A lot has happened between 1992 and 2019, the debut of Disney’s original animated Aladdin and the franchise’s latest live-action reboot, respectively. The classic tale of a street rat falling in love with a princess has been updated, featuring reimagined hip-hop and pop versions of beloved songs, yet feels stuck in a past age in other aspects, particularly pertaining to gender. Nevertheless, amidst the never-ending list of Disney remakes, with a phenomenal cast and just enough new plot points, Aladdin secures a spot at the top of the list.
As a Disney fanatic, with Aladdin and Princess Jasmine amongst my favorites, the initial scene in the 2019 update made me immediately wary. Changes from the original occurred instantly. Viewers are taken on a ship in the Arabian seas, which differs from the original overview of Agrabah’s sand, site of the infamous cave of wonders. While this shift in setting was not obviously significant at first, as the movie progresses this initial opening weaves nicely into the plot. These changes in Aladdin culminated in a delightful viewing experience.
Jasmine’s Independence is a Strong Point
The strength of this movie stemmed from its cast. Naomi Scott shone and stole the show as Princess Jasmine. In the original film and compared to Disney’s princess lineup, Jasmine stood out. She was a woman who spoke her mind, was unwilling to settle, and hyper-aware of her value and benefit to her kingdom. Scott embodied Jasmine’s admirable characteristics perfectly, presenting a woman worthy of being a princess.
In every scene, Jasmine continually acts as a role model for younger female viewers. Jasmine refuses to be silenced, a reoccurring theme for the character, sung beautifully by Scott in one of the new musical additions, “Speechless.” The kingdom’s law requires Jasmine to marry a prince rather than rule herself. Despite odds stacked against her, she never forgets her self-worth or settles on a prince who disregards her intellect. Jasmine’s headstrong, feminist-driven personality stays true to the original film, and Scott embodies these characteristics impeccably.
Outdated Gender Roles Were Not Developed
However, sometimes the new live-action version stays too close to its original content, especially in regards to Jasmine. The princess is forced to marry a prince in order to secure her country’s future beyond her father’s rule. This limits Jasmine’s choice in suitable husbands and reinforces that females are not fit, qualified rulers. This is despite the only requirement for a ruler being a male born into the royal bloodline. If the inherent gender inequality went unnoticed by the audience, several characters explicitly reinforce these outdated ideas.
As a threat, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the film’s villain focused on becoming sultan, tells Jasmine her place is to be “seen and not heard” when she questions why she cannot rule herself. Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), Jasmine’s handmaiden, a new character adding charm and comedy, overlooks love for the suitors’ attractiveness and wealth. Although Jasmine’s upcoming marriage propels the plot, the constant perpetuation of demeaning gender roles could greatly be improved upon. Simple phrases of assurance from Aladdin (Mena Massoud) could have evened out this imbalance. The reboot would have moved in the right direction by being more aware of the ideas they were retelling.
Nevertheless, Disney takes progressive steps by incorporating hip-hop and pop into their well-known songs. This largely has to do with Will Smith’s portrayal of the Genie. “Friend Like Me” takes on a contemporary vibe, sure to make kids smile, as Smith comedically asks Aladdin “what’s your name” repeatedly during the song. Jasmine and Aladdin contribute to these lyrical and musical reimaginings. The princess beat-boxes during the end credits and “One Jump Ahead” adds a poppy background beat. Stepping outside a traditional musical theatre sound allows a wider range of potential listeners. Featuring different styles shows children these genres can be taken seriously and be sung by princes and princesses.
Overall, the live-action Aladdin pleasantly surprised me. While I don’t love that Disney is remaking seemingly all of their classic films, they have yet to majorly disappoint. Aladdin particularly does a great job of sticking to fan-favorite elements of the original, but also incorporates new music styles and impressive actors to keep viewers entertained. It is worth checking out what new tricks this version has up its sleeves. Hopefully Aladdin’s trusty sidekick Abu doesn’t steal from your sleeves in the process.