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Disney Breaks Silence On Will Smith's Genie

Is the House of Mouse down with the new, blue Genie, or is Disney denouncing its very own creation?

It wasn't long ago now that Disney lifted the lid off the second trailer for the upcoming live-action Aladdin, director Guy Ritchie's updated version of the 1992 animated classic. Visions of fresh-faced actor Mena Massoud as Aladdin, our scrappy street rat who eventually woos a royal with the help of a few white lies and a magic flying carpet, and Power Rangers star Naomi Scott as his beloved Jasmine meeting for the first time still dance in fans' heads. Sweeping shots of the fictional city of Agrabah and sneak peeks at Marwan Kenzari as its nefarious Grand Vizier Jafar remain in their minds. They can still see clearly the glittering Cave of Wonders and the ever-important golden lamp that sits within it. But, much to many people's dismay, the terrifying footage of Will Smith as Genie — the blue-skinned mystical being who sports a ponytail, a pointed goatee, and plenty of gold jewelry — is also burnt into their brains, potentially forever. 

The Mouse House kept quiet after the internet completely torched Smith following the Aladdin trailer drop, but now, the company has come forward to address the blue Genie debacle. 

In a statement released to USA Today a little over a week after unveiling the footage that stirred up such intense reactions, Disney defended Smith's Genie and affirmed its confidence in both the character and the live-action Aladdin as a whole. 

"We have one of the most anticipated films of the year and are confident that audiences will fall in love with the Genie and all of the characters when it hits the big screen this May," the company's statement reads. 

Anyone who has even a slight idea of how PR works shouldn't be surprised that Disney is supporting Smith's Genie wholeheartedly. The converse would be more shocking, as it isn't common for a major film studio to distance itself from something it brought into the world. To be honest, if the House of Mouse remained silent in the midst of so much backlash against Smith as the Genie would be pretty scandalous; if that were the case, some may have taken the company's zipped lips as a sign that the executives were second-guessing the design or were too ashamed of the negative feedback to say anything at all. 

That's not to say that Disney's statement isn't genuine — it likely is, as the company and the film's creative team have undoubtedly funneled all available resources into ensuring the live-action Aladdin is as shining, shimmering, and splendid as it possibly can be. The refresh has a lot of live up to — as does Smith, who steps into the shoes the late Robin Williams first wore — and we can't imagine a world in which Disney doesn't do everything in its power to satisfy its fans. 

Though a predictable response from Disney, this statement about the live-action blue Genie puts the Aladdin remake back in the news cycle and gets everyone talking about the upcoming film again — and, at the end of the day, that kind of word-of-mouth promotion is what the company's striving for in the months leading up to the film's theatrical launch on May 24. 

For those behind on the Genie controversy, the internet collectively recoiled after seeing Smith in his full blue glory, the larger-than-life counterpart to Genie's human form. Some expressed unease at seeing that version of the character, teased in promo photos released as part of Entertainment Weekly's cover story on Aladdin in December of 2018. Smith relayed to the outlet at the time that he would be blue in the film, and that the reveal of him showing off a shade of skin similar to that of a Smurf was coming soon. About six weeks later, that promise came to fruition — and people were terrified. 

"They premiered this image at night??? We are supposed to sleep after this??? I have never known peace," The New York Times' Kyle Buchanan tweeted alongside an image of Smith's blue Genie. He later documented in detail his horror and intrigue at the sight of Smith's character: "The Will Smith genie makes me feel the same way I feel when a celebrity dies: Nauseous, sad, and like I can't wait to tell everybody about it. Did I scream? Yes. Am I pacing around my house now? Uh-huh. But am I also filled with... admiration? The ALADDIN movie is batting in the big leagues now. There are no other movies until this one and there may be no other movies after." 

Jenny Nicholson, who creates content on YouTube, equated Smith's Genie to "what appears in [her] room when [she has] sleep paralysis," while countless others compared the character to actor David Cross from the episode of Arrested Development during which his character Tobias Fünke wants to audition for the Blue Man Group and the Na'vi from Avatar, among various other blue-skinned pop culture figures. 

Some, like Ian Hecox of Smosh fame, couldn't believe that Disney was serious. He could barely wrap his head around the idea that what was shown in the second Aladdin remake trailer was what would end up in the final cut of the film. "Either this is a super clever marketing troll by Disney, and this isn't what the genie will actually look like for Aladdin or... I dunno. Man, I just can't believe this can possibly be the real thing. I just can't," Hecox tweeted. 

Taking all of this into account, the initial roasting of Smith's Genie and Disney's subsequent statement of support, can anyone say that they are taken aback by the situation? It seems fans were going to judge Smith harshly and hold him to an incredibly high standard whether he looked flawless in Aladdin or not. The former Fresh Prince has enormous shoes to fill, as there never will be another actor like OG Genie Williams in this lifetime. Try as Smith might to be as wonderful as Williams was in the '90s original, his performance was inevitably going to be inspected with a fine-tooth comb. Fans just picked up the tools to analyze and scrutinize a little earlier than expected. 

Like Exhibitor Relations box office analyst Jeff Bock said, social media users are always going to voice their opinions about new films — good or bad. It just so happens that Smith's Genie is in the limelight for all the wrong reasons right now. "You know how Twitter is. There's a pitchfork army out there and they all join in. And right now, Will Smith's blue Genie is out in front of this army, in a negative way. The Genie just looked odd," he stated. "And while it's called Aladdin, all the attention since Robin Williams' role is focused on the Genie."

Director Raja Gosnell agreed, opening up to USA Today about the backlash he faced after revealing his reinvigorated take on the blue-skinned, human-like animated characters for his 2011 3D live-action/CGI movie The Smurfs

"We didn't have the Twitter world back then that we have now, thank God. But that unveiling was met with levels of horror and gnashing of teeth by the online community," he said. "There is always going to be some sort of outcry by the keyboard warriors. It was going to be the same thing with the blue Genie from Aladdin."

The bright side of this is that there is force of fans rallying behind Smith's blue Genie — including a prominent blue guy in the entertainment industry. Blue Man Group member and artistic director Randall Jaynes is sure that naysayers will end up eating their words once they get a taste of Smith in action on the silver screen. Currently, people are just stunned by the sight of the character, and Jaynes believes that the initial shock will wear off by the time Aladdin arrives in theaters.

"You could already hear this Genie is Will Smith. It had his jingle and pizzazz, but the color is so evocative, it changed the look. Of course, people are going to get used to it," Jaynes told USA Today. "Welcome, Will Smith: Blue is a wonderful world to be in."

While many might still be put off by Smith's blue Genie — including Kazaam director Paul Michael Glaser, who thinks that depicting Smith as a live-action iteration of the original Genie from the '90s isn't "a smart thing to do" and that not "trying to really explore what it would be like to rub a bottle and have Will Smith come out of it" is a "bit of a cop-out" — the film stands a stellar chance of becoming a smash upon release. Aladdin is slated for release over the Memorial Day weekend — one of the most coveted debut frames of the year, as it's when families turn up to theaters in packs and shell out cash like it's no longer fashionable to have a full wallet. And besides, it's a Disney movie, for Pete's sake. Those rarely turn into box office flops.

Those who are anti-blue Genie might find comfort in hearing that Smith is aiming to make the character his own in the live-action Aladdin. Described by Smith as "part Fresh Prince, part Hitch," the new Genie will be an "homage to Robin Willians" yet "different enough and unique enough that it would be in a different lane versus trying to compete."

"Whenever you're doing things that are iconic, it's always terrifying ... I watched the movie a few times, I saw where Robin Williams infused the character with a timeless version of himself, so I said to myself, 'What if I just infuse the character with a timeless version of myself?'" Smith shared with EW. "Because the Genie is timeless, you get to really say and do anything so I started to feel confident."

Smith added that he's bringing hip-hop and fashion flare to the Genie, which he's confident fans will really enjoy. He also gushed that playing the Genie has allowed him to tap into each and every one of his talents, and that he feels lucky for the opportunity to put his own spin on such a well-loved character. 

"The thing that will be the major addition from me playing the Genie is the hip-hop base. I think that'll be fun for people. I think it'll stand out as unique even in the Disney world. There hasn't been a lot of that hip-hop flavor in Disney history!" he said. "I got to do everything I know how to do in this movie. I got to act and it was comedy and beautiful dramatic scenes, I got to sing, I got to rap, I got to dance, I got to do action sequences — it was everything that I've trained and learned how to do over the last 30 years of entertainment and I got to it use all in playing the Genie."

So, maybe some people unfairly judged Smith's take on the Genie. Maybe he truly will be odd-looking in the end. Or maybe the world will fall in love with the iteration of the iconic entity that Smith delivers in the film. We'll simply have to wait until Aladdin arrives in theaters on May 24 to find out. Either way, the film will surely take us to a whole new world with Smith's big blue dude.