Monday, December 5, 2016

Disney Princess Analysis - Part 6: Jasmine

Click to read Part 1 (Snow White), Part 2 (Cinderella), Part 3 (Aurora), Part 4 (Ariel), and Part 5 (Belle).

I must admit straightaway that, while most of my generation loves 1992's Aladdin, I don't overly care for the film. I didn't really watch it when I was younger, so watching it today I'm just not convinced that it's as good as some of the other Disney offerings. But it's starting to grow on me, and I'm trying to give it a chance, so I'll try and also give Jasmine a fair assessment.

The strange thing is, I was getting ready to talk about race in my next post on Pocahontas--and then I realized that Jasmine perhaps isn't exactly white, either. (I don't know, anyways, what white is--but she's not white or European like the previous five princesses). But I followed my realization by thinking that Jasmine almost might as well be European. I won't get into that any further, except to say that, in terms of race or whatever you'd like to call it, Jasmine doesn't offer as much as she could have to the Disney princess group--except that perhaps girls with darker skin tones might feel like they look more like Jasmine than like Snow White or the rest up to this point (even though Jasmine is still pretty light, she is less "white").

So what does Jasmine offer?

To start with, she is the first Disney princess whose movie is not named after her. It's named after Aladdin, and the movie does center around him more than her--because we have to give the menfolk a chance, too (I might later on do another series focusing on Disney's attempts around this time to also give boys male representation in their films). Aladdin is in fact a more interesting character than Jasmine. He has more of a character arc and a better theme. Jasmine is just another girl trapped in a marriage plot--maybe for children watching the movie, this is one of the first marriage plots they'll see, but I'm kind of sick of marriage plots. So I think that rather than Jasmine's declaration that she will marry for love strengthening her character, it diminishes her that he plot has so much to do with marriage. (For clarification, I don't mind there being a love story; it's just the marriage plot that I find overdone.)

Still, we must admire Jasmine for being able to speak her own mind and stick up for herself. She is also daring when she leaves the palace on her own, even if she's a little ignorant in the marketplace. Her attempts to give food to a hungry child, however, show her inherent kindness--and her ignorance is simply meant to be a sign of how tightly she has been locked up in the palace. Jasmine is very much a victim of circumstance--and I'm not sure if I am neutral toward this plot point or if I dislike it. Jasmine seems as if she needs Aladdin to rescue her even more than Aurora needed Philip: without Philip, Aurora would've just slept on in oblivion, but without Aladdin, Jasmine would have continued to live a shackled life. Out of all the princesses, Jasmine lives in the most constrained world: it is not just individual events that hold her down, it is the entire system.

It is, though, more Jasmine's environment that I am criticizing. Jasmine herself is alright. There is some attempt at making her smart, and she is kind in a natural way rather than a contrived way. And if she were a Victorian heroine, she would be very praise-worthy. I just wish that she didn't have to waste her time rebelling against a system that didn't need to be part of her plot to begin with (as fantasy stories, these films have the freedom to pick and choose whatever historical details they do or don't want).

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