Aladdin's producer was surprised by the backlash surrounding Will Smith's Genie. As the most recent entry in Disney’s ongoing quest to adapt their animated classics into live-action films, Aladdin was a sensitive subject for many fans of the original 1992 film.
While resistance to reboots and remakes is really not all that of an uncommon concept among diehard fans, objections over the recent Aladdin adaptation had more to do with the role of the film’s Genie. When Aladdin first hit theatres back in 1992, it was Robin Williams’ portrayal of the wise-cracking and loveable Genie character that truly blew audiences away and helped make the film a massive hit. Unfortunately, Williams tragically passed away in 2014 and when Disney announced in 2016 that they would be adapting Aladdin as a live-action film, the idea of seeing anyone but Williams portray the Genie was tantamount to sacrilege for some. Things only worsened for Disney when early images of Will Smith as the Genie showcased what appeared to be poor quality CG, while Smith himself was not the traditional blue.
As it turned out, Smith’s Genie was blue in the film and the new adaptation of Aladdin went on to become a massive hit for Disney and Smith, who scored the highest-grossing hit of his career with the film. However, despite the big box office numbers and decent reviews, the film’s producers were taken off guard by the strong aversion by some to Smith as the Genie. During Screen Rant’s recent exclusive interview with Aladdin producer Dan Lin for the film’s home video release, Lin said that although backlash was expected, they were surprised by the degree received:
Yeah, we expected some backlash. I'll be honest, we did not expect the amount of backlash that we actually got. I feel like it really became part of the popular culture, when we're on the news with people talking about how the Genie looked. We never expected that kind of reaction. But, certainly, we expected some kind of backlash. Given that he’s an iconic character; Robin Williams created a character that everyone loved in their childhood. Naturally when you take that character and turn it into a real-life live action character, it's going to bump some people. But we did not expect the reaction we got.
Fortunately for Disney, the negative reactions to Smith didn’t get to the level that other films have experienced as the result of decisions to change up a popular formula. Perhaps the biggest example of this was 2016’s Ghostbusters, when the decision to make it a female-led reboot kicked off a veritable tantrum from trolls and diehard fans alike. But when asked if the backlash against Smith’s Genie impacted the film to any significant degree, Lin explained that the character tested well with early screenings and that the Aladdin team felt that the early negative feedback would subside once the film was released.
Lin also stated that he and the rest of the creative team behind the film made the adaptation that they wanted to make and that Smith was also happy with his work. In the end, the film’s gargantuan box office gross tells Disney everything they need to know about the success of the film. While naysayers might still dislike the idea of Smith as the Genie, the fact of the matter is that Aladdin has gone down as a success story and that in itself has paved the way for more entries into what is sure to be a successful live-action franchise.
Disney's Aladdin (live-action) and Aladdin Signature Collection on Digital 8/27 and Blu-ray 9/10