Will Smith’s Aladdin Genie Finally Appeared During the Grammys, and Viewers Were Creeped Out

It highlights the odd blend of animation and live action

Will Smith's blue-skinned genie was finally revealed by Disney. Grammy viewers who saw the ad, though, were skeptical. Disney
Headshot of Chris Thilk

When Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Aladdin was featured on an Entertainment Weekly cover story last December, fans were slightly concerned. Will Smith was not, on the cover or any of the interior photos shared in the issue, blue like the animated character voiced by Robin Williams in the original. Quick to set minds at ease, Smith posted on Instagram that, yes, he would be blue in the actual film.

Now we know that Smith’s assurance was less a promise and more a threat.

While Genie went unseen in the first trailer, last night’s Grammy’s broadcast on CBS featured a new TV spot for the movie that finally revealed Smith in all his blue horror, shown as the spot ends with Aladdin entering the cave to retrieve the magical lamp in which the Genie resides:

Let’s look past the fact that everything below his torso is simply a cloud. That’s in keeping with the character. Instead, let’s focus on literally everything else, from the bloat that works in animation but which makes a human actor look weird to the odd way his head doesn’t seem to move like it should, nor does the rest of his body.

It makes sense that Disney would want to finally share a look at Genie and would use a major broadcast like the Grammy ceremony to do so. The movie opens in just over three months, so time was running short on keeping this one in their back pocket.

This, though, is probably not the image Disney was hoping to leave in fans’ minds/nightmares.

Smith’s disquieting appearance raises similar issues as those brought up with the first trailer for another Disney remake, The Lion King. The movie has been billed as a “live action” version of the animated classic, but there’s nothing in the trailer that’s discernibly live. Instead, one type of animation seems to have simply swapped for another, with the enhanced photo-realism of the new style being the primary difference.

So too Smith’s appearance in the TV spot doesn’t seem any less animated than the one Williams lent his voice to. It’s somewhere in the uncanny valley between the extremes of an actor lending his vocal performance to a completely animated character and how you can still kind of make out Andy Serkis’ facial features behind the digital makeup applied to him in the Planet of the Apes movies.

As we all seek to make peace with our gods in light of this new Genie being a thing that exists in the world, it’s important to remember that the goal of all movie campaigns is to encourage people to see the film being promoted, not send them to the cellar to find torches. A riot, as Inspector Kemp says in Young Frankenstein, is an ugly thing, and I think it is just about time that we had one.

The Fans. The Brands. Social Good. The Future of Sports. Don't miss the upcoming Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit and Upfronts, a live virtual experience on Nov. 16-19. Early-bird passes available until Oct. 26. Register now

@ChrisThilk chris.thilk@gmail.com Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategy consultant in the Chicago suburbs. You can find him at ChrisThilk.com, where he shares his thoughts on content marketing, media and movie marketing.