With ‘Aladdin,’ Guy Ritchie has directed his first musical and first Disney film
The evolution of Guy Ritchie as a filmmaker includes small art-house darlings, big-budget action-adventures, money-losing flops, and box-office bonanzas. An example of each, in the same order, is “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Swept Away,” and “Sherlock Holmes.” The movies that he’s also written have, for the most part, been edgy, darkly funny, fast-paced, and visually exciting. His heroes have been dashing, his villains have been wicked. The films’ kinetic energy have made them instantly recognizable as a Ritchie film.
With “Aladdin,” the newest in the ongoing line of Disney’s live-action remakes of their own animated feature films (the original Aladdin came out in 1992), Ritchie tackles something very different from what’s been his norm. The story of the young petty thief who falls in love with a princess, and the genie (Will Smith steals the show here) who ends up being used for both good and evil is a family film and a full-blown musical. The 50-year-old Londoner spoke about it earlier this week in Los Angeles, oddly doing the entire interview on his feet, casually pacing around a hotel room.
Q: I’m not a big fan of musicals, but I really enjoyed your movie.
A: I can understand how it wouldn’t necessarily be your natural choice. It’s funny, I watched it for the first time last week at the premiere in London, and when I did, at the end of it, my own cynicism of a film like this wasn’t there. You and I would obviously not be the first in line for something like this. But it’s funny, isn’t it - the charisma of it sort of washes all over you. The movie is uncynical.
Q: The idea of putting the names Ritchie and Disney together on a film probably never would have come to me. How did this happen?
A: I wanted to do something in the world of family entertainment. My kids are mad on the original animated film. They’re now 5, 6, 7, 13, and 19. Particularly the four younger ones are mad on that film. So once I was playing around with working in this world, and then once I mentioned “Aladdin,” there was no coming back from that. The kids all went, “That’s what you’re doing.”
Q: But it’s so different from anything you’d done before.
A: Well, once you’re a family man, pretty much everything you do has to do with family. So, doing something like this is actually much easier for me than, say, making a gangster flick. Because this is the world that I occupy, and these are the movies I end up watching. So, I’m more familiar with it than you might think.
Q: You directed and co-wrote this (with John August). What did you want to do to make sure your film would be different from the 1992 animated one?
A: I wanted to entertain my family, and myself. It was what do my kids want to watch, what does my wife want to watch, and what do I want to watch? So I’ve got quite a large demographic. So there was that. Also, the Disney princess was a character that needed some evolution and development. I enjoyed doing that, and I’m particularly fond of her new song and of her speech (about her dreams). I think she earns her position, she meets her challenge. I wanted an equality of challenge between her and Aladdin. Clearly, Aladdin has enough challenges, and it felt obvious that Princess Jasmine needed to have a challenge that was equivalent to Aladdin’s.
Q: What about you own challenges? This is a really complicated film, between the singing and dancing and wild visual effects and getting strong performances out of everyone. Was this any harder or easier to make than earlier ones?
A: I enjoyed making this more than any other film, and I’ve enjoyed making all my films. But this one is so positive, and you felt that whilst you were making it. Will is such a generous spirit; Disney were incredibly helpful and supportive. You didn’t feel that anyone was ever clipping your wings. You didn’t feel like you were going to be corralled into conforming to a particular dogma. Disney were there to encourage.
Q: One last unrelated question. Many years ago, you promised a sequel to your 2008 gangster film “RocknRolla.” When are we going to see it?
A: I have no idea.
Q: Do you think we will?
A: Yes, I do, actually. I’d love to do it.
“Aladdin” opens on May 24.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.