Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Disney Boys - Part 6: Aladdin

Click to read my introduction to this series, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5.

Interestingly, with the list of characters I put together for this series, 1992's Aladdin is the sixth film that I cover--and it was also the sixth film in my Disney Princess Analysis. Instead of focusing on Jasmine, this time I'm focusing on the title character. Aladdin is the character who is in a princess movie but isn't a prince. He would start a trend with this trait: the male love interests in the next princess movies, Pocahontas and Mulan, and then later in Tangled are not princes, either. 

Instead, Aladdin is the "diamond in the rough," the "one whose worth lies beneath." What does that mean, though?

Aladdin is poor: he lives on the streets and steals food to survive. He says that "you're only in trouble if you get caught," so obviously he doesn't have any moral qualms about stealing constantly. But should he? His need to steal is based off of a corrupt society; he is literally just surviving, not trying to take from others. And in fact he normally gives to others rather than taking things for himself. He can't help but give the children the bread he's about to eat. And rather than urging Abu to give away his piece, too, Aladdin just walks away and leaves Abu to make that choice for himself. It's all about personal choice, right? Rather than just feeding children, Aladdin also defends them, like when he stops the children in the crowd from getting hit with the whip. So his instincts are all positive; they all look outward, at others, rather than inward.

Still, it's hard for Aladdin not to let the "street rat" comments get to him. He knows better and tries to convince himself that they're wrong to call him that--but it's hard. And instead of watching Cinderella looking out her window at the castle, here we get to see a young man instead of a young woman looking out in the distance at the palace, dreaming of riches and a better life without any problems. Everyone can dream--and everyone can have life try and squeeze the dreams out of them. 

After Aladdin helps Jasmine get away in the market (where he shows off his cleverness with quick improvisational skills), he is eager to share his dream of the palace with her. This, of course, leads to their shared expression of feeling "trapped," which continues the film's theme of freedom and bondage. Both Aladdin and Jasmine feel bound by their places in society; they are not free to live in even the simplest ways. 

In prison, Aladdin falls for Jafar's trick because he is a dreamer. Is he tricked because of his innocence or dumbness? Is he just too pure to realize it's a trick, or is he blinded by his dreams of riches and his newfound infatuation with Jasmine? Maybe a little bit of both. 

Now, Aladdin always seemed likable to the other poor of the city. He makes it a point to treat others well. For instance, he's kind to the magic carpet--which reaps rewards because the carpet subsequently saves his life twice in a row. And of course Aladdin is also quick to promise the Genie that he will use his last wish to free him. Might I add here a note about Aladdin's description to Genie of Jasmine: "she's smart and funny and--beautiful." Of course he has to like her physically, as well, but isn't it interesting that this film makes a point of having Aladdin remark on Jasmine's character rather than just her looks. Generic comments, sure, but it's just an animated movie.

Let's get back to Aladdin's dream of riches. When he comes in, all triumphant, in his Prince Ali garb, he tries to woo the Sultan more than Jasmine. So pleased with his new images of wealth, Aladdin shows off and in so presenting himself as a wealthy prince, he neglects the very traits that made Jasmine fall for him. All of this leads to his later conversation with Genie, in which he claims that he can't give Genie his freedom after all. From this, we can see that Aladdin really does have some self-worth issues, after all. He has trouble breaking free from the "street rat" comments even now: he feels like a worthless poser in his fancy robes and he thinks that, without Genie, it will become obvious to everyone that he is nothing. 

None of this, of course, is true. In the end, it's Jafar who, in wishing for ultimate power, receives ultimate bondage. Aladdin, by risking losing Jasmine, decides that he must use his last wish to free Genie, after all--and in so doing frees himself, too. The "diamond in the rough" proves his worth by choosing someone else before himself, and in this way he shows that he is not a street rat but is instead a person who makes good choices with what he is given.

You know, I didn't really grow up watching this movie, so when I watched it (as if for the first time) a few years back, I didn't really care for it. But it's growing on me. Particularly I like how Aladdin shows some of the traits that often characterize the princesses, traits that people sometimes complain about as being weak but are in fact simply human characteristics. We all have our moments of struggle, and it's seeing characters who come up on the right side after the struggle that provides inspiration. And writing up this post has made me realize just how big that theme of freedom and bondage is in this film. When it all comes to it, Aladdin's a pretty inspirational character. 

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