Last night’s airing of Will Smith as The Genie in a new live-action Aladdin reboot divided audiences, but do remakes really have any effect on how we see the “original”?
Sabrina, Clueless, The Lion King: not necessarily a cinematic triptych you might expect to find together, but one with more in common than you might at first think.
All three, after all, are about young people learning to navigate the complexities of the worlds in which they live — family, love, friendship, responsibility — and all three have been the subject of either recently released or recently touted remakes.
And then of course there’s Aladdin, the trailer for which aired during last night’s Grammys and — both memorably and more than a little divisively — saw Will Smith take on Robin Williams’ heavy mantle as a live action Genie. But there was more to people’s reactions than just pure, visceral horror at the sight of a bloated and blue-hued Smith.
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— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) February 11, 2019
What it comes down to as much as — if not more than — anything is the power of nostalgia and the strange ownership that we seem to presume over the popular culture of our childhoods. In a way it makes sense: I don’t want to hear Ed Sheeran covering anything off of Bright Eyes’ Fevers & Mirrors, so I can see how someone might not want to see Clueless’ Cher Horowitz or Tai Frasier played by anyone but Alicia Silverstone or (perhaps even more understandably) Brittany Murphy, respectively.
There were questions, too, about the “need” for a reboot of 90s classic Sabrina The Teenage Witch, from the moment it was first officially announced as coming to Netflix back in 2017. But, with a totally different vibe, no attempt to rewrite history or retroactively change what we feel about the 1996 TV series (itself based on the Archie Comic from 1971), Kiernan Shipka’s turn as the teenage witch rightfully holds 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. Funny, gory, often — sometimes literally — the stuff of nightmares, the show made for great viewing. And it’s no surprise there’s a second season on the way.
But contrary to what Twitter might have to say on the subject — and there’s going to be a lot more to say, with this Den of Geek article listing 121 reboots/remakes currently in the works, featuring everything from Big Trouble in Little China to Pirates of the Caribbean to Shrek — no generation has a monopoly popular culture, most of those ideas were recycled time and time again before they reached that form, and, more importantly, a new version of something does not erase the original from memory.
The argument holds up even less when you think about iconic popular culture that simply would not exist if someone hadn’t taken up the unenviable task of the reboot: Buffy The Vampire Slayer will forever be remembered as Sarah Michelle Gellar in Joss Whedon’s 1997-2003 TV series, but without the poorly received Kristy Swanson-starring 1992 movie then we wouldn’t have the show at all.
any popular movie series from years ago doesnt really need a remake. stop ruining our childhood please— sabrina (@heybreana) February 8, 2019
Nonetheless, it’s perhaps easy to see why, with a live action remake of The Lion King also on the way, it might be frustrating to see classic stories — particularly ones so entwined with memories of childhood (Aladdin was the movie I’d watch when I came home sick from school, until I got a little older and Twister took its place) or with the complicated feelings of adolescence — remodelled from a new audience: when you’ve grown up knowing something or someone a certain way, it’s hard to suddenly be forced to see them differently. But that’s how stories work — and are constantly reworked as time moves on.
And so, while the image of Will Smith as The Genie is likely to be burned onto the corneas of anyone who has seen the trailer, it doesn’t diminish what many rightly see as a career highlight and movie-altering performance from Robin Williams.
Take it or leave it, with the new trailer embedded below, feel free to make your own mind up. But just remember, it doesn’t change anything.
In other related news, here are the winners and losers from last night’s BAFTAs.
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