Walt Disney Studios' Aladdin star Will Smith performs his version of "Friend Like Me." In the live-action remake of Aladdin, Smith stars as Genie, a character that was originally portrayed by Robin Williams in the 1992 animated film of the same name.
Directed by Guy Ritchie, Aladdin stars Mena Massoud in the title role. In the main cast, Massoud and Smith are joined by Naomi Scott, a British actress who will portray Princess Jasmine in Aladdin. In July 2017, Smith, Massoud, and Scott were initially cast for the live-action remake, this coming after Ritchie was hired as Aladdin’s director in April 2016. Early in his career, the English filmmaker made gritty crime comedies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and has recently made blockbusters like Sherlock Holmes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
On NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Smith performed his rendition of the iconic Aladdin song “Friend Like Me.” The talk show appearance begins with Smith and Fallon discussing the aforementioned Williams' legacy, and how Smith was hesitant about offering his own spin on the Genie role. The Aladdin star then explains how he used The Honey Drippers’ 1973 song “Impeach the President” for a “Friend Like Me” beat, and then begins to rap in character as Genie. Once Fallon realizes what’s transpiring, he giddily claps along while Smith closes out the funky verse. In comparison to Williams’ original version, Smith stays true to the first set of lyrics, albeit with an old school, hip-hop edge. Watch Smith perform “Friend Like Me” below.
Last March, Smith paid tribute to the aforementioned Williams, not long after Disney unveiled the first images of Aladdin's new Genie. On Instagram, Smith acknowledged that he has big shoes to fill, and also expressed thanks to Disney character designer Luigi Lucarelli. Produced for a mere $28 million, Disney’s 1992 Aladdin film made over $504 million at the box office, and later won two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song. Meanwhile, Williams won an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance.
For Smith, Aladdin could be the comeback hit that he’s been waiting for. The Genie role returns the actor to his musical roots, as he was part of the group DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince before starring in the NBC series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. During the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Smith evolved into an A-list blockbuster star, though he's lost box office clout over the past decade. If Smith delivers a natural and lively performance as Genie in Aladdin - just as he did on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon - then audiences will mostly likely respond positively when the film releases later this month.