Time to get back on track with our Disney Princess Movies. Next up:
This is the first time I’ve seen Aladdin in at least twenty years, and I’m relieved to find that I still enjoy it. You know, except for some of that racist shit that I didn’t quite understand when I was seven.
As with all my Disney Princess Movie reviews, you will find SPOILERS here.
1. Starting off with that racist shit: I knew, generally speaking, that Aladdin had generated some controversy when it first came out; I just didn’t know exactly what had specifically sparked the outrage. Mek informed me right before we started the movie that people had been particularly upset about the first song, “Arabian Nights,” and indeed, I cringed pretty hard when I heard the line “it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”
Then Mek told me that this was actually the edited and apparently “good” version of the song; the original also included the line “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face.” And I’m like, Well . . . yeah, it’s good they got rid of that particular lyric, at least, but . . . perhaps we should have just fixed the whole thing? I’m guessing Disney thought that would be too much work.
Other than that whole occasional racism thing, I generally like the Aladdin soundtrack, although it’s interesting that it doesn’t feature one standout awesome villain song like “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid or “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast. Also, I have to admit that the big love ballad in Aladdin has never done much for me. On the other hand, I’ve always been particularly fond of “One Jump Ahead,” “Friend Like Me,” and “Prince Ali.” That last one is an especially insidious ear worm. I really haven’t seen this movie since I was a small child and yet, for no apparent reason, “Prince Ali” has spontaneously popped into my mind off and on for the past 20 years. Meanwhile, “One Jump Ahead” might actually be my favorite of the bunch . . . except for the part where one noticeably overweight woman scoops up Aladdin in her arms and sings, “Still I think he’s rather tasty!”
Sigh. Suppose it wouldn’t do to leave out the fat funnies. Thanks a lot, Disney.
2. I find that I don’t actually have a whole lot to say about Aladdin. That doesn’t mean I won’t try to wrangle at least a couple thousand words out of this review, but there’s not a whole lot I specifically want to analyze or ridicule. I know. I’m letting both you and myself down right now. It’s quite sad, really.
This is a Disney Princess movie, though, so let’s talk about our Disney Princess.
I enjoy Jasmine quite a bit; I just wish she had a little more to do in the final act. Of course, she isn’t actually the main character–unlike most other princesses we’ve discussed thus far–but I still feel like she starts out strong and progressively gets less and less to do as the story goes on.
Like, okay, so Jasmine wants to choose her own husband, which is understandable. And she wants to actually see the world outside the palace walls, which is also understandable, although I feel like this desire disappears pretty quickly after her trip to the marketplace–her main drive after that point is to make sure she doesn’t marry a giant asshat. (In fairness, that’s a totally reasonable concern, and Aladdin does take her to see the world during the big boring love ballad. But we also never really get another moment where Jasmine’s like, “Nope, this is bullshit. I want to go out and see the world, and I’m going to make that happen, damn it.”)
And in the movie’s final act, Jasmine doesn’t really do anything to save herself–which, apparently, was not always the case. IMDb tells me that, originally, she was supposed to break herself out of the hourglass, which would have been pretty cool. On the other hand, IMDb also tells me that Jasmine was first conceived of as a spoiled brat princess, so I’m at least glad we didn’t have to deal with that. And, hey, she gets an awesome sidekick!
Did every girl want a pet tiger after Aladdin came out? I suspect I would rather have had the magic carpet, but, like, I wouldn’t have said no to Rajah, either.
3. And as far as title heroes go, I do like Aladdin quite a bit.
You know, he’s scrappy. Who doesn’t have a fondness for scrappy orphan thief heroes? But I also want to shake him a lot, since it’s so ridiculously obvious that Jasmine doesn’t want to marry the prince he’s pretending to be, and that he should just take the Genie’s advice and TELL HER THE TRUTH. I think we’re all with the magic carpet when it flops over in despair as Aladdin, the loser, misses the perfect opportunity to come clean about his identity.
I have kind of mixed feelings about this, actually. I know that, as audience members, we’re supposed to be facepalming here. It’s just that while I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think of all those romantic comedies where you’re anxiously waiting for the girl to find out that the boy was paid to take her out. Then, of course, she gets hurt and yells at him, and he has to prove he fell in love for real, and blah blah blah. Not that those stories can’t work (I’m a huge fan of 10 Things I Hate About You, actually) but it’s a kind of romantic tension that I generally don’t enjoy, and while I know it’s not quite the same thing here and that the Betrayal part of the plot really isn’t so bad in Aladdin, I did find myself losing interest and de-engaging a bit with the story. Probably more of a personal preference than an actual flaw, but I figured it was worth mentioning.
4. And, of course, we have to talk about the Genie.
I’m pretty sure Aladdin wasn’t the first thing I saw Robin Williams in (I watched reruns of Mork & Mindy as a kid, and of course I also loved Hook), but it’s still one of the first things I remember associating the late actor with, and it’s a little sad, watching Aladdin now. Sometimes Robin Williams’s hyperactive style almost seems to take over a whole movie, making the film more about his non-stop antics rather than the story itself (Toys, for instance, is like this), but here it fits just perfectly. This was nice to watch again, and Robin Williams as the Genie made me smile throughout.
5. Disney villains are often the best part of any given movie, so we’ll obviously have to rank Jafar among the others thus far.
Overall, he pretty much works for me, although I wouldn’t say he’s my favorite by any stretch of the imagination. He has standard bad guy impulses (be the Most Powerful Person Ever) and a standard Disney Villain build (tall, thin, a little older–not unlike Lady Tremaine, the Wicked Queen, or Maleficent, only male). I don’t know if Jonathan Freeman quite matches up to, say, Eleanor Audley, but he has some very nice, very dry line deliveries that I do enjoy, as I’m a sucker for dry humor.
Ultimately, it’s Jafar’s greed and lust for power that gets him in the end, but turning into a giant snake probably doesn’t help, either. Oh, I know it seems like it would, because who wants to fight a 60-foot tall monster, right? But it also does provide a bigger target for our heroes to attack. It would likely be way safer for Jafar to stand a bit at a distance and just keep shooting at his foes with magic. Plus, the whole ‘Make Yourself a Giant Whatever’ impulse is often a fatal mistake for Disney Villains. Consider Maleficent, who only dies after she becomes a dragon, or Ursula, after she expands into a Sea Giantess.
Y’all need a new plan, Disney Villains. Think outside the handbook.
6. We should also evaluate our sidekicks.
Abu is kind of the best. Okay, Abu is the little shit who goes for the big red jewel and screws everything up, but if you think about it, Aladdin’s probably lucky that’s how it went down. If he and Abu had just strolled out of the Cave of Wonders and handed the lamp to Jafar, they’d probably be dead by now. Besides, Abu saves Aladdin’s ass multiple times throughout the movie. And he’s a monkey. Monkeys are always cute, unless they’re throwing poop at you, or unless they’re that host monkey from Outbreak.
The magic carpet is also a sidekick, albeit more of a junior one, and is also fairly lovable. We’ve already discussed Rajah, of course. And then we have our evil sidekick, Jafar’s Chief Lackey: Iago.
I want to strangle him.
I know I’m supposed to want to strangle him, or else they wouldn’t have gotten Gilbert Gottfried to voice him, but still. As a kid, I’m sure I found him amusing enough, but as an adult, I would have been quite happy if the Genie had shoved a magic firecracker up his ass.
Semi-related (if to the character and not to firecrackers): “Calm yourself, Iago” is one of those lines that has, for whatever reason, just stuck with Mekaela and I, so we use versions of it all the time without even thinking about it. This was sort of amusing/embarrassing a couple of years ago when I was hanging out with a different friend who got my reference immediately and followed up with an Aladdin reference of their own, which I didn’t get and then felt very dumb afterwards. Oh, how the mighty pop culture nerd has fallen.
7. Finally, a few random notes:
7A. I actually did a Five-Minute Cosplay for Jasmine, but I’ve decided not to post it. You’re not missing out on much: it was pretty pathetic. For starters, the only wig I have that’s roughly the right color and length is also, apparently, my cheapest, rattiest wig. Trying to arrange it was . . . vexing. My teal tank top actually isn’t a terrible color match, but I have nothing even close for the pants and just wore my Batman PJ pants instead. Not exactly accurate. (Nor was my sister’s yoga mat that I pretended was a magic carpet, but that didn’t bother me because I thought it was hilarious. I’m obviously pretty easily amused, though.)
I also don’t have a matching headband or any kind of headpiece, so I ended up wrapping a teal washcloth to my head and affixing it from the back with a black headband. It didn’t occur to me until I was about to upload the picture that, just maybe, wearing a towel-like rag around my head was perhaps not the most culturally sensitive thing I could do while dressing up as an Arabic character, so yeah. No Five-Minute Cosplay today, sorry. But you can have a picture of my pet tiger:
7B. Faithful readers will remember that I can be somewhat . . . particular . . . about the use of repetition in dialogue. Is this a hypocritical attitude from a Californian who throws out at least one “like,” “all,” or “awesome” in every paragraph she writes? Possibly. Regardless, if I had a time machine in which I could use to go back and edit movie scripts rather than doing, well, anything useful? There would be considerably less instances of both “street rat” and “diamond in the rough” in this script. (Also, yes, I’d just go ahead and cut that barbarian line from “Arabian Nights.” Seriously, guys. It’s embarrassing it’s still in there.)
7C. This is probably typical of Disney, but I can’t help but notice that the cast list for this movie is extremely white. Of course, it’s an animated movie, and I’m honestly not sure how people feel about white-washing when it comes to voice work. Still, if Disney is going to profit off of Middle Eastern stories, it probably wouldn’t hurt to have at least one Middle Eastern actor involved who gets to profit too.
7D. There is one white actor who didn’t get to be in this movie, though, and that actor is Patrick Stewart. AGAIN. This is the third Disney movie in a row that he wanted to appear in (he would have been Jafar) and was forced to drop out of, presumably because he was too busy commanding the USS: Enterprise. Jesus H. Christ, TNG. Why are you so mean?
7E. Finally, about that Disney Villain Handbook: another common and peculiar step in the Deceiving Your Enemies section appears to be Disguise Yourself As The Most Untrustworthy Looking Old Person You Can Imagine. The Wicked Queen, for instance, has a very strange idea of what an old, harmless woman looks like. Jafar is no better; in fact, arguably, he’s even worse.
On the fair side, it does seem to work out for them, at least temporarily. But then they have to turn themselves into giant monsters and screw it all up. (Or, in the Wicked Queen’s case, get assassinated by God. I hold firm to this idea: divine intervention is the only way the end of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs makes sense.)
Genie: “Thank you for choosing Magic Carpet for all your travel needs. Don’t stand until the rug has come to a complete stop. Thank you. Goodbye now. Goodbye. Goodbye. Thank you. Goodbye.”
Genie: “Rule #3: I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture. I don’t like doing it!”
Aladdin: “You’re a prisoner?”
Genie: “It’s all part and parcel, the whole genie gig. Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space!”
Genie: “Enough about you, Casanova. Talk about her.”
Genie: “She’s smart, fun. The hair, the eyes. Anything. Pick a feature.”
Aladdin: “Princess Jasmine, you’re very . . .”
Genie: “Wonderful! Magnificent! Glorious! Punctual!”
Guard: “He’s got a sword!”
Razoul: “You idiots! We’ve all got swords!”
Merchant: “Will not break! Will not break–it broke.”
Sultan: “Prince Ali Ababwa! Of course! I’m delighted to meet you. This is my royal vizier, Jafar. He’s delighted, too.”
Genie: “Pssst. Your line is ‘I’m going to free the Genie.’ Anytime.”
Jafar: “You’re speechless, I see. A fine quality in a wife.”
Guard: “You won’t get away so easily!”
Aladdin: “You think that was easy!”
Jasmine: “I am not a prize to be won!”
Iago: “With all due respect, your Rottenness, can’t we just wait for a real storm?”
Enjoyable and funny, with an unfortunate side of casual racism. But, hey, cool sidekicks!
If the princess of your dreams sneaks out to the marketplace, pretends to be an ordinary person, seems to like hanging out with ordinary people, and often speaks of egotistical princes with sheer and utter disdain . . . you should probably lie to her and pretend you’re an egotistical prince yourself to win her affections. It’s like reverse psychology, but even more dumb.
5 thoughts on ““Phenomenal Cosmic Powers! Itty Bitty Living Space!””
I can’t believe you entirely skipped the part where the Princess distracts the Villain by going all sexytimes and KISSING HIM!!??!!
Seriously, there’s some major critique you could do with the whole exoticizaton/orientalization of the feminine for our first Middle Eastern princess, but… on the other hand, Jasmine’s whole *shift* into Seductress!Jasmine is something I don’t think I’d ever want to miss. It’s like Leia in the slave bikini, except with agency.
Also, the line: “And your beard is sooooo….. *twisted*” … hottest. Line. Ever.
Oh yeah! Wow, i’d totally forgotten about that skin-crawling creepfest. Ahahaha!
Yeah, I . . . totally don’t have feelings on it one way or the other? I guess it’s different for Disney, but the girl distracting the villain with sexy times is just so whatever that I didn’t even blink at it.
Also, I’m not actually anti Leia’s slave bikini. I mean, I’m anti that it’s all some people remember her for. That’s frustrating. But I don’t feel like Jasmine has any more agency in this scene than Leia does in hers. They’re both prisoners. Neither of them are choosing what they’re wearing. They’re just making the choices they can in a bad situation. Jasmine seduces. Leia strangles the shit out of Jabba. I’m totally fine with both.
Jasmine does kind of fade into a lack of agency toward the end, but as far as Disney princesses go, she has some moxie.
And regarding the “barbaric” line… As an adult i can see how it’s offensive, especially since fantasy stories that take place in ye olde Europe don’t have lines like that, but as a kid i assumed they were talking about it being olden times–not because it was another culture. But i never liked that song much anyway–my favorites were “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali.”
I do like Jasmine. She certainly beats out some of the earlier princesses for moxie. (Although, thus far, Belle remains my favorite.) We’ll see about the later ones: we’re heading into the time where I mostly stopped watching Disney movies. I am not at all looking forward to Pocahontas.
As a kid, I didn’t think anything of the lyric, either. But as a kid, I barely thought about the lyrics at all. (That hasn’t entirely changed. I constantly realize I don’t know what the hell I’m singing.) I’m not sure I even knew what “barbaric” meant when this movie came out.