91. Aladdin - The Part-Time Critic

Monday, March 23, 2009

91. Aladdin

Aladdin (1991)
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

In a choice that may anger certain readers (one Justin Hawks in particular), Aladdin makes my list as the one Disney musical I would want above all the others. Before casting the opinion aside, hear me out on this one. I’ve taken a lot of time to think about the pro’s and cons of all the Disney musicals and here are the reasons I would take Aladdin above them all. Brace yourself; you may not have thought about these films this much before.

Primarily, I find Aladdin the most emotionally enjoyable and intellectually satisfying of the Disney musicals. I enjoy all of the major Disney musicals, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. What follows is a small dissection of what makes Aladdin the most essential of all four. Some may say I am picking them apart a little too much, but I told you earlier that I ‘enjoy’ them all, and I am here now looking for what differentiates them from each other.

The Little Mermaid is a fantastic film with great music and very likeable characters. However, our heroine must find her satisfaction and enjoyment in the person of someone she hardly even knows. Is the lesson of the film that we should follow blindly (giving up essential parts of our nature) for irrational desires? It all works out in the end (to our delight), but doesn’t a closer examination of the message notch it down a little?

Beauty and the Beast is also a fantastic film filled with great musical moments and likeable characters as well. In fact, It was nominated for an Academy Award, which is not all that surprising considering that it’s seemingly the most mature of the Disney four. Here again, the ultimate message of the film brings it down a few notches. Bill Chambers from http://www.filmfreakcentral.net/ says it best, “Belle, the titular 'beauty,' is the archetypal freethinking Disney heroine nonetheless given an ultimatum: this dude or that dude. She doesn't care to end up with Volvo-chinned Gaston because he wants a slave for a wife; meanwhile, she falls for a hot-tempered manimal, but is it any coincidence that he showers her with gifts the whole time? Disney's Beauty and the Beast is about a superficial woman rejecting one superficial man for another who happens to be ugly enough to ennoble her decision. Gaston is the only character honest with himself in this corrupt, self-righteous enterprise, which rewards Belle's patience by having Beast revert to a chiselled Aryan in the denouement.” At least Shrek got it right, Shrek and Fiona needed to remain ogres to retain the true power of the message.

My thoughts on The Lion King are featured here, but let me just add a few notes to it. There is something askew about the message of The Lion King when it supports the “caste” system of the jungle. The central message the movie puts forward is about not running from your past and becoming ‘who’ you are meant to be; but how does this whole “meant to be king” and “circle of life” fit into our society that is primarily a democracy and meritocracy? If we are going to anthropomorphize our animals and praise certain aspects of the animal world (like the circle of life), then I take a little bit of caution to the film’s other messages.

This brings me to Aladdin. While I find the film incredibly enjoyable (due in no small part to Robin Williams’ Genie), its also the most intellectually and thematically satisfying. Here we have two characters who yearn for a “better” world (some might say, "A Whole New World"); Jasmine the Princess yearns to be away from the suffocating traditionalism of the palace while Aladdin dreams to be rid of the suffocating poverty of the slums. Both characters ultimately realize that true freedom isn't being away from their current locations or circumstances; its about pursuing the things you want and love regardless of obstacles, locaton, and circumstances.

It’s to the filmmakers credit that the Genie does not just represent a just a funny sidekick, but represents another character who is in a way shackled and desiring freedom. Aladdin’s decision to use his last wish to free the Genie isn’t just a great moment for the audience (because we like the Genie), but because it completes Aladdin’s character. Aladdin’s freeing of the Genie demonstrates his revelation that his real happiness doesn't lay in wishing for a change in places or circumstances, and thus he turns his wish over to help someone else gain their freedom.

Even Aladdin’s defeat of Jafar plays on the theme of freedom. Whereas Aladdin comes to the realization that freedom doesn’t rely upon power and materials, Jafar’s ultimate ruin comes from his unending desire to aquire them. Jafar is defeated, not because Aladdin is stronger, but because he Aladdin is able to pay on this desire, and trick Jafar into enslaving himself. That my friends, is a lesson for the ages.

If you like any of the other Disney musicals more than Aladdin, that’s okay with me. I’m not on a crusade to make you change your mind, just help you understand mine better (now if you do change you mind that’s fine too). I find them all very enjoyable, but Aladdin to be the one Disney musical above all, that I can’t live without.

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe you hate The Little Mermaid! And Beauty and the Beast! You just hate them because their main characters are women! How dare you! jk :) Anyway, after getting an insight into your mind on how to analyze the films I grew up watching (when I was 10 and younger), I can see where you are coming from. That's a lot more analyzing than I would put into them but I understand. Of course, I'm not JHawks who seems to have a passion for all Disney movies so good luck with him. Anyway, another wonderful entry (made in a prompt timely manner). And Happy Birthday!