Aladdin (1992)

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Oh Aladdin, how I had such a crush on you as a kid. The quintessential “bad boy with a heart of gold”, I would dream of being swept away on a magic carpet to some far-distant land.  To this day, I still want that carpet (I’ve already got my Aladdin).  How cool would it be to zip through the skies on a flying carpet?? This technology needs to be invested right now.

But anyway, let’s address the actual movie, instead of focusing on Aladdin’s mode of transportation (may not be the last time I mention it though; I love that carpet).   We all know the story of Aladdin, right? Even if you’re not familiar with the original “Arabian Nights” version, you probably know the Disney story: Street rat Aladdin is tricked into entering a cave of wonders, finds a magic lamp, and woos the princess under the guise of a prince.  Evil sorcerer tries to take over the world, he fails, and everyone lives happily ever after.  Many of the characters in this film are common tropes: the hero, his faithful sidekick, his romantic interest, a benevolent all-powerful magical type who aids him in his quest.  These tropes have been used countless times over, so they’re not exactly new. Still, in Aladdin they’re somehow fantastically done, to the point that one could argue each character plays into their role as perfectly as possible.

Need proof? Let’s break it down:

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  1. Aladdin – Girlhood crush not withstanding, Aladdin is still a pretty awesome character. Sure, he’s a poor thief, but he’s honorable, as is shown in an early scene when he gives up his hard-won loaf of bread to a few hungry kids.  He also happens to fall for the princess, a bit of a hindrance given that she’s currently being forced to marry a prince.  He goes on a typical hero’s journey, entering the cave of wonders as a common thief and leaving with a friendly genie by his side, of which he is the new master.  Aladdin is fun, and while he’s a pretty standard hero, he’s a bit of a deviation for Disney.  He’s not a true prince, and he must overcome very real obstacles to get his happy ending.

Also, bonus piece of awesomeness: He’s voiced by the guy who played Steve on “Full House”.  As if we didn’t love him enough already.

2. Jasmine – Whenever people say Disney princesses of yore are weak and never stand up for themselves, just point them to Jasmine.  She’s a surprisingly strong character, given that she’s not the focus of the film.  Unhappy with her lot in life, Jasmine vocalizes how much she hates the law that she must marry a prince, going so far as to run away to avoid that fate.  This is a far cry from the catatonic Snow White laying around waiting for her prince to come to her rescue. Jasmine speaks up for herself and takes action, and while those actions don’t always have great outcomes, at least she tries. And hey, she loves Aladdin for who he is, even though he’s not a prince, so yay for seeing what’s important!

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3. Genie – Let’s be honest here, Aladdin may be the main character, but the Genie’s the real star. That is due entirely to the brilliant performance given by Robin Williams, who truly makes this film what it is.  His fast-paced commentary and cultural references make the film enjoyable for kids and adults alike, and help propel Genie into the hearts of millions of fans as one of the best characters Disney has ever churned out.  I can’t imagine this role being filled by anyone else, nor would I want to. Williams’s performance is perfection, and is easily one of the main reasons this film is so re-watchable.

4. Abu – The quintessential sidekick, Abu is the mischievous monkey who, although cute, is also the cause for most of Aladdin’s troubles. He’s the reason they’re almost caught stealing bread in the opening scene; he’s the reason the guards chase him and Jasmine in the market; he’s the reason they get trapped in the cave of wonders. Looking back, he really doesn’t actually do anything helpful; instead, he’s the cutesy animal sidekick they helps propel the story with his mistakes.  I’m okay with that though, because he’s way too adorable when he talks, so I’ll happily overlook any of his shortcomings.

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5. Jafar (and Iago) – Talk about a truly despicable villian. Jafar is one of the most hatable bad guys Disney has ever produced. The film crafts him so well that he feels slimy and nefarious (making me question how in the hell the sultan could ever possibly trust him?) .  Still, those are awesome qualities in a villain, easily making Jafar one of my most hated Disney characters. Then there’s Iago, the comedic foil to Jafar’s evil beard-twirling. He’s funny in an obnoxious sort of way, adding humor to otherwise dark scenes. In theory I should hate this character as an adult, but Disney writes him so cleverly that he is actually only more enjoyable as an adult. How does this happen?  Disney was being run by geniuses during this time period, I swear.

5. The Sultan – oh my god, this tiny little ball of happiness. Truth be told he’s kind of a horrible ruler, forcing his daughter to marry when he can obviously change the law at any time, trusting a psychopath to be his royal advisor, and spending all his free time goofing around with little toys. If this was real life he’d likely be deposed, but this is Disney, so apparently it’s all good in the Agrabah hood.  Sultan is a far more likeable parent than other Disney fathers (looking at you, King Triton), and he does change the law to let Jasmine marry whomever she chooses, so he’s pretty cool for that.

Despite the fact that Aladdin would probably never, even be made today, we were lucky enough to be graced with the film before it would have been a “taboo” topic for a kid’s film.   Filled with insanely catchy songs that will be stuck in your head for days, and characters the likes of which Disney couldn’t hope to dream up today, Aladdin is yet another cinematic masterpiece turned out by the studio in its heyday.  I don’t think it’s biased to love this period in Disney’s history so much, because it’s just so damn good. I’m incredibly grateful to have been a kid during this period, able to fully appreciate the magic that was these films.  I doubt I’d love them quite as much if I had been older when they were released, so I feel pretty lucky to have been able to experience this movie with all the wonderment a child’s eyes afford.

Bonus information!: If you’re ever stuck on the cave of wonders level in the Aladdin game for SNES, ready to gouge your eyes out with a fork because the insanity is driving you crazy, the password for completing that level is “Genie Jafar Aladdin Abu”. You never have to play that level again. You’re welcome.

-Jess

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