It was a risk that Disney knew would generate pushback from its fans. After all, Robin Williams’ voice work as Genie, which felt very much like fully-fleshed physical work as well, despite the animated constrictions, should be considered the greatest voicework in the history of animation. It’s not even close. Williams was already a brilliant, live-wire comedic performer when he decided to tackle the Genie in 1992’s “Aladdin”, but there’s no film that better captured Williams’ spirit and energy than his voice-over work in that movie. It felt like improvisation, and, based on some first-hand accounts, it seems like some of it was, which is unheard of in animation.
There will only ever be one Robin Williams, which means there can only be one Genie, because the two of them sync together as immaculately meta parallels. The Genie changed the entire tone of “Aladdin” once he was introduced in the film. The entertaining, albeit conventional setup the film had was sent into overdrive once he was rubbed out of the lamp by Aladdin. Now, imagine the chutzpah that Will Smith must have had to sign on to play the Genie in Disney’s upcoming live-action version of “Aladdin.” He knew what the expectations were going to be, but Disney probably offered him a big fat paycheck that he just could'n’t resist.
Don’t get me wrong, Smith will probably be “fine” in the upcoming film, slated for a May 24th release, but he is not Robin Williams. Nobody is. Good luck, Disney.