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This morning we got the first look at the lead characters of Disney's live-action Aladdin in costume, and people are sort of losing their minds. The majority of the confusion, frustration, and general panic, comes at the revelation that Will Smith, who will be playing the Genie in the upcoming film, looks like, well, he looks like Will Smith. While many fans were clearly expecting something else, there's really nothing wrong with what we've been shown. If you haven't seen it yet, here's the picture that has everybody so upset.
Certainly, Will Smith looks nothing like the big blue ball of magic that was the version of the character voiced by Robin Williams in the animated classic. It seems that most fans were expecting something along those lines for the live-action remake, but it seems clear that's not what we're getting. At least, not entirely.
First and foremost, it should be pointed out that in the EW story that accompanies the picture, it's specifically stated that Smith's "blue floating lamp form isn't quite finished." Which means that what we're getting in these pictures may not be entirely the final version of what the movie will show us. It also says that we will get a more ethereal, and blue version of Genie. It just seems that this version of Genie might take on multiple forms. One of them will be a blue "lamp form" that we know, one of them makes him look more human.
Even if the human form is the one that we get the most of in Aladdin, and it seems likely that's the case, there's really nothing to worry about here. This is, after all, the "live-action" version of the story, and while that doesn't mean the movie isn't going to have its share of CGI, there's no reason that the Genie can't use his magic to make himself look more human.
I can't help but wonder if this means that Genie is going to be a more active participant in this version of the story. In the animated film, Genie mostly sits on the sidelines telling jokes and granting wishes when necessary. If this Genie can look human he can walk alongside Aladdin. He can meet Jafar and Jasmine and interact with them without them necessarily knowing what he really is. It actually opens up the story to go in some new and interesting directions, and while I love the original Aladdin and look forward to seeing some of its best moments in live-action, the idea that I might not know where this story is going is far more exciting.
It's also possible that the Genie actually is human this time around. At the end of the original animated version Jafar gets transformed into a genie and trapped in a lamp, maybe something similar is actually what happened to this character.
We shouldn't be too surprised. Will Smith is Will Smith and the idea that an Aladdin movie would cast one of the biggest movie stars in the world and not show his face is crazy. It also just makes more sense from a practical standpoint. While Disney certainly has no issue using CGI to create major characters for films, it's certainly easier for everybody involved if the movie doesn't have to do that.
As far as the look we see here goes, it's just fine. If anything it's a little uncreative as Will Smith sort of looks like every genie we've ever seen in the movies. He looks like the version found on the Broadway stage. It may be unoriginal, but it's a pretty standard look for the type of character that's being played, so hating it seems a little overzealous.
The other reason that not making Genie a permanently blue ethereal ball of magic is that it does the one thing that the live-action Aladdin needs to do above all others, be something different than the Robin Williams version. With the audience that the original Aladdin has, Genie is probably Williams' single most famous role. His trademark manic comedy infused the role and the entire movie. Nobody can fill those shoes, so the best possible way to handle a remake is to go as far in another direction as possible.
I thought Will Smith was an inspired choice to play Genie for this reason. Will Smith is cool and funny and an incredible personality, but that personality is about as far from Robin Williams as you can get. If Aladdin's success comes down to a comparison between Will Smith and Robin Williams, the remake will suffer. The only way to make it work is to make the two characters so different that an adequate comparison becomes impossible.
If Will Smith spends the entire movie blue, then fans will spend the entire movie thinking about Robin Williams and not Will Smith. If Smith spends the movie looking mostly human then the audience will have less reason to think about the older movie and be more focused on the one they are watching.
In the end, the fact is that it's just too early to know what we're getting with the live-action Aladdin, the first teaser trailer showed us very little. Now that our main characters have been revealed in still images, we can be sure the next trailer will show us a lot more. Once we see Will Smith as Genie in action we'll be in a much better place to judge. The key to all of this won't be the look, it will be the performance.
Of course, that performance will almost certainly receive some backlash of its own. Will Smith playing Genie is going to have a flavor to it that might appeal to a lot of people, but it almost certainly won't appeal to everybody.
I can't say whether Aladdin will be great or whether Will Smith's performance will be great in it, but there's no reason to panic just yet. The movie could still be as great as fans hope it will be. The look of this Genie isn't enough to be worried about.
Aladdin hits theaters in May.