Guy Ritchie On Embracing, And Disrupting, Your ‘Aladdin’ Nostalgia

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When you think of Guy Ritchie – the director who brought us Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – it’s pretty weird to also think of him as “the director of the live-action Aladdin.” (The Aladdin poster, not surprisingly, does not say, “From the Director of Snatch.”) But, also, Ritchie knows people are skeptical, fueled by the day people got their first look at Will Smith’s blue Genie – and, yes, Ritchie saw the reaction on social media and, in retrospect, wishes they had handled that just a little differently. (Notably, the fact that Smith’s Genie isn’t blue the whole time. For a good portion of the film, the Genie just looks like Will Smith.)

But Ritchie is in a phase of his career where, as he puts it, he’s trying to get out of his comfort zone. (Also, his kids love the original animated Aladdin.) And his last three films, all based on previously established properties – The Man from U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur, and now Aladdin – do reflect that. To the point where he’s done enough movies out of his comfort zone, it’s a little tougher to even define a “Guy Ritchie Movie” these days. (Though, having seen early footage at CinemaCon of his next film, The Gentleman, that very much looks like an old school, totally in his comfort zone Guy Ritchie movie.)

And there’s also the question of the long-gestating Sherlock Holmes 3, which has been scheduled for 2021, but doesn’t have a director attached. According to Ritchie, we know as much about that as he does.

When you were first attached you mentioned you’d be taking a non-linear approach to Aladdin. That didn’t happen. What changed?

Actually, it’s funny you should mention that. I hadn’t thought about that until you just mentioned it. Yeah, we did. I have a sequence at the beginning that involved a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. It wasn’t that linear. In the end, we weren’t sure whether that was just asking too much of an audience and it was too much departure from the nostalgia of the first one. It was a juggling act that needs to take place to make sure that you don’t drift too far away from the nostalgia of the first one. You don’t want to be too clever there.

Mentioning the nostalgia for the first movie, how can you use that to your benefit with it also not being a detriment? I feel like it’s a very tricky thing.

It is, you’re right. Quite a lot of the people that have come in and said, “I’m skeptical“ at first. Funny that I wasn’t. I was quite confident that we could deliver something that people would like and felt that it was reverent of the original, but it did feel like the original was ripe for some embellishment and additions. For example, the equality of challenge that Jasmine needed. She got slightly passive in the first one and it felt like there was room there for some expansion. There were various characters within the movie that felt that they could be encouraged to develop in some way.

You mentioned people saying they were skeptical. How do you get people past that skepticism?

Yeah, I don’t know the answer to that. I hope through curiosity as much as anything else. I hope the movie speaks for itself, in that sense.

What was your relationship with the animated film? I saw it in theaters and liked it quite a bit, but haven’t thought much about it over the years. But there are people who very much love that movie.

Probably somewhere in the middle. One of the principal factors for me was that my kids were amazed by the animated film. Once I mentioned I was entertaining this idea, then the kids … there was no backing out of that one. The kids got very excited by the whole premise, which then got me mutually as excited.

Last time I spoke to you, something you said stood out because you were talking about how before The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and King Arthur, “I was in danger of becoming comfortable in a genre.” Is that a big reason why you wanted to do Aladdin?

Yes. There were a few reasons. It was very much something new, but it was also quite practical because I’ve got five kids and a wife who’s a Disneyphile. The kids all wanted me to do something that the family could see. I fancied the challenge. I felt familiar enough with it because I started my career in music videos. I also had Aladdin as a street hustler. I’m up to my eyeballs in other Disney productions, just simply by being the patriarch in a family of five kids and a Disneyphile for a wife. It just felt like the stars were aligning and it would make sense for a myriad of reasons, not least was to entertain my family.


What was your reaction to everyone else’s reaction when they first saw the blue Will Smith? I remember the internet went nuts that day because people had not seen that yet.

Yeah. It’s funny. Clearly, with hindsight, there needed to be a greater illustration on that day of what the Genie was going to look like because it just wasn’t enough. It was just enough to seem to get people’s tongues wagging, but not enough to stop them from wagging. I mean, it was in danger of turning into something more formidable, but we seem to have transcended that on the next trailer.

Right, because he’s not blue the whole time.

Anyway, it seems to have lessened that particular shadow.

I enjoyed Will Smith in this movie. Obviously, Robin Williams had his own extremely popular version…

Yeah, I mean, we just had to make sure that Will wasn’t caught up in the shadow of Robin Williams. So, he’s got enough caliber. My job was really just to encourage more Will. We were careful not to get caught in the same strain as Robin. It needed to be of equal breadth and depth was my feeling with that performance.

It’s really fun watching Will Smith have a good time. We haven’t always seen that lately. Does that make sense?

It does make sense. Yes. There’s a natural fit here, isn’t there? He’s just spectacular to watch in this incarnation.

You have The Gentleman next. The early footage looked great.

I don’t think I’ve even seen that trailer. I’m pleased to hear that. Thanks for telling me that.

The whole time I was like, “Wait, is that Hugh Grant?” It’s not a Hugh Grant we see very often.

That is not a Hugh Grant we’ve seen very often, no. Anyway, I’m glad. I had a lot of fun with that.

So Sherlock Holmes 3 was announced but there’s not a director attached.

You probably know as much as me. I have no idea what’s going on there.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.