Aladdin director Guy Ritchie says the Disney live-action reimagining was careful to address concerns over replacing Robin Williams’ beloved blue-skinned Genie.
“The great thing about the role of the Genie is that it’s essentially a hyperbole for who that individual is, for the actor, so it’s a wonderful platform and tapestry for an actor to fill his boots on, and Will Smith is an extrovert and you need an extrovert for Genie,” Ritchie told EW of the Suicide Squad star stepping into the role of the magical wish granter, who is freed from a centuries-long slumber by street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud).
“So once you find a voice, which takes a while — and it’s funny because one of the things that we noticed because we tested things is that the Robin Williams concern was an issue, and that issue was aberrated almost immediately because the commitment of tone that we went with Will — and Will depicted our interpretation of how the Genie should be, and it’s different from Robin’s.”
Williams’ Genie frequently slipped into exaggerated anachronistic impressions — sending up more than a dozen celebrities, including Rodney Dangerfield, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson and Arnold Schwarzenegger — something Smith’s Genie avoids.
“There’s a lot of mimicking that takes place in the original and that’s very successful, but we went on a different path with this one,” Ritchie said.
Disney on Wednesday unleashed the first look at Smith’s human-looking Genie, who sports similar facial hair and ponytail to Williams’ animated and spectral-like figure.
Smith has since confirmed his Genie will be blue and CGI for “most of the movie,” taking on his human-slash-disguise form likely in a sequence mirroring the “Prince Ali” showstopper from the 1992 animated classic.
The new spin on Genie, described as “part Fresh Prince, part Hitch” — two of Smith’s smooth and confident characters — comes as what Smith describes as half homage, half fresh take.
“Whenever you’re doing things that are iconic, it’s always terrifying,” Smith told EW. “The question is always: Where was there meat left on the bone? Robin didn’t leave a lot of meat on the bone with the character.”
Williams “infused the character with a timeless version of himself,” Smith noted, adding he felt sure he could deliver “something that was an homage to Robin Williams but was musically different. Just the flavor of the character would be different enough and unique enough that it would be in a different lane, versus trying to compete.”
Smith’s take is something he believes will “stand out as unique even in the Disney world,” he said. “There hasn’t been a lot of that hip-hop flavor in Disney history.”