Disney's next live-action remake is Aladdin and without a doubt, the hardest job in the new movie is the one done by Will Smith. He has to try to fill the shoes of the great Robin Williams, whose most iconic role ever might just be the animated blue Genie. For many there is simply no way to fill the shoes of Robin Williams, but Smith is going to do his best to make the role his own, and on a recent episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, we got a taste of how.
Will Smith tells Jimmy Fallon that he himself wasn't interested in taking on the role of the Genie at first, but as he thought about it, he found a way to put his own spin on the part through one of Aladdin's classic songs, the showstopping "Friend Like Me." Smith even performed a bit of it on the show. Check it out.
The audience clearly seems to get into the impromptu performance, as does Jimmy Fallon, though pretty much everything seems to get Fallon excited.
It's about as far from Robin Williams' version of "Friend Like Me" as you can get, which is, of course, the point. Inviting comparison to Williams is only going to end badly for Will Smith and the movie in general. The best move is to lean into Will Smith's strengths, including his musical ability, and give this version of the Genie an energy that is uniquely Will Smith.
We've gotten some brief glimpses of both the visuals and the music in the new Aladdin, but clearly the big stuff is being held for the film itself. Will Smith tells Jimmy Fallon that the "Prince Ali" number is going to be especially impressive. That's one part of the film that we really haven't seen.
The initial reaction to the new Aladdin was less than stellar following the reveal of Will Smith's Genie. People felt the CGI look was just wrong. The more recent trailers have seemingly calmed most nerves. Fans who are looking for a new version of the story they love are clearly going to get that, and Smith's version of the Genie appears to spend a large part of the movie looking human, so if the CGI is rough, we may not have to deal with it for long.
If you'd like to compare Will Smith's performance of "Friend Like Me" to the original, you can check out Robin Williams version in the video below.
Remakes are always a bit of a tightrope. On the one hand, seeing a different interpretation of a favorite movie can be a lot of fun, and multiple versions can be embraced for different reasons. At the same time, people want to see the parts of the original story that they loved the first time around. It's a bit of a balancing act.
Will Smith alone might be enough to keep Aladdin from following too close to the original material, in the way Beauty and the Beast did. We'll find out when the new Aladdin hits theaters May 24.