Movie

Will Smith could make role of Genie in ‘Aladdin’ his own

This week, rumors swirled around Hollywood that Will Smith, the former king of Fourth of July, has been tapped to play the Genie in Guy Ritchie’s upcoming remake of “Aladdin.”

While nothing has been confirmed yet, these rumors have everyone talking. We would be getting one of the biggest movie stars of all time to step into one of the most iconic characters of all time. The question is, does he fit the role?

To think about Will Smith as the Genie, you first have to consider the enormous shoes he’d be stepping into. It’s hard to think of a more transcendent performance than Robin Williams’ in the classic 1992 film. Earlier this month, I claimed the Genie as the most iconic animated performance of all time. Williams invented and perfected the idea of the celebrity voice performance. The character and the actor are so intertwined that, in all reality, there is no universe in which Will Smith could possibly pay Williams tribute. The key here is to do something different. This will require willingness on both sides of the aisle from Disney and the general audience.

Disney has gone on record saying the portrayal of the Genie is the only thing they haven’t been able to recreate in a different media. Luckily there is a template for how they might approach this. In addition to a classic animated film, “Aladdin” has been running for almost four years on Broadway, and has been nothing short of hit. The highlight of the show has been its depiction of Genie.

The folks at Disney on Broadway knew they could not do Williams justice. Instead, they crafted the character around the actor they had: James Monroe Iglehart. He blended the role perfectly with his electric personality. He went on to not only be the face of the show, but also be one of Disney’s main brand representatives, even winning a Tony Award for his portrayal. So while some may be skeptical about replacing Williams, there is precedent for success. I’m surprised they’re not going with Iglehart for the film, but my guess is that they want to create a new kind of cinematic icon — separate from any previous depictions.

But, if indeed true, this is a wise move for Smith. Interestingly enough, these rumors are coming right after word spread that Disney turned down Smith’s request for $20 million to star in their upcoming remake of “Dumbo.”

While Smith had a number of years as Hollywood’s most reliable leading man, those days have unfortunately come to a close. Rather than indicating Smith’s declining talent, the box office is no longer correlated to the level of fame of its stars. Make no mistake, Smith is as famous as they come — he just can’t open a movie on his name alone anymore. What can open a movie is great intellectual property. A perfect example of this property combined with talent is the recent remake of “Beauty and the Beast” with Emma Watson.

Let’s say Smith gets this role and makes it his own. Disney will know they have something special on their hands, and they will do an amazingly effective job marketing the film and his performance. We could witness a truly “Titanic” box office performance. This would not only please Disney’s shareholders, but it would re-elevate Smith to the top of Hollywood. This would mean he couldn’t single-handedly open a movie, but in a time where he really hasn’t had a breakout hit in a number of years, this could be a great way to separate himself from the crowd.

When all’s said and done, this will be a boom-or-bust move by Disney and Smith. There is a possibility Smith could phone in a performance of a thinly written character and the film would come out and then we’d forget about it and move on. However, there is also the possibility, which I find more likely, that Disney tailors the role to Smith’s precise skills and qualities for a fantastic result.

The keys to success here are to embrace what Smith has to offer, and to avoid forcing what he cannot. We do not need a rehash of Robin Williams’ iconic performance, but instead, should receive a performance that can gladly stand by its side as its own unique entity.

Erik Benjamin is a junior television, radio and film major. His column appears weekly in Pulp. He can be reached at ebenjami@syr.edu or on Twitter @embenjamin14.

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