'Aladdin' producer explains why they made changes from the animated movie: 'We didn't think it held up in today's day and age of female empowerment'

DisneyNaomi Scott and Mena Massoud play Jasmine and Aladdin in the live-action remake.

  • INSIDER spoke with live-action “Aladdin” producer, Dan Lin, about bringing the remake to life.
  • Lin says they didn’t want to do a straight remake of the 1992 film.
  • “We didn’t think it held up in today’s day and age of female empowerment,” Lin told INSIDER.
  • After the remake has made more than $US1 billion at theatres worldwide, a sequel is already being discussed. Lin says any sequel will not be a straight remake.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Getting the chance to work on a reimagining of a favourite childhood Disney movie sounds like a dream job. That’s the unique position producer Dan Lin found himself in when he was asked to join the live-action adaptation of “Aladdin.”

A longtime Warner Bros.’ producer, Lin has worked on a lot of movies you know, ranging from the “Sherlock Holmes” films to this fall’s anticipated “It” sequel. If Disney was going to reimagine its 1992 Oscar-winning movie, Lin says the team was adamant on doing more than just a straight remake.

“We felt, for these characters to be believable and resonate in this day and age, you need to make some changes,” Lin told INSIDER.

Ahead of the live-action film’s release on Blu-ray Tuesday, September 10, Lin spoke with INSIDER about why some of the film’s biggest changes were necessary, why Disney’s reimaginings of its classic movies aren’t blatant cash-grabs, whether or not fans can expect a sequel to the billion-dollar movie anytime soon (the outlook is good), and more.

How Lin went from a fan to working on one of his favourite Disney movies of all time

Aladdin Abu Carpet lampDisneyAladdin discovers he still has the lamp after he’s trapped in the Cave of Wonders in the 1992 animated movie.

Kirsten Acuna: Before we start talking about “Aladdin,” I noticed you have produced a lot of Warner Bros.’ films. I know you worked there for a while yourself. How did you get involved with “Aladdin”?

Dan Lin: [Chief creative officer and cochairman of Walt Disney Studios] Alan Horn was my old boss at Warner Bros. and we’ve been looking to work together again. He knew that ‘Aladdin’ was one of my favourites, if not the favourite, Disney animated movies. Between Alan Horn, and I knew some of his top executives, Sean Bailey and Louie Provost. It just seemed like a great fit and an opportunity for me to work on a Disney movie.

Dan lin aladdin world premiere aladdinAlex J. Berliner/ABImages, courtesy of DisneyProducer Dan Lin at the world premiere of ‘Aladdin.’

Acuna: How fun to get to work on one of your favourites. It’s one of my top three Disney movies, too. The live-action film has a lot of changes from the animated version. So I want to talk to you about some of those in broader strokes and then try to look at a few specific changes, if we have time. With something as beloved as “Aladdin,” how was it decided to make some of the changes or additions to the original? I have to imagine the team looked extensively at the original animated tale.

Lin: Yeah, we looked at it really extensively, and as much as you and I loved it growing up as kids, we didn’t think it held up in today’s day and age of female empowerment and even some ethnicity issues.

For us, when you adapt an animated film to live-action, there’s an element of reality that comes into play because these are now flesh-and-blood characters. We felt, for these characters to be believable and resonate in this day and age, you need to make some changes. The biggest one obviously is with Jasmine.

DisneyLin says they wanted Jasmine to be more than a princess who was looking for the right husband.

In the original movie, it felt like she was a Disney princess that was just looking for love. We wanted to have our version of a Disney princess, a modern-day version of it where she is looking to lead. That’s ultimately the character that Naomi [Scott] plays. She’d been kept down by Jafar and his cronies, and ultimately she sees that Agrabah needs to change, to be brought to the modern-day and [she] pushes back and fights back and, ultimately, is a voice for change. That was the biggest change. And then lots of changes rippled from that as well.

How ‘Speechless’ came together from a change to Jasmine’s character

Princess jasmine aladdinDisneyIn the new film, Jasmine wants to lead the people of Agrabah.

Acuna: Since you brought up Jasmine, one of the great additions to the live-action film is her song, “Speechless.” Where did the inspiration for that come from? I don’t think that was ever an idea for the original animated movie, giving Jasmine a song.

Lin: No, it’s a brand new idea. We worked with [composer] Alan Menken from the original movie and then brought in [lyricists] Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. They were in from the very early process, so they saw where the story was evolving and where the script was evolving. The song came out of that. It really came out of character. We basically needed an anthem for Naomi and for Jasmine.


Read more:
How Jasmine’s empowering song ‘Speechless’ came together for the live-action ‘Aladdin’

“Speechless” builds to that climactic moment where she’s pushing back and fighting back and taking the lead. Naturally, it came out of character because we involved our music team very early on in our story process.

The point of remaking Disney’s classics: They’re not just a cash-grab

Acuna: What do you think it is that Disney’s striving to do with these reimaginings of its classics? They’re not straight remakes. You mentioned Jasmine was changed to fit more with the times, give girls more of an empowering figure to look up to. What does Disney want audiences to take away from these remakes?

Lin: Yeah, they’re really empowering filmmakers to bring their own points of view and personality into the movie, which is what I really like about them.

Aladdin guy ritchieWalt Disney StudiosDirector Guy Ritchie with the cast of ‘Aladdin.’

The critics are saying, “Disney’s just a money machine. They’re just remaking these movies.” The truth is they aren’t. It’s very difficult. They’re really empowering filmmakers like Guy Ritchie, like [“Lion King” remake director] Jon Favreau, like [live-action “Mulan” director] Niki Caro.

If you look at each of these movies, whether it’s “Dumbo,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” and then “Mulan” coming out, they’re all very different and they all look very different [from the original]. They all feel very different. Some adhere closer to the original stories. Some, like “Aladdin,” take bigger leaps. The visual styles are all very different. So it’s almost like [the original animated films] are used as books or IP that these filmmakers are allowed to interpret in their own way.

Aladdin jasmine marketplaceWalt Disney StudiosJasmine meets Aladdin earlier in the marketplace in the live-action film.

In many ways, I think it’s really exciting for me, even as a fan, because you already have the classic animated film that you and I love, but then to see the modern-day interpretations of those movies in live-action is really exciting because there’s not a cookie-cutter approach. Every single one is different, which is what I really like about it.

Who these remakes are for and how they contribute to our understanding of the originals

Acuna: I am a little bit nervous when I go in and watch each one of these reimaginings because I grew up with the movies and they’re very dear to me, and I think many people feel that way. I’ve appreciated some of the additions that have been made that expand upon the original stories.


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Going off of that, you now have audiences who range from their 20s and early 30s watching these remakes for the nostalgia factor. Then you have, maybe, their kids or just new children watching these movies for the first time. In some cases, it may even be the first version of these films they see. Is another goal for these remakes to make a new classic for young generations as their “go-to” version of the story or should they be looked at as companion pieces to watch side by side?

Aladdin magic lampDisneyHere’s the same scene of Aladdin getting the magic lamp in both movies. Which one do you think of first?

Lin: It really depends on what age the viewer is. You know, certainly for older folks, like myself, it’s a companion piece, but I know plenty of parents with their kids, it’s their first “Aladdin” as you said. And we’re really proud of that and that when they watch for the first time, this is the first version they see of Jasmine and the first time they see Aladdin.

So it really depends on the person, and where they’re coming from, and what their background is, and some of these kids, again, have not seen the original animated movies. So it’s just a way for us to broaden the audience. But, really, it depends on where you’re coming from – if you’ve seen the original movie or not.

For us, it’s also, “How do you expand the fan base?” We brought in plenty of people who haven’t seen “Aladdin” in … it was a long time ago.

Jasmine aladdin agrabah live action movieWalt Disney StudiosLin acknowledges that the live-action ‘Aladdin’ may be the first version of the film some people are seeing.

Acuna: Do you think that some of these changes from the original movie alter how people feel about the original animated version at all? Or do you think that it adds to their understanding of the story?


Read more:
37 of the biggest differences between the live-action “Aladdin” and the animated movie

Lin: I think it alters how they view it. I mean, we’re really proud that this is the biggest blockbuster movie that has a diverse cast. I hope people will see that you can have a very diverse, inclusive cast and still be wildly commercial. Also, I hope people see that you can take a classic animated story and flesh it out even more and put a little bit more meat on the bones.

The original animated movie was a lot shorter than our movie. We really took a lot more time to get into depth of the characters and understand Genie more, understand Jasmine more, and Aladdin more – and even Jafar, just giving him a little more dimension so you understand who he is and why he does what he does and why he’s not just a pure arch-villain.

Aladdin jafar actorDisneyJafar gets more of a backstory in the new film so he’s more than just ‘a bad guy.’

Sometimes, with the animated movies, you get away with an arch-villain. But with a live-action film, you really need to flesh out the motivation for that character.

Acuna: I love that Jafar was the one who went down into the marketplace and took the lamp from Aladdin this time. I thought that was a nice change-up. In the original, Iago just gets it at a convenient moment. It gave Jafar and Aladdin a way to relate [over being thieves].

Aladdin jafar desert live action aladdinWalt Disney StudiosIn the live-action movie, Jafar doesn’t dress as an old man to trick Aladdin into going to the Cave of Wonders. He shares that the two have a lot in common.

Lin: I love the scene in the desert with the two of them, Jafar and Aladdin, and [Jafar] basically saying, ‘Listen, we’re two sides of the same coin.’ He’s almost like Darth Vader, trying to lure Aladdin to join his side. I think he’s mesmerising in his own way. Ultimately, [Aladdin] chooses to be a street thief, but he just went in the other direction.

For me, it just made it resonate even more. If you make the wrong decisions, you can end up like Jafar.

A potential sequel is in early works

Jafar aladdinDisneyJafar returns in an animated sequel called ‘Return of Jafar.’ We could be seeing more of him, Aladdin, and Jasmine on the big screen.

Acuna: Because this film has made over $US1 billion now, I have to ask: There are two home video sequels to Aladdin, is there a chance that we could see a live-action version of “The Return of Jafar” or “Aladdin and the King of Thieves”? They’re two very underrated Disney sequels.

Lin: I can’t talk too much about the sequel just yet, but know that we are hearing fans’ desire to see another “Aladdin” movie and feel like there’s more stories to tell.

I can tell you that, just like with the first “Aladdin” movie, we’re not going to make a straight remake. We’re looking at what’s the right story to tell.Acuna: Well, there are some things that you left out of the first movie that maybe could be saved for a sequel such as Jafar turning into a giant snake. I don’t know if that was something that was ever discussed to be put in the remake.

Lin: Yeah. I can’t say too much. I want to leave a surprise for what we want to do next.

Acuna: Fair enough. I can appreciate that.

“Aladdin” will be available on digital release on Tuesday, August 27 and Blu-ray on Tuesday, September 10. The Walt Disney Signature Collection edition of the animated “Aladdin” will be available on Blu-ray September 10.

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