved 1992 animated Aladdin no doubt still have concerns about other elements of the film - be it how Aladdin's Oscar-winning songs and musical numbers will translate into live-action and/or if British crime-caper specialist Ritchie is a good match for the material, in terms of artistic sensibilities. Ritchie's vision for Aladdin has been described as "highly-energized" by Disney studio heads, so it seems safe to assume that the film will very much feel like Ritchie movies past (see Sherlock Holmes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), in terms of their highly-stylized aesthetic and, possibly, non-linear narrative elements. At the very least, this project appears to be off to a good start, in the casting department.
- Aladdin (2019) release date: May 24, 2019