Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott seem to think so. Returning to Jordan where the live-action remake was filmed in the desert of Wadi Rum and Wadi Disi, the 27-year-old Egyptian-Canadian actor who plays the title role tells Grazia, “The biggest difference is that whenever you’re humanising characters you delve a little deeper into the connection and the relationships between the characters. We’ve really worked on empowering Jasmine in this film, and that in turn affects Aladdin and his journey.” Mena observes, “He focuses on encouraging her and there’s a great parallel between them. They go on this amazing journey together, which is what was missing from the original a little bit.”
Naomi Scott, 26, who plays Princess Jasmine, agrees. And, in fact, it was Disney’s commitment to making her role a strong female lead – who, according to the production notes, “longs to experience life beyond the palace walls and use her title to better serve the people of Agrabah” – that made her even more determined to land the part. “I knew how I wanted to play Jasmine and I think you have a peace when that happens because you know how you want to do it. Then it’s just whether that’s right for them, and if it’s not right, then it’s not meant to be, and that’s the viewpoint I went in with. I love what Disney is doing with its heroines and how it’s adapting them and giving them more of a narrative, which is really important,” she points out. Naomi, who is of British and Indian descent, continues, “They really wanted to make Jasmine more well-rounded and ambitious. I was so excited, and there was nothing better than to have the opportunity to humanise a character that I loved so much growing up.”
Naomi remembers, “My two favourite Disney characters were Princess Jasmine and Mulan. I felt empowered watching Princess Jasmine because she was outspoken, [and] she wore cool harem pants, which I loved, as I was a tomboy and I saw myself in her. I could relate to her culturally, [and] how she looked, and I thought I could play her, which was very powerful. Mulan is incredibly strong, she’s a warrior, she sacrifices so much for her family and she was also born to lead, and I love that now Jasmine is [too].”
Mena, meanwhile, cites his co-star Will Smith, who plays Genie, as somewhat of a role model. “It’s amazing. Since I was young, I would get together with the boys and we would watch Bad Boys, Independence Day, and Men in Black, so to be able to get to work with him now is a dream come true.” We’re hopeful that the pair will now give Gen-Z fresh inspo to look up to.
According to Mena, the action-adventure movie is also an important step forward in diversity and representation. “I’ve been watching this film since I was a little boy, I grew up with it, and when I saw the audition notice, I was very excited as I knew this was one of the only characters that was written for someone that looked like me when I was younger,” he admits. “And a few months later we started auditions and call-backs and thankfully, now I’m here.”
Mena’s message to Grazia readers? “Follow your dreams, don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do, be strong and work hard and God’s grace will hopefully shine upon you. If you work hard and you put it out into the universe, the universe listens.” Pass us the magic lamp just in case, though, yeah?
• Aladdin is released on 22 May in Egypt and 23 May in the GCC
Photos: Courtesy of Disney