Disney’s search for a diamond in the rough to play Aladdin hits a snag

Michael Idato
Wanted: one street urchin, with the profile of a prince, and a physique that matches, beneath the dirt and patches, a diamond in the rough.
The role? Prince Ali, fabulous he, Ali Ababwa, someone who can make the crowds in Agrabah genuflect, show some respect, down on one knee.

Easy, right? Apparently not. The US studio Disney has, according to reports, hit a snag in its pursuit of a star for the planned live action version of Aladdin.
Released as an animated feature in 1992 and based on the story Aladdin and the Magic Lamp from One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin is the story of a poor street urchin who finds a magic lamp, releases a genie and is granted three wishes.
According to a report in The Hollywood Reporter, the studio Disney and director Guy Ritchie have been searching for months for the right actor to play Aladdin but have so far come up empty handed.
Among those considered were actors Riz Ahmed (Rogue One, The Night Of) and Dev Patel (Lion, The Newsroom).
The report states the studio is looking for someone of “Middle-Eastern or Indian descent” to play Aladdin and Jasmine (both Ahmed and Patel are British actors – Ahmed’s parents were born in Pakistan while Patel’s parents were born in Kenya and are of Indian descent).
In total more than 2000 actors have now read for Aladdin and Jasmine, the report says.
As a result, filming has been delayed.
A planned start date in July won’t be met, which means production in the film will be pushed in the second half of 2017.
Finding a Jasmine has been slightly easier – The Hollywood Reporter says Naomi Scott (Power Rangers, Terra Nova) and Tara Sutaria (The Suite Life of Karan and Kabir) – are possible contenders, but because of chemistry the two lead roles have to be cast together.
To put some context onto why it’s important to get it right, imagine watching a Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Tom Selleck was playing Indiana Jones?
That very nearly happened, until Harrison Ford was cast in the part; the rest, of course, is cinema history. (And about $US2 billion in box office.)
How about Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in Back To The Future? Stoltz was cast and filmed about half of the movie until he was replaced with Michael J. Fox.
Or David Schwimmer as Agent J in Men In Black? (The role eventually went to Will Smith.) Leonardo DiCaprio as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho? (That went to Christian Bale.) Or even Dougray Scott as Wolverine? (Hugh Jackman eventually got the part.)
So what’s at stake? Money, and lots of it.
Disney dipped its toe in the genre in 2014 with a live action film Maleficent, based on the 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty. It pulled $US758 million at the box office.
Then the studio produced a live action remake of Cinderella in 2015, directed by Kenneth Branagh. It pulled $US534 million at the box office.
It might have seemed like an investment of diminishing returns, were it not for the recent animation-to-live-action adaptation Beauty and the Beast, which cost $US120 million to make but has so far pulled in $US1.26 billion at the box office.
That of course, changed everything.
How much of that pivoted on Emma Watson playing Belle and Dan Stevens the prince-turned-beast who is redeemed by winning her unconditional love is anyone’s guess, but in a town like Hollywood casting has always been the key.
Having tapped a new vein of revenue, Disney has plans for almost a dozen animation-to-live-action remakes, with titles such as The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Mulan on the list.
Using some loose mathematics, we could even build an algorithm that says the live action remakes have about three times the box office potential of their animated forebears.
Beauty and the Beast, for example, pulled $US425 million in animated form and has taken in roughly three times that as a live action feature.
So Aladdin, having pulled around $US504 million the first time around, could be looking at something in the $US1.5 billion range at the live action box office.
Which means there is an even bigger payday on the horizon for Disney, and its name is Frozen.
With the original was worth $US1.3 billion in animated form, could Disney be dreaming of a US$3.6 billion payday?

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