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Back when it was announced that Will Smith would play the infamous Genie from the lamp in Guy Ritchie's live-action take on Disney's Aladdin, I expected the Fresh Prince to maybe voice a character who would be created by CGI, or possibly animation. The Genie is such an exaggerated character, the last thing I expected was a live-action, realistic take on the mystical being. And yet, that's exactly what we are going to get, as Disney brought footage from Aladdin to CinemaCon, and we were in the audience.
Guy Ritchie signed on to deliver a live-action Aladdin for Disney in 2019. It will be the second of three live-action takes on an animated classic coming that year, as Tim Burton also has Dumbo arriving in March (we saw footage from that film at CinemaCon, as well, and it looked amazing). The behind-the-scenes footage showed Aladdin's extensive recreation of the town of Agrabah as a physical set. It introduced the leads in Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, playing Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, respectively.
And then there was Will Smith's Genie... and it wasn't quite what I was expecting. At the start of the Aladdin presentation, it was made crystal clear that Smith is not trying to replicate Robin Williams' iconic performance from the animated feature. How could he? And why would he try? But I didn't expect the Genie to just be human Will Smith, albeit with a shaved head and a swirl of long ponytail hair that's in character, but odd. The character was described at the panel as "a little Fresh Prince, a little Hitch, and a whole lot of attitude." At one point, we see Smith in drag, posing with women dressed similarly, and he cracks how it's hard to tell which one isn't the woman.
The garb on Will Smith is definitely period appropriate -- vests and scarves and billowy Genie pants. But again, my expectations were set on something else, so it took a moment to process that for the live-action Aladdin, Will Smith was going to be... live. I know, it sounds funny to say it that way. But when he stood near Mena Massoud in scenes, I found it off-putting because Genie always towered over Aladdin in the animated feature:
Still, this movie is not that. From the footage that we saw, Guy Ritchie is bringing a bit of Bollywood to Disney's classic musical, with bright and colorful dance sequences that include numerous dancers breaking out into song. The action seemed purposefully exaggerated, with Aladdin bouncing off of awnings around town as he avoided capture. The camera seemed to use the Guy Ritchie signature POV shots, and it all had a lot of energy.
And Will Smith's Genie looked like Will Smith. Odd.