Genie's Design & Will Smith's Acting Are Weird
It makes sense why Disney would want such a huge star in the role of the Genie. When Robin Williams was cast for the original film, he had agreed to take SAG scale for his salary – a low amount, certainly far lower than what he could have commanded in the early 1990s – in exchange for the film downplaying his involvement. instead, Disney put Williams’s name front and center and made it the definable part of the movie. Williams may not have been thrilled with that but it was almost unavoidable for the film: Williams as the Genie is a tour de force that the entire story bends over backwards to accommodate a stand-up performance by one of the industry’s most recognizable figures.
For the live-action remake, it was a far smarter move for Disney to not try and replicate Williams’s oft-imitated style and let the role be a platform for another star with a familiar and easy to recognize image. Where Williams was all about the frantic energy and spontaneity, Will Smith is more concerned with sheer charisma and swagger.
Smith doesn’t have the range Williams possessed, but when used correctly in the right role, there are few actors working today with the same level of pure charm. He’s the consummate leading man in many ways. Compared to his big-screen dominance in the 1990s, these days, he hasn’t been headlining a whole lot of box office hits, but he typically remains the best part of even bad movies through sheer force of being Will Smith. So, it’s strange that his performance in the Aladdin trailer feels so off. It’s a big performance, very in vein with the cartoonish nature of the original story, but it clashes awkwardly with the style of live-action, as discussed above.
Smith's Genie in Aladdin seems to be a bizarre combination of smooth-skinned macho muscle bro and whooping caricature, with Smith mugging for the cheap seats. For someone who is usually so effortlessly charming, Smith seems to be exhausting himself working overtime to make this performance work. It may have made more sense if the Genie design itself wasn't so off. Together, it's a melting pot of questionable ideas.
How Disney Can Fix Will Smith's Genie
There are still three months to go before Aladdin arrives in theaters. It may be a tad too late to make drastic changes like making Genie's blue form an entirely CGI creation voiced by Smith (and given how much of the film is being sold on his star power and image, probably for the best in terms of financial investment). Doing so would probably require the film to be delayed by many months and Disney won’t want to give up that Memorial Day weekend slot on the calendar, especially since 2019 will be an especially busy year for them, thanks to three live-action remakes, Avengers: Endgame, and a new Star Wars film. Still, as with many movies on this sort of scale and budget, the effects teams have time and will be spending the next few months adding necessary polish.
The problem with recommending ways to fix this problem is that we don’t know how deep the issue goes. A trailer can hint at some strange creative decisions but we can’t know the full extent until audiences see the final product. It may very well be that Smith’s Genie looks good in the context of the film and that the seeming clash of styles and tones works as a full cinematic experience.
However, the job of a trailer is nevertheless to entice audiences, and Aladdin's offerings so far seem to have done the opposite of that in large part because the central selling point of Will Smith as the Genie has felt so off. Indeed, this problem may expose a central flaw in Disney’s entire live-action remake strategy: when the work itself is so deliberately unreal, trying to make it real cannot help but fall flat. Perhaps some things, like the Genie, are just not meant to be live-action.
- Aladdin (2019) release date: May 24, 2019