Love them or loathe them, Disney’s live-action remakes of their animated classics are going to keep coming. Following the successes of Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, Maleficent and Cinderella, the studio knows the live-action formula works. So now, it’s time for the House of Mouse to re-imagine some more gems in their back-catalogue – including the beloved diamond in the rough, Aladdin. A favourite, particularly with ‘90s kids, Aladdin seems a perfect choice for a live-action adaptation, having already been performed on stage (be it in panto or on Broadway) and featuring nearly all human characters. But if we’re honest, there’s one aspect of this remake we’re nervous about – Disney getting Genie right.
It won’t be the same without Robin Williams 😔 I’ll still watch it though. Aladdin was my favorite as a kid ! #90schild
— Fixthe Fernback (@cactiandoctopi) October 12, 2018
When the first teaser trailer for the live-action Aladdin dropped in October, Genie was nowhere to be seen. Yet, that didn’t stop fans from all asking the same question: how can anyone live up to the late Robin Williams’ legendary, scene-stealing performance? The first-look photos from Entertainment Weekly didn’t do much to quell the intrigue. With Will Smith stepping up to the lamp, here are our three wishes for a Genie worth setting free.
We Wish for the Fresh Prince Charm
A huge part of the Genie’s magnetic presence in Aladdin is his larger-than life physicality – and that magical musicality. In ‘90s staple comedy The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith has both of these qualities in SPADES. Imagine a Fresh Prince-esque Genie emerging from the lamp, bowling across the Cave of Wonders with that signature head roll and just serving up that signature Smith sass.
No matter how you look at it, taking notes from the Fresh Prince makes total sense here. Firstly, he’s the ultimate ‘90s throwback. While kids will probably enjoy this remake, the key demographic for this movie will be 20-somethings who loved Aladdin the first time around, and these are the very same people who came home from school every day to catch up on Will and the Banks kids whilst snacking on Cheetos and slurping down Capri Suns. OK, Will Smith’s not Robin Williams but deep down ’90s babies know that this is one nostalgic concoction that’s too alluring to resist.
— Fandom (@getFANDOM) October 11, 2018
Secondly, the Fresh Prince knows what it’s like to be a street rat. The dynamic between wrong-side-of-the-tracks Will and his privileged and downright spoilt cousins, especially Hilary and Carlton, was a huge source of Fresh Prince’s comedy. For everything they taught him about Beverly Hills life, he remained loyal to his roots and didn’t let the rich life go to his head. Which is essentially the message Genie is always trying to tell Aladdin – you can be a prince in character without needing all the bells and whistles.
It also goes without saying that he’s a song and dance man. Like most of Disney’s classics, Aladdin relies on show-stopping musical numbers, not least from the Genie. From his hip-hop career as Fresh Prince, we know that Will Smith can deliver a zany musical number like no other. Smith himself has now confirmed he’s giving the Genie a ‘hip-hop flavour‘ – so who knows, maybe we’ll get a rapping section in “Never Had a Friend Like Me”?
We Wish He Doesn’t Mimic Robin Williams
Let’s be honest – Robin Williams’ Genie absolutely steals the show in Disney’s 1992 animation. Yes, “A Whole New World” is lovely and the magic carpet is cute but who can top “Never Had a Friend Like Me”? Known as a prolific character actor, it’s no wonder that Williams delivered a Genie who is at least 20 times bigger and brasher than any other character in the movie, becoming an iconic symbol of Disney’s ‘90s Renaissance. That’s why trying to just mirror Williams’ version of Genie will only set audiences up for disappointment.
One reason for this is that half the power of Robin Williams’ Genie should be credited to the animators. His larger-than-life presence was achieved by the way he spectacularly morphed from one character into another, through his voice, yes, but also through the magic of animation (exemplified with panache when he single-handedly delivers a chorus number with “Prince Ali”). Will Smith’s Genie presumably won’t rely on the same level of animated trickery – we now know that for at least a portion of the upcoming movie, the Genie will be in his human disguise rather than CGI throughout. So immediately Genie has to be reinvented as a somewhat consistent persona rather than a caricature chameleon.
Will Smith could take a cue from the most recent version of Genie on Broadway. Restricted to human form, he doesn’t lose any of Genie’s bravado, but instead embraces the jazziness of Menken’s score by becoming a soulful singing showman, who’s also partial to a bit of karaoke. Surrounded by high kicks, tap dancers and copious amounts of glitter, this Genie is perfect for his medium (and the Tony awards speak for themselves). If Will Smith is able to reinvent the character once again, which he claims he will do, we could be in for a new party in Agrabah.
We Wish He Keeps the Genie’s Heart
For all the pizzazz of Genie, in whichever form we’ve seen him so far, one integral part of his character has inherently stayed intact, and that’s his warm heart. Maybe it’s because he’s lived so long (10,000 years will give you more than just a crick in the neck) and witnessed more than his share of heartbreak over the centuries, but Genie knows a thing or two about love, both good and bad.
In the animated classic, Robin Williams’ Genie is the real heart of the film, guiding Aladdin towards his happily ever after with genuine care. After being cheated into a free wish to help Al escape from the Cave of Wonders, he quickly forgives this misdemeanor and takes on the role of matchmaker between the newly made Prince Ali and Jasmine. It’s clear he forms a real attachment to the young street rat, evident when Genie selflessly saves him from drowning later in the film, even though Aladdin has treated him pretty badly up to this point.
Being constantly reminded that Genie is enslaved to do his master’s bidding gives a tragic context to the character, and makes it all the more emotional when Aladdin finally uses his last wish to set him free at the end of the movie. Overwhelmed with joy, both at his new found freedom and the happy couple, his final embrace with Aladdin is a genuinely moving, potentially tearful moment – and at this point, Aladdin is not the only one who’s fallen in love with Genie’s infectious personality, with Genie’s extrovert bravado falling away to reveal a sensitive and empathetic heart. If Will Smith can find this balance between glittering showmanship and tragic vulnerability in his portrayal of Genie, all our wishes will have come true. We know he’s had it in him since the Fresh Prince days …