Genie is ready for a whole new world.
Disney fans just got their first glimpse of Will Smith’s Genie in action! And the response… well, let’s just say social media has been having a field day with this one.
Smith easily has the toughest job of any actor in this live-action remake. He has to find some way to make his own mark on a character who was so completely defined by the voice and personality of the late Robin Williams. If they weren’t already, fans are now questioning whether it’s even possible for another actor to take over the role. We’ll have to see the finished film before we truly know the answer, but for now it’s clear that Smith has his work cut out for him.
The Power of Robin Williams
It’s not a stretch to say that Williams was a huge part of what made 1992’s Aladdin such a smash hit. Disney gave Williams a character practically tailor-made for his brand of comedy — one defined by manic energy, wacky voices, pop culture references, and stream-of-consciousness humor. The result was unlike anything seen in an animated Disney movie before.
Disney quickly learned how crucial Williams was to bringing the character to life when they released the 1994 direct-to-video sequel Aladdin: The Return of Jafar. Due to an ongoing dispute between Williams and Disney, The Simpsons star Dan Castellaneta took over the Genie role instead. Most fans agreed: the result simply wasn’t the same. Castellaneta delivered a solid impersonation of Williams’ Genie, but at the end of the day, it was still an impersonation.
Williams did return for 1996’s Aladdin and the King of Thieves, giving fans a second chance to see him bring this distinctive character to life again.
Charting a New Course
In a perfect world, Disney would simply have cast Williams to reprise the Genie role for this live-action remake. Much like how James Earl Jones is returning to voice Mufasa in the Lion King remake. Some Disney characters are just intrinsically tied to one voice actor. Sadly, Williams’ death in 2014 makes this impossible.
Director Guy Ritchie was faced with a difficult choice: Make a version of Aladdin without the Genie character at all — or find some way to honor a beloved Disney icon with a new actor. We’re still optimistic that casting Will Smith was the lesser of two evils.
How to Redefine the Genie
So how can Guy Ritchie and Will Smith make their Genie stand out from the one fans already know? They can’t make them too similar. Smith’s appearance as a blue, shirtless cartoon character seems to clash with the generally more grounded and realistic look of the remake. Based on what we’ve seen so far, we actually prefer Genie’s human disguise, which we saw on the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
Judging by the new trailer, it does look like Disney is making Smith’s Genie look like the Robin Williams version at least part of the time, so at the very least they should avoid making them act too much alike.
There’s no point in having Smith try to match the hyperactive quality of Williams’ comedy. Smith is a great actor with plenty of charisma. But he’s also a more deliberate performer. He knows how to hold the audience’s attention with a good one-liner and a dash of swagger. So, that’s what we want to see from this new Genie. We don’t want a character who can fire off five different pop culture references in the span of 30 seconds. This Genie needs to be cool and confident, someone who can play off of Aladdin and Jasmine simply by being the coolest and most confident person in any given scene. Think Agent J from Men in Black. Only blue. And magical!
But there is one important lesson Will Smith can take from Robin Williams’ performance… Genie is unique among Disney animated heroes. He’s self-aware. He’s the only one in the original Aladdin who breaks the fourth wall in order to reference modern-day pop culture, and even other Disney characters. Like Robin Williams’ Genie, Will Smith’s Genie should know he’s inside a movie — and act accordingly. Basically, we want to see Smith play a family-friendly version of Deadpool.
Do you have hope that Smith can take over such an iconic Disney role? Let us know what you think in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out our side-by-side comparison of The Lion King: 2019 vs 1994.
Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.