'Aladdin' director, cast on Will Smith's Genie: 'He didn't want to be insensitive to the memory of Robin Williams'

There hasn’t been one performance, sight fully unseen, more scrutinized this year than Will Smith's turn as Genie in Disney's new live-action remake of Aladdin. The role was made iconic, of course, by Robin Williams in the beloved 1992 animated version, and the live-action filmmakers admittedly faced a formidable challenge in fitting the floating, bright blue character with an oversized personality in real-world environs.

Early trailers led to the Oscar-nominated actor getting mocked and meme’d (oh, the Arrested Development comparisons!), which might possibly explain why Smith didn't do on-camera interviews with the rest of the Aladdin gang at the film's recent Los Angeles press day. (“It was very funny,” Smith did say of the backlash to Empire magazine. “Everything is under such critical scrutiny.”)

But now that we’ve seen the film, we'll say this: the Bad Boys and Independence Day star is incredibly entertaining in the role. In fact, you could argue the film comes alive when his Genie turns up, much like the 1992 film. And Smith makes the role truly his own.

“He didn’t want to be insensitive to the memory of Robin [Williams], and what [he] had created,” director Guy Ritchie told Yahoo Entertainment (watch above). “So Will was adamant that he had to be different, and not go near that particular incarnation. But I was pretty confident that Will could deliver Will. And that was my job, my job was to encourage Will to be Will.”

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Aladdin red carpet premiere
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: (L-R) Trey Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith and Will Smith attend the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic )
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Trey Smith (L) and Willow Smith (R) attend the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic )
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Willow Smith attends the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: (L-R) Trey Smith, Jaden Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Will Smith attend the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Actress Naomi Scott attends the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic )
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott attend the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Alfonso Ribeiro attends the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage,)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Actress Tatyana Ali attends the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic )
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Actress Helen Mirren attends the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic )
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Natasha Bure (L) and Candace Cameron-Bure (R) attend the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic )
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Natasha Bure (L) and Candace Cameron-Bure (R) attend the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic )
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Mena Massoud attends the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Nasim Pedrad attends the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Actor Marwan Kenzari attends the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic )
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Numan Acar attends the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
US actress Christina Milian attends the World Premiere of Disneys Aladdin at El Capitan theatre on May 21, 2019 in Hollywood. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Actor Darren Criss attends the premiere of Disney's "Aladdin" on May 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic )
US/Brazilian actress Laysla De Oliveira attends the World Premiere of Disneys Aladdin at El Capitan theatre on May 21, 2019 in Hollywood. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
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Costar Mena Massoud, who plays Aladdin, was impressed with the results. “I’ve grown up watching Will throughout my childhood, I grew up watching his films, and I think what's incredible with what he was able to do with this is he literally brings his 30-year repertoire and puts it all into this one role. Everything you love about Will — his action films, his drama films, his comedy, his singing and dancing, he kind of brings it all together and puts it into this film.”

What many people don't realize, Massoud explained, is that the big, buff, blue version of Smith was done via CGI, not by makeup — which meant that Smith performed opposite Massoud in a motion-capture suit for those scenes. (Other scenes have Smith playing the Genie in a “human form.”)

While musically Smith is better known for his hip-hop persona The Fresh Prince, Aladdin finds him belting out a couple of big show tunes, “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali.” The film’s Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken said Smith needed little coaching in that department.

“Will knew that Robin Williams had done his thing, he said, ‘I’m gonna do my thing and make it my own.’ So I stood back. … That was all him.”

Aladdin opens Friday. Watch the latest trailer:

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