I’ve got a PhD in Aladdin at this point. Not only have I seen the cartoon a million times, and the regrettable straight-to-DVD follow ups, but we saw the play in London last week, and the live-action remake the day after.
Aladdin is hands down my kids’ favorite movie and Jasmine is their favorite princess—so much so that we have a cat named after her. One of the highest compliments I’ve ever received was one night when I was going out to meet a friend and Eli told me I looked like Jasmine when she goes to the market.
On one level, I think that’s great considering Jasmine was the first Disney princess of color. On the other hand, I’ve always found that a little strange, because she isn’t that fully fleshed out in the original version and like a lot of Disney movies of that era, there are also some cultural issues, like the line in “Arabian Nights,” “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home!” Yikes.
I’ve been interested to see how Disney has been steadily making Aladdin more culturally appropriate and more feminist with each incarnation, especially considering there’s a real-life Mulan in the works.
The kids and I have had several days of comparing and contrasting the three versions of what we like most about them. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the real-life remakes, I didn’t even see the Dumbo one which just looked weird in the previews. And I think Mary Poppins Returns was one of the worst things I’ve seen from Disney since Hercules. And I have to say I don’t think Will Smith pulled off the Genie.
But the new movie was a massive leap forward in feminism, even from the play which was a lot better than the cartoon. The truth is Aladdin is kind of a bro in the play. Worse: He’s a wannabe bro. There’s actually a line where Aladdin says Jasmine “owes him something” for showing the market. While the play made Jasmine more feminist, not wanting to be silenced, thinking she should be able to rule as Sultan herself, Aladdin was mostly untouched and it was hard to believe the romance.
A lot of that was scrubbed from the movie. It’s so many little things. When Aladdin falls into the harem of women in “One Jump,” he seems shy and uncomfortable in the new version, not leery. His insecurity was played up more than his bravado when he was pretending to be Prince Ali. “Barbaric” was finally changed to “chaotic” in the song. And Jasmine really comes off as the star of the movie; it’s as much her journey to be heard and rule in her own right, as much it is the story of Aladdin’s transformation.
The movie is also less classist. Jasmine wants to be queen not only because she shouldn’t have to marry, but because she wants to help her people. “A Whole New World” ends not looking at the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall, but by looking at the people of her country going about their everyday lives. She calls it the most beautiful sight of the whole journey.
She really becomes the heart of the film, not a bolt on. A princess worthy of my kids’ obsession and our cat being named after.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom: