The first reveal of Will Smith in full blue mode as the Genie in Disney’s live-action Aladdin remake has not gone down well with fans. While The Walt Disney Company’s current strategy of live-action remakes of their animated classics has yielded glorious profits, the end results haven’t been so beloved in more critical terms. So far, the movies have been met with responses ranging from surprisingly good (The Jungle Book) to OK (Cinderella) to highly mediocre (Beauty and the Beast). However, with audience demand so high and the benefits so strong for the company, they’ve been given no reason to slow down with this plan. 2019 alone will see 3 live-action remakes release in theaters: The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau; Dumbo, directed by Tim Burton; and Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin.
Aladdin is the film of this trio that has been on the shakiest ground since its announcement. Eyebrows were raised at every turn, from the unusual choice of director to the casting to the questions over how Disney would handle a story set in the Arab world. The casting of Will Smith as the Genie was divisive but made sense in the grander scheme and offered some real star power to a movie whose ensemble is mostly made up of unknowns. The first reveal of Smith as the (non-blue) Genie proved underwhelming, with many wondering if we would ever see the character as he appears in the animated film. And then we saw blue Will Smith.
The latest Aladdin TV spot prominently features Smith in blue form, and the reactions were, to put it mildly, not great. Indeed, the image of large shirtless Will Smith with blue skin, a pointy black beard and long ponytail atop a bald head has already become Twitter’s favored meme of the week. For fans of the original concerned that Aladdin might not be able to pull off the translation to live-action, the new trailer did not inspire any hope. Smith is not the only problem the new footage features, but it remains the most prominent and the sheer strangeness of it highlights a problem the movie and Disney cannot ignore: The genie looks bad.
- This Page: Why Aladdin's Genie CGI Looks So Bad
- Page 2: Can Aladdin Fix Its Will Smith Blue Genie Problem?
Aladdin's Genie Is Mixing CGI & Live-Action Wrong
Disney has by and large been skillful in their embracing of new cinematic technology over the past several decades. Walt Disney himself firmly believed in using the medium to explore advancements in animation, live-action and other storytelling techniques. Think of how some of the most iconic moments in Disney animations came from savvy use of CGI when it was still in its infancy. That passion has carried over into their live-action remakes, often with staggering results. The effects in The Jungle Book are so detailed and realistic that many people didn’t believe that the only live-action element on-screen was the boy playing Mowgli. The effects in Christopher Robin proved so appealing that the film landed an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects alongside more bombastic titles like Avengers: Infinity War and Ready Player One. This is an area of filmmaking where Disney have the time, the talent, and the money to pull off amazing feats.
Will Smith as the Genie seems to be a case of mixed intentions. While it's currently unknown whether the performance is motion-captured in the way that Dan Stevens was for the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, it seems like a route Disney would want to take. In the trailer, Smith looks overtly smooth in the way that hastily finished CGI often does, but he also looks just a little too human. The Genie in the animated film is clearly otherworldly and while it’s understandable that Disney would be hesitant to directly copy or go cartoonish that for live-action, making him seem like just some guy painted blue falls flat. Are they aiming for realism with the Genie or are they trying to make the live-action element feel like CGI? Their intentions seem confused and it’s evident in the trailer. That’s one reason why the glaring clashes between CGI and live-action in the Aladdin trailer are so tough to ignore.
Aladdin's CGI Is Already Bad
The uncanny valley nature of blue Will Smith is one of many moments in the trailer that feels somehow very cheap and incredibly expensive at the same time. Turning The Jungle Book into live-action wasn’t necessarily straightforward – these things seldom are – but at least that film had a specific visual style it wanted to commit to. They took a cartoon and made it look as much like real life as they could, to the point where even the talking animals proved convincing. Aladdin as an animated film is a very cartoonish story, one that plays around with breaking the fourth wall and deliberately drawing attention to its anachronistic nature. It never aims for realism in a way that, for example, the animated version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame did with its Parisian setting. Agrabah in Aladdin is, for better or worse, a fantasy inspired by 1001 Arabian Nights, so trying to make it look hyper-realistic, as is Guy Ritchie’s trademark style, but keeping a giant blue Will Smith at the center of it is something that not even the best CGI can make feel natural.
Guy Ritchie is not a director known for his subtlety. His best work comes when he gets to play around with the fluidity of action scenes in a highly stylized manner, tied together with lots of sharp editing. His Sherlock Holmes films and remake of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. showcase him in his prime, blending retro with modern and finding the perfect balance for the material. Ritchie can make a great Hollywood movie but not so much with the seemingly set in stone Hollywood style of blockbuster cinema. That’s one of the reasons King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is one of his weaker movies: it’s trying to be both A Guy Ritchie Movie and a superhero-style origin story in the Marvel mold.
Knowing all this makes it all the more curious that Ritchie of all directors would be the choice for a live-action Aladdin. Relevant for Smith is the fact that he’s not necessarily known for being an effects-heavy film-maker. Films like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. use effects for action scenes but the emphasis is on practical stunts and making sure whatever is used only highlights the stylized approach without overwhelming it. Aladdin, as with most of the Disney live-action remakes, cannot exist in the form the studio wants it to without massive amounts of CGI, and Ritchie may not be the most equipped director to handle that. This can be seen in many of the other cheap-looking shots in both trailers.
By the time Jon Favreau did The Jungle Book, he'd already directed Zathura, two Iron Man movies, and Cowboys & Aliens. Ritchie is evidently talented but sometimes even the greatest director is just not a good fit for the material.
Page 2 of 2: Can Aladdin Fix Its Will Smith Blue Genie Problem?
- Aladdin (2019) release date: May 24, 2019