By Claire Booth
I’m going to go all generational on you today and talk about my age group’s first global movie superstar. Because he returns to the screen this Friday. Will Smith stars in Aladdin.
I’m looking forward to it and I’ll tell you why. Not because I’ve been secretly dying for a live-action remake of this movie, but because I love Will Smith. He was the first big star—bankably huge, face on every movie poster, nobody scheduled a release opposite him—from Generation X. It was like, we have arrived. In the form of a skinny, wise-ass black rapper from West Philly. Oh yeah, this is going to be fun. And I felt like I’d discovered him. He was a ball player I watched on the farm team of TV, pointing at the screen during The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and saying “He’s going places.”
He took his persona—our Gen X persona—into feature films and not only succeeded, he blew everyone else out of the water. Independence Day, Men in Black, Wild, Wild West, Men in Black II. Just those films alone grossed more than $2 billion. All were vehicles for the Will Smith charm. Then he, like us, grew up. He took parts where he got serious, he got prestige, he played Muhammad Ali. The charm was still in there somewhere, but the fizzy fun—the I’m-having-such-a good-time-I’m-going-to-talk-you-into-coming-along-too—was diminished. Wait a minute, how did I wake up one morning and suddenly be middle-aged?
This brings me back to Aladdin. I think it might have some fizz. From the clips I’ve seen, it’s got some of that circa-1990s Will Smith verve going on. I hope so. He’s said that he couldn’t hope to match Robin Williams’s take on the role. He wanted to be “in a different lane, versus trying to compete.” He decided that bringing a hip-hop flavor to the part and putting his own stamp on the music would be one way to carve his own path. Just like our generation has been doing all this time.
And I can’t wait. A rapping, wise-cracking, middle-aged grantor of wishes.
It’s the genie that America needs right now.