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Recognizing identity and true love in Disney's 'Aladdin'

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Disney's "Aladdin"

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“Aladdin” was born in the middle of the Disney Renaissance, and its creation brought forth a unique perspective to a time where Disney was attempting to breathe new life into its animated films. The story centers on Aladdin (Scott Weinger) and a beautiful princess named Jasmine (Linda Larkin), whose lives are joined by fate and their mutual desire for freedom.

“Aladdin” deals a lot with the theme of identity and the manipulation of identity. When we first meet Aladdin and Jasmine, their identities are solidly established – she is a beautiful and misunderstood princess, and he is a common street rat who is demeaned by the more privileged members of society. When the couple meets for the first time, Aladdin believes Jasmine to be another commoner. They escape to Aladdin’s humble abode and realize that they are both trapped by circumstance and status…that is, until he is captured and discovers she is a princess.

Aladdin realizes he has feelings for Princess Jasmine, but he is forced to acknowledge that by law, he is not worthy of her. Later, Aladdin makes a wish that he can be a prince so he can be with Jasmine because he has fallen in love with her, and after a rough initiation, he finally wins her heart. Their tender romance is interrupted when Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) reveals Aladdin’s true identity to Jasmine and her father. When all is said and done, the Sultan recognizes Aladdin’s courage and realizes the strength of Aladdin and Jasmine’s love and thus he decrees that Aladdin and Jasmine may marry, and Aladdin’s true identity is accepted.

One of the underlying themes of Aladdin is connected to three significant characters: Aladdin, Princess Jasmine, and the Genie. The common relationship which intertwines this triad of characters is that the essence of what they each desire to achieve is their own perception of freedom...and ironically, the fate of all three characters is dependent on the choices that their counterparts make.

Aladdin is a common street rat who dreams of being something more than what life has defined him to be. Jasmine is a beautiful princess who wants nothing more than to be free from her gilded cage so she can have the chance to find love instead of submitting to an arranged marriage. The Genie possesses all the power of the cosmos and yet he is shackled by that same power and he wants nothing more than to be liberated from it. When Aladdin releases the Genie from the lamp, he vows to use his final wish to gain the Genie’s freedom. The Genie, in turn, uses his power to aid Aladdin in winning the heart of the beautiful Princess Jasmine. Ultimately, the Genie gives Aladdin the choice of having the “Prince Ali” identity restored to him. Although it meant possibly losing his chance to win Jasmine’s heart, Aladdin honors his vow to free the Genie, and Aladdin and Jasmine finally able to be together with their true identities restored.

Aladdin is a character with a dual identity: he is a common street rat and he is a prince. But do these two facets of Aladdin’s character make up his whole identity? The answer is a solid and resounding no. Aladdin is the most realistically human in terms of masculine characters in the Disney animated canon. He is a character who is borne into unfortunate circumstances…who is demeaned by the higher shades of society…and whose desperate wish is to be something greater than what he is.

What Aladdin doesn’t realize is although he may initially appear insignificant and he disguises his true identity to win Jasmine’s heart, he possesses deeper qualities which make him a truly worthy character, even when he is a street rat. He expresses compassion to people who are suffering more than he is. He offers a beggar child some bread (and as a result went hungry himself). He ultimately keeps his promise to grant the Genie’s freedom (even though it meant potentially sacrificing his chance to be with Jasmine.) He also possesses a courageous heart. He rescues Princess Jasmine three different times, he faces Jafar twice, and he is willing to fight for what he wants.

Princess Jasmine stands out as one of the strongest and most independent female characters that Disney has created to date. While the majority of other Disney ladies (at least up to that point) have relied on their respective male counterparts to rescue them, Jasmine ultimately rescues herself from the shackles that bind her to her royal duty. She flees after a confrontation with her father and when she meets Aladdin, part of their attraction originates from the fact that they are both “trapped” by their individual circumstances and they desire something more than what life has rendered them. When she returns to the palace and realizes she has been promised to “Prince Ali” who is really Aladdin in disguise, she boldly refuses to consider his suit for her. She doesn’t love “Prince Ali”, she loves Aladdin, and it is only when Aladdin’s true identity is restored that Jasmine gives her heart to him. Even when Jafar has her as his prisoner, she uses her intelligence and strength to trick him so Aladdin can get the Genie’s lamp. In the end, Jasmine is able to choose who she wants to marry based on her own heart without the stringent mandate of law dictating her.

While not as highly acclaimed as "Beauty and the Beast" in the preceding year, "Aladdin" has garnered its own prestige and praise. In 1993, "Aladdin" received an Oscar for Best Musical Score and Best Song (A Whole New World) for Alan Menken and Tim Rice. Aladdin also won a Golden Globe award for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (A Whole New World) for Alan Menken and Tim Rice, as well as a special award for Robin Williams for his vocal work.

"Aladdin" creates a unique identity in the Disney genre. Instead of focusing on the Disney “formula” of a prince and a princess falling in love instantly, Aladdin illustrated two people from vastly different social classes finding love, recognizing the strength of their love, and fighting for it. The casting choices strike the perfect balance between romance and comedy, particularly in the choice of Robin Williams as the Genie. His comedic style was a perfect marriage for an animated character and it made the Genie truly memorable. These are only a few reasons while Aladdin is a worthy addition to any Disney collection.

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