The 2019 Grammy Awards almost rivaled last week's Super Bowl when it came to movie trailers, as the evening saw the premiere of several new trailers, including one for Disney's live-action Aladdin remake. Reactions to the trailer were passionate and almost uniformly negative, the takes hotter than the deserts of Agrabah under a scorching midday sun.
Most of the chatter around the trailer focused on the first real look at Will Smith as the Genie. It was fans' first "real" look because, back in December, Entertainment Weekly published photos from the film, including a shot of Smith dressed in Genie clothes but without the character's signature blue hue. Many fans were outraged, worried that the remake's genie would not be blue like the animated Robin Williams version of old. Disney and Smith assured everyone that, yes, Smith would be blue.
Well, be careful what you wish for. The trailer featured a good look at Smith's Genie in all his azure glory, and pretty much everyone hated it. The Disney subreddit dunked on the Genie, for the most part, and Twitter was making jokes as soon as the trailer ended.
Many people compared Smith's Genie, unfavorably, to other blue characters from pop culture, like Arrested Development's Tobias Fünke or the Na'vi from Avatar.
Others tried to place the unsettling, extremely cheap-looking CGI of the Genie in a wider context of Disney's trend of live-action remakes.
Quartz's Adam Epstein summed this up pretty well in an article, writing that the trailer "proves that some things should stay cartoons."
"Disney is all-in on adapting all of its animated movies as live-action ones starring real human actors, and it's not going to let any part of its canon, no matter how impractical or resistant to live-action transformation, get in the way of that," he writes. "The updated animation might be more impressive on a technical scale, but it also sucks all the life and originality out of the original animation—and that's what made it special in the first place."
It's a great point. All of Disney's "live-action" remakes — including the Lion King remake that is straight-up another cartoon, just made with photorealistic CGI rather than illustrations — are coming from a wrongheaded place. There's an assumption that a live-action remake is somehow an "upgrade," and that an animated film is somehow less-than. But think about the way that the original 1992 Aladdin looked. Remember how fluidly the Genie moved and transformed, his animated nature allowing for exaggeration and playful warping. Remember how bright and vivid the colors were — the red glow emanating from the dark blue Cave of Wonders, the brilliant gold piles, lush fabrics, and blinding desert sands. The live-action movie trades this for overly busy backgrounds and set dressing that manages to be both cluttered and drab.
Will Smith's Genie certainly is a lot more busy and involved than Robin Williams, but is it better? The consensus seems to be pretty clear — no. Maybe, then, the better, tougher question is, is there a reason why Will Smith's Genie should exist?
Despite the negativity, there were some positive takes. BuzzFeed's news post was largely enthusiastic, trafficking in the bright-eyed, hyper-excited affect that makes these live-action remakes so profitable.
Entertainment Weekly was also largely positive, as their post about the backlash to the Genie's appearance was much kinder than other outlets. Perhaps that's because EW had the access to get those exclusive first-look photos from Aladdin that they published back in December …
There was another place where the response to the Genie was almost uniformly positive. Smith posted the trailer and a picture to Instagram, and all the stans who follow him wrote that they loved it in the comments, because blind praise is pretty much all you see in the comments section of any celebrity's Instagram feed.
Aladdin hits theaters on May 24. It will probably make a bajillion dollars despite looking like one of those fake movie trailers IGN used to make for April Fools' Day in the mid-2000s.