Perhaps the biggest hurdle Disney faced on its live-action remake of Aladdin was the prospect of replacing the irreplaceable Robin Williams, who is Genie. But now the studio has settled on who’ll be filling that role in the new film, and it’s none other than Will Smith. Yes indeed, Deadline reports that Smith is currently in early negotiations to fill the role of Genie in Disney’s live-action Aladdin, which has Guy Ritchie set to direct.
Disney’s 1992 animated film was itself an adaptation of the Arabian folktale One Thousand and One Nights, but the film carved out its own identity thanks to tremendous original songs by Alan Menken, Tim Rice, and the late Howard Ashman, as well as a scene-stealing performance from Williams as Genie. The comedian was in the midst of his rocket to superstardom in the 90s, and Williams’ improvisational style was imbued into the Genie character as the animators worked to bring him to life. Genie, truly, was Robin Williams.
But this isn’t the first time someone other than Williams is filling the Genie role. Disney subsequently turned Aladdin into a Broadway musical, debuting in 2011, with James Monroe Inglehart originating the stage version of Genie. So choosing Smith here is a nice nod to the non-white Broadway portrayal, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the most recognizable movie stars on the planet.
Smith is funny and quick on his feet, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of take he has on the character. This news comes as Smith recently turned down a lead role in Disney’s Dumbo, which has Tim Burton directing, so clearly he found something more amenable in this Aladdin project. Ritchie’s version will still be a musical, and they’re holding open casting calls for the lead roles of Aladdin and Jasmine as Disney looks to cast non-white actors for the film. Which put all the more pressure on casting Genie, since Aladdin and Jasmine will likely be played by unrecognizable newcomers.
Production on Aladdin is set to get underway this summer, after Ritchie releases his most recent directorial effort King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The Disney film is a major change of pace for the Snatch filmmaker, but securing Smith is a smart move and it’ll be interesting to see how the film comes together. Smith, meanwhile, stars in the Netflix’s first “blockbuster” Bright, which hits the streaming service later this year.