Not too long ago, Will Smith was in talks for a role in Disney’s live-action remake of Dumbo as the studio continues to rehash all of their animated classics for new audiences. A deal was never finalized and now it sounds like we know why.
Smith is now in talks with Disney to take on the important role of Genie in the House of Mouse’s remake of their 1992 contemporary animated classic Aladdin. It’s a role that was played by the incomparable Robin Williams in the original movie, and it’s one of Disney’s most iconic characters. But is Will Smith the right guy to play the role?
Deadline reports the news of Will Smith playing Genie in Aladdin, though they do caution that the talks for his casting are in the early stages. That means he could easily fall away, just as he did with Dumbo, and honestly, I’m hoping that he does.
Will Smith is undoubtedly a great actor, and he’s one of the few typically bankable international superstars still left in Hollywood today, even if his popularity has waned a little. But he just doesn’t have the right vibe to play a role like Genie if the character is being crafted in the same vein as the one played by Robin Williams. Though Smith has solid comedic chops, having found fame on the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and honed them in more than his fair share of feature comedies since then, he just doesn’t have the same presence or improvisational skills as Robin Williams.
One could argue that few actors could measure up to the talent of Robin Williams and to find someone to adequately replace him is foolhardy. That may very well be true, but I think that whoever gets the role of Genie should be someone who is a little better known for their work in comedy. Then again, there’s always a chance that the remake of Aladdin will have Genie be completely different than the character in the original animated movie, especially with a director like Guy Ritchie at the helm with a script from Big Fish writer John August. If that’s the case, maybe Will Smith could be just fine.
Even if he’s not as wild and off-the-wall as Robin Williams’ take on the character, I suppose we can take solace in the fact that this could get Will Smith back to creating a rap song for a film’s soundtrack. At the very least, maybe he’ll do that for a big musical number anyway. It’s not hard to imagine Will Smith doing some kind of hip-hop version of “Friend Like Me” or even better, the hype song “Prince Ali.” Still, I can’t help but think that getting someone like Lin Manuel Miranda to play the role would be even better in that regard. But maybe he’ll be too busy still shooting Mary Poppins Returns for Disney instead.
Casting Will Smith as the Genie may not seem like the best choice, but Disney needs a huge name for that role. We already know they’re looking for unknowns to play Aladdin and Jasmine (as a casting call indicated not too long ago). Plus, since Aladdin takes place in the Middle East, the studio really only has one character who can be a big American star without being accused of whitewashing, and it’s Genie. Since he’s a magical being who lives in a lamp, he can be played by anyone, and that’s where Disney clearly wants a big, famous name.
Whether or not Genie ends up being Will Smith, only time will tell. If not, there’s always a chance Shaquille O’Neal can get his Kazaam outfit back on, or maybe Sinbad can finally play a genie in a movie for real this time. Is there anyone else you think should play Genie instead of Will Smith?