The sneak peek at Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin reveals a distinct lack of blue in the new design for the Genie, but that’s no surprise - nor is it a bad thing. As The Walt Disney Company continue their recent and highly profitable trend of live-action remakes of their animated classics, it seemed inevitable that 1992’s Aladdin would receive the same treatment. The film, directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, was a key part of the Disney Renaissance of the ‘90s and was the highest-grossing film of its year. Its soundtrack won Grammys and Oscars, the film's more joke-driven comedic approach, as defined by star Robin Williams, sent Disney in a new creative direction, and the property has found new life in the passing decades through straight-to-video sequels and a Tony Award-winning Broadway adaptation. Given the mighty success of 2017's remake of Beauty and the Beast and the inevitable juggernaut that will be The Lion King, Aladdin was always going to join the live-action remake ranks.
Entertainment Weekly’s first look at Aladdin, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Will Smith as the Genie, reveals some key changes to the highly distinctive style of the animated film. Chiefly, the Genie is no longer blue. Given how these Disney remakes tend to be slavishly devoted to recreating every minute detail of the original animated films, this feels like an interesting deviation from the material. Aside from a lavish costume – blue, of course – and new hair and beard, the Genie is still distinctly Will Smith. And that may be the point.
Stylistically, the look of the Genie in these images, and indeed the costuming in general, seems to have more in common with the Broadway show than the film. There, the lack of blue makes sense from a practicality stand-point in terms of stage work; even Disney doesn’t have the budgets of provisions to mount eight shows a week with a high-tech version of the Genie. Of course, on film, one would think they’d be keener to lean into the technological aspect for a live-action remake. Part of the appeal of these films is supposed to be translating what could previously only be done in animation to live-action glory, after all. However, that's not what Will Smith's Genie is about, at least not yet.
So, yes, Will Smith will be blue at some point in the film. The actor took to Instagram to reaffirm that he is “gonna be BLUE” in the film, with EW suggesting the effects were simply not done. Neither elaborated further on whether he would be blue throughout or just in certain scenes. It could be that Ritchie and Disney haven’t nailed down the post-production CGI yet for the character and are still working on it or they may be saving it for a big reveal (perhaps when Jafar gains control of the Genie, he turns blue under his evil command).
What that means is that this is more about getting Smith's face out there than it is showcasing the full extent of Aladdin's Genie character, which has obvious advantages. Will Smith has had a bumpy few years with some notable flops to his name but he’s still one of the biggest stars on the planet. He’s a bona fide A-Lister whose international clout has not diminished all that much in the interim decades he’s been a Hollywood star. And he's just what Aladdin needs.
So far, this is a film Disney may have trouble selling even to nostalgic masses: the inclusion of white actor Billie Magnussen in a key role as well as the choice to hire a non-Middle Eastern Anglo Indian actress, Naomi Scott, to play Princess Jasmine, have caused much controversy, as has the decision to hire white extras and apply brown make-up to them, something Disney tried to explain by claiming it only happened "in a handful of instances." More fundamentally, the choice of Guy Ritchie for the film’s director proved puzzling to many. Out of all the Disney live-action remakes on their roster, Aladdin feels like the least secure bet. Because of that, Disney will want to do what they can to ensure its success, and having one of the biggest celebrities on the planet, one who is universally adored and has a history of making big bucks at the box office, is its own form of insurance. Getting him out in just a basic costume can be enough.
Will Smith is at his best when he is allowed to be effervescent in his charisma. His most beloved performances are from films where he’s been given free rein to crack one-liners and dominate the screen with his goofy action man physicality. In that sense, he feels like a natural fit for the Genie, a part that was such an open stage for its original star, Robin Williams, to be himself. So much of Aladdin as a whole rests on the Genie, so Smith will have his work cut out. The lack of blue could be the least of his worries.
- Aladdin (2019) release date: May 24, 2019