Aladdin is the first movie in this line of reviews to have the actual princess as a secondary character. Early princesses certainly seemed like secondary characters at times, with the camera focused on the antics of their wacky animal friends, but the movies still revolve around their personal stories. While many of the love interests in those movies were pushed aside even more than the main character, Aladdin follows The Little Mermaid in taking an actual interest in the other character, letting the audience really get to know them and find what the main character sees in them.
Of course, given the outfit that Aladdin’s main squeeze is wearing, it’s not hard to see what got his attention. Princess Jasmine is wearing almost as little as Ariel, but without the excuse of living under the sea. Despite this tiny outfit, Jasmine is one smart girl, and she turns out to be one of the better influences out there.
Aladdin begins with Jafar, royal vizier to the Sultan of Agrabah, attempting to find a lost treasure at the well-hidden Cave of Wonders. He is thwarted when the Cave says it will only allow entry to the “Diamond in the Rough.” This “diamond” is, in fact, a young homeless man named Aladdin, who spends his days stealing food and singing about it while trying to escape. This is not the stealthiest approach to thieving, but he seems to do well enough.
Aladdin soon meets a pretty woman in the marketplace. He helps her escape the authorities after her botched attempt at stealing an apple. She doesn’t seem to have any concept of money and is wearing a suspicious amount of jewelry, but they get along pretty well and he invites her home to sit on the floor. Their deep conversation is interrupted when the guards arrive. They grab Aladdin, but as they’re about to take him away, the mysterious young woman reveals herself as the princess Jasmine, who recently attempted to run away from her arranged marriage. The guards have instructions from Jafar, and drag Aladdin off to jail while Jasmine protests.
The boy isn’t in jail long; a creepy old man (revealed as Jafar in disguise) breaks Aladdin out of jail after he promises to help him hunt for treasure. The old man leads Aladdin to the Cave of Wonders and tosses him down, warning him not to touch anything but the old lamp he needs. Aladdin meets a magic carpet along the way, and manages to grab the lamp right before the Cave tries to kill him. He doesn’t make it out in time, but the lamp contains a wise-cracking Genie who helps him out and promises three wishes. Aladdin wishes to become a prince in order to court Jasmine, and they head back to Agrabah.
Jasmine believes that Aladdin was sentenced to death, and isn’t in the mood to meet the flashy new prince in town, especially not after he talks about her like a piece of property. She comes around when the new prince offers her a ride on a magic carpet. He looks an awful lot like the boy she met at the market that day, and she asks him to tell her the truth. Aladdin suavely says that he often dresses like a prince to escape the pressures of royal life, and having pressed the right buttons, Jasmine decides that she trusts him.
Jafar has realized at this point that the new prince is Aladdin and he has the lamp, so when the lovers arrive back from their rendezvous, Jafar’s goons grab Aladdin and toss him in the ocean. Genie comes to the rescue, and they head back to the palace to confront the Sultan about Jafar. Their return is all Jafar needs to seize control of the lamp, send Aladdin far away, and turn himself into the Sultan. Aladdin manages to make it back alive. He and Jasmine trick Jafar to wish himself into slavery, and then they’re free to be together.
Seriously, how upset were you when you first learned that you could not physically hold a cloud? Watching Aladdin and Jasmine grab huggable puffs of cloud and give another one a swirl like frozen yogurt was one of the coolest things I’d seen. I daydreamed about cloud castles with cloud trees and cloud gardens. After learning the truth, I remember sitting on an airplane and glaring at the clouds, wondering how they could lie to me so.
As an adult, I adore this movie. There’s the perfect combination of action and humor to keep me interested for more than just the nostalgia. Also important, of course, is the amazing drinking game that accompanies it. It’s a wonderful film on its own, but the game makes it a truly magical experience.
Aladdin has a problem with lying to people to get ahead, and it’s a problem that’s immediately addressed in the movie. Even as a child, it’s obvious that Jasmine likes the boy she met in the market and not the endless parade of princes she sees, and the rewards of being honest are clear.
Jasmine, as a whole, is a pretty good role model. She’s very intelligent, hard to deceive, and a quick thinker in high-pressure situations. She’s honest about her own faults, admitting that palace life has left her with no real-world experience and few friends. She isn’t terribly happy with her lot in life, but makes the best of her situation with what she has the power to do. Despite being a princess with an awful lot of power, she only commands people when it’s absolutely necessary. Her reluctance to marry the rich, handsome men she sees on the basis of their personalities is a good thing for young girls to see, but it is undermined a bit by her eventual choice being so good-looking.
You may have noticed at this point that there is no “Worst Message” bar. There are bad messages in the movie, certainly. The portrayal of Middle Eastern people makes them seem scantily-dressed and barbaric, and the royal family seems to live in the Taj Mahal. Aladdin manipulates his friends on multiple occasions, tricking Genie into a free wish and using his knowledge of Jasmine’s distaste for royal life to make his fake prince story sound more believeable.
My main focus in these articles, however, is the effect of the messages on little girls. Jasmine is a very strong role model overall. My one complaint about her behavior is that her main defense against Jafar is her sexuality, which is never a good message, but even that works in terms of her options at the time: Jafar has her dressed up like a sex toy, and she doesn’t exactly have a lot of ways to hold his attention. In the same vein, there’s also the issue of the outfits that most of the women (including Jasmine) are wearing, but that seems to be more of a product of the aforementioned Middle Eastern misrepresentation than anything else.
This particular description may seem like a cop-out, but bear with me. Aladdin and Jasmine have the typical whirlwind romance, barely knowing one another before agreeing that marriage would be a good idea. Aladdin is a very likeable character overall, but he’s a bit shallow, initially lies to Jasmine to get in her favor, and he’s manipulative of both her and the Genie. The two don’t have a lot in common other than wanting a different life and being generally decent people. The main turning point in their relationship is that Jasmine really likes Aladdin’s car(pet).
Despite this, though, I can’t dislike their romance. They may not be terribly compatible and I don’t like the deception so early in the relationship, but there’s something about the two of them that’s very compelling. I may mock Jasmine for being entranced by Aladdin’s ride, but if someone gave me the opportunity to fly, I’d probably swoon, too. Their relationship is not purely based on physical attraction, and while I do think that the class differences would be a pretty big wedge between them, their quick wits and similar senses of morality would greatly help that divide.
While some questionable themes exist, Aladdin really isn’t the worst movie out there as far as female role models go. It also helps that Aladdin and Jasmine don’t marry at the end of the movie, though one might argue that that was just to draw out the franchise. Still, Jasmine is an interesting character, even if she needs to put on some clothes.