Aladdin (2019): Behind the Music

Updated: Jul 8, 2019

Nothing beats the original. Thats the first thought that occurs to most while thinking of remakes. So, it’s no surprise that audiences had their fair share of scepticism when 2019’s Aladdin was announced. There was a sneak peak of a horrendous blue CGI genie played by Will Smith. The very fact that this kid’s film was being directed by Guy Ritchie, the man behind uber-cool gangster films (with some equally cool uber-cool soundtracks) raised more eyebrows.

Will Smith singing Prince Ali, as the Genie. Image Credits- IGN

The original Aladdin from the 90s had one of the most remarkable Disney soundtracks. Before Toy Story had a chilled-out Randy Newman singing You’ve got a friend in me’ we had an energetic Robin Williams’ genie singing Friend like Me to Aladdin. Then, there was the romantic ballad A Whole New World, which won film awards, but also managed to win a Grammy for Song of the Year. This duet between Aladdin and Princess Jasmine’s character is the only Disney song with this distinction.

While Guy Ritchie shouldered the burden of translating the animated magic to a live action film, the music department had just as much on their plate. So how do you try to recreate a classic album? Well, first you call the creator of that classic album.

Alan Menken, who had written and composed songs for the original film, returned to re-write these classics. While all the songs from Arabian Nights, the intro song, to A Whole New World, were largely the same, there was a new song added with the intention of leaving audiences ‘speechless’.

For this songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, The Greatest Showman), were hired. Apart from the same old reworked songs, Pasek and Paul succeeded in giving Princess Jasmine a new voice. Titled Speechless, it is a solo track for the film’s female lead. The song’s lyrics are closely associated with the transformation of Jasmine.

Naomi Scott recording Speechless, a new song introduced for Princess Jasmine. Image credits- Slash Film

Back in 1992, Jasmine was just another Disney princess. She was a charming young lady who’s brave and bold, but in the end just wants to marry a nice guy and live ‘happily ever after’. But in Ritchie’s Aladdin, Jasmine is bolder. The daughter of a Sultan, she is a good strategist and wishes to succeed her father on the throne. The Sultan doesn’t agree, simply because patriarchy raises its ugly head yet again. Frustrated with the everyday sexism in her Arabian homeland, Jasmine (played by Naomi Scott) breaks into a song proclaiming her independence.

Speechless feels like a welcome change. It has all the signs of being a feminist anthem in the future. The film's executive producer, Marc Platt, called the song "Jasmine’s big breakout song where she decides she is going to stand up for what she believes in".

The solo songs for Aladdin seem more or less the same as the original, but it’s the Genie which is reinvented totally. Whether it be acting, singing, or mimicking other celebrities, the late Robin Williams was perfect as the Genie.

Will Smith, the new genie, knew Robin Williams would be a hard act to follow. This genie had to have a different style. But when it comes to sass, style, or comedic timing, Mr. Smith is no slouch.

Starting out from the TV show Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to rapping in good movies like Men in Black or rapping in bad movies like Wild Wild West, Will Smith has been entertaining with his vocals. Further, Smith’s brand of hip-hop has been catchy, clean and kid-friendly always.

Will Smith (right) with Alan Menken (left), the composer of the old and new Aladdin films. Image Credits- Variety

‘Guy gave me freedom to use my hip hop background and bring a fresh vibe to the songs,’ Will said in a talk show. And if you listen to the updated versions of Friend like Me and Prince Ali, there’s an old school ‘Fresh Prince’ vibe to it.

Maybe, this reinvention is what worked in Aladdin’s favour. The soundtracks of previous Disney remakes (especially the new Beauty and the Beast) are terribly boring and monotonous - seeming like YouTube covers of the classics.

The songs in 2019’s Aladdin give off a modern vibe that kids can listen avidly. With a hip-hop uptake and a feminist anthem being the highlights, Aladdin’s soundtrack is a clear hit.

Ritchie still remains humble with his film’s music. "Essentially the soundtrack’s the same, just somewhat embellished,” .

Shaurya Singh Thapa