How tough is it for a household-name brand to promote a version of something that audiences already love? Apparently, it's much more difficult than you'd think, if that brand is Disney and that something is the live-action Aladdin.
Coming off of the monstrous success of 2016's Beauty and the Beast, which grossed $1.3 billion worldwide, the studio seemed in the best shape possible to tackle its upcoming slate of glossy, live-action remakes of its animated library. However, unlike its light-footed protagonist, the marketing campaign for Aladdin has been far from one jump ahead of anything. Virtually everything released in the run-up to its premiere has fallen onto the sharpened swords of YouTube dislikes and mocking Twitter memes.
Teaser trailers have existed for decades, but companies have recently harnessed the popularity of online video platforms to inundate consumers with more and more of them. Usually under a minute long, teasers are intended to give audiences a tiny taste of what's in store without letting them get a proper mouthful, building the anticipation up for as long as possible. Story details and dialogue, for example, are usually saved for the first full trailer. In the case of Aladdin, a sequence of our favorite "street rat" scampering over rooftops, some zingy one-liners from a totally-not-terrifying blue Will Smith as Genie and a sweeping shot of a magic carpet ride would have done the trick.
Instead, Disney played its cards frustratingly close to its chest and released a one-and-half-minute teaser in October 2018 that starred miles and miles of desert sand... and not much else. Though we did catch a fleeting glance of Massoud's Aladdin reaching his hands out to grab the magical lamp, the Internet wasn't exactly set alight by the footage. In fact, the severe lack of anything human, monkey or Genie-shaped was a bit suspicious. Rather than intrigue, it sparked something similar to what Jafar must feel stuck outside the sealed-up Cave of Wonders -- the question of whether the supposed treasures within are just a myth.
We know Disney is capable of making good teaser trailers; in November 2018, it released a nigh-perfect one for the upcoming remake of The Lion King. While that teaser functioned largely as a roll call of its brag-worthy cast, it was elevated to the next level by a photorealistic recreation of the 1994 animated movie's opening "Circle of Life" sequence that cashed in heavily on the film's nostalgic value. By comparison, Aladdin's vagueness left us feeling short-changed.
In December, Entertainment Weekly gave us exactly what we'd wanted to see, with a first look at Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie. People weren't particularly enthused by the quality of the actors' costumes, but this criticism paled in comparison to the uproar about a non-blue Will Smith. The alarm bells needn't have rung if the article accompanying the offending images had been more widely-read, which clarified that at the time of release, "The final version of Will Smith's Genie in his blue floating form isn't quite finished." This also might explain why a more substantial teaser trailer hadn't yet been released -- Aladdin wouldn't be Aladdin without the all-powerful, blue-hued comedy sidekick.
Having withheld the blue goods for four months, Disney finally tipped its hand during the 61st Annual Grammy Awards, leaving fans in the ironic situation of realizing they should have been careful with what they'd wished for. While the second teaser trailer unveiled shot-for-shot recreations of scenes from the animated movie and a closer look at the film's characters and settings, the last few seconds, featuring the surreal sight of a legless, azure-hued Smith smoking his way out of the lamp, was all anybody wanted to talk about online. Damning comparisons ranged to everything from Avatar's Na'vi to Arrested Development's Tobias Funke. The general consensus being that the Day-Glo demon should be sent back to the CGI hell from whence it came.
But, wait! The apocalypse can now be officially canceled because the first full trailer is out and -- dare we say it..? -- it's actually... good. Dialogue? Singing? Action? Jokes? A Genie that doesn't make the flesh melt from your skull as if you've just looked at the Arc of the Covenant? It's all here!
After six long months, Disney has finally figured out how to market a movie that, really, should have been able to sell itself sight unseen. But, with just two months to go before the film's release, will it be enough to bring audiences back on board? Maybe it's time to set up an Instagram account devoted entirely to "Hot Jafar" pictures and hope the power of thirst will be enough to bump up those ticket sales.