Deadline is reporting that director Guy Ritchie‘s live action remake of Disney’s Aladdin is zeroing in on its #1 choice to bring Genie to life: Will Smith. The actor is in early talks for the role, according to the outlet. While it’s entirely possible that negotiations might fail between Big Willie and the House of Mouse, as they did on Tim Burton’s Dumbo, I wouldn’t be too surprised if this project actually goes through for the pair.
Smith’s role on Dumbo, now filled by Colin Farrell, would have seen him as merely one piece of an ensemble. Genie, however, is a big showy lead role. For better or worse, Smith loves to be the center of attention in his films, famously passing on the lead in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained because he felt Christophe Waltz’s character was going to get too much screentime.
Securing Smith will also give Disney a big name for the project. This is likely a priority for them as they will (supposedly) be casting the rest of the picture with appropriately non-white actors, including Aladdin, Jasmine, and Jafar. Landing Smith for Genie will give them the above-the-title big name they are looking for to help sell the film, beyond the usual nostalgic elements.
As they come off of the monster hit that is Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, these live action fairytales are becoming more and more important to the studio, as well as getting bigger and bigger. At first Disney seemed content to stick with the old classics (Maleficent, The Jungle Book, Cinderella) and the occasional random forgotten title (Pete’s Dragon), but the success of Beauty will no doubt push them into targeting the bigger hits of the 90s as well. The Little Mermaid and Mulan are already on the way. It’s probably only a matter of time before Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and/or Hercules follow.
Might Will Smith grant Disney’s Genie wish? Production is slated to begin this summer in the UK, so we’ll find out soon enough. More as it comes.