Aladdin

So in our trek through Disney, we’re not looking for artfulness or originality or sheer entertainment, we’re focusing in on straight-up morals. What do these shows teach our kids, and are those things okay? With Aladdin, I think the issues are fairly straightforward. First off, we have Aladdin’s starting point–he’s a thief–and then we have his overall storyline/where he goes from there. Finally we have Jasmine. Hit those three points, and I think we’ve got a solid analysis of whether the overall message is good for kids.

First stop we have is Aladdin the thief. Aladdin is a penniless street rat dressed in rags with nothing but a fez and a monkey. He does not steal for profit, he steals to keep from starving. Furthermore, he willingly gives up his plunder to cute little orphans less reckless than he. Does this justify his thievery? I’ll leave that up to you. I think the movie paints it as ambiguous. It’s a commentary more on the pressures of poverty than on the morality of thieving. And I think at some point nice middle class kids with good home lives and television sets should at least be introduced to the concept of people with neither homes nor jobs.

But regardless of what you think of Aladdin’s thieving, the main moral is not in the beginning, it’s in the path of the whole story. Aladdin seems to be a fairly nice guy at the beginning, giving up his dinner so little kids don’t starve. But he also seems fairly self-centered. He is willing to lie up a storm to get out of poverty and into a palace with the girl of his dreams. Genie repeatedly tells him that honesty is the best policy, but instead Aladdin… well, he “follows his heart” and keeps on lying. He even reneges on a promise to free Genie and lashes out at Abu and the magic carpet.

Eventually Aladdin’s lies come unraveled and he is left alone in the snow at the ends of the earth. He realizes that he messed up bad, putting himself before others. Having learned his lesson, he heads back to Agrabah to save the day. His street savoir faire serves him well, and he is victorious. At last, he is given one final challenge. A law prevents the conquering hero from marrying his lovely lady, so Genie offers to give up his freedom in exchange for a final wish which will circumvent the law. Aladdin refuses, using his last wish to free Genie instead. Sultan, touched by the scene, does what he could have done ages ago: changes the law. Everything ends well.

So, the moral of Aladdin’s story seems to be 1) tell the truth, and 2) put others first. Good morals if you ask me. But there is more to it than that. One final thread of the story must be examined: Jasmine.

Jasmine starts the story being wooed by an endless train of international royalty. You see, the law states she has to be married to a prince by her next birthday. She has been rejecting all the suitors, apparently. One even leaves without the seat of his pants. Playful tigers, you know. Well, Jasmine doesn’t like this. She feels trapped. She runs off, pretends to be a commoner, and nearly loses her arm while absent-mindedly stealing so a small child can eat. Aladdin rescues her and they lament over how they are both trapped. Eventually she goes back, meets Aladdin in his royal alter-ego, and falls in love with him again. She finds out who he is, gets captured by Jafar, gets rescued, and lives happily ever after.

I suppose the Jasmine storyline is a follow-your-heart narrative, but it’s not a very compelling one. Maybe it’s just me, but Jasmine bugged me. She actually did very little most of the story. Other than run away from home and play with Jafar’s beard. But besides that, she was mostly just a chick with attitude, sometimes justified, sometimes not. She didn’t earn her happy ending, and though she followed her heart, it was hardly in a dramatic way. Most of the movie she follows her heart by doing what her father said. Not exactly egocentric anti-authoritarianism.

So here’s my ruling on Aladdin: watch it. It’s a solid rags-to-riches story that abounds in hilarity and adventure. Your kids might learn honesty and putting others first, and maybe a little sympathy for street rats. But I seriously doubt they will cast off morality and sense and start doing whatever their heart tells them.

Stay tuned for more.

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To Disney, Or Not To Disney?

I grew up on Disney. The Lion King, especially. And the Jungle Book, definitely. Mulan and Aladdin as well. And Sleeping Beauty and Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame and A Goofy Movie and The Rescuers Down Under and The Little Mermaid and The Black Cauldron and– I should stop now. I could go on. I have seen almost every Disney animated feature since Snow White, including several poorly done sequels. I loved them. Disney movies, together old myths and coming-of-age fantasy novels, were my bread and butter.

But in the world of Reformed Christianity, and especially in the sectors where we skip out on public schooling in favor of Christian education, Disney is not always welcome. Those movies, so it is said, promote rebellion, self-centeredness, and following one’s heart. Rather than one’s head or one’s authority figures, I assume. Furthermore, Disney creates unrealistic expectations regarding romance, dreaming big, and happy endings. Such things are not good.

I was becoming acquainted with this view at about the same time as I was switching from cartoons and kids shows to action movies, crime dramas, and psychological thrillers. I was not very motivated to explore what was being said. Instead, I shrugged and went back to conducting Ode to Joy as John McClane shoved terrorists out windows. Years went by, I became a college kid, and watched enough Quentin Tarantino to last a lifetime. It was painful.

So here I am, having come full circle. I want to reconnect with my storytelling roots. I want a little nostalgia, and some lightheartedness. I am tired of exploring the grey areas and dealing with twist endings and reminding myself that I have to be careful what movies I recommend to people. Give me family friendly, give me good guys and bad guys, give me a Disney classic.

So, as I began this journey back through the long-untrod paths of my childhood, I figured, why not put that old disapproving notion to the test? Why not see if these movies were as bad as they say? I want to look at their problems, and at their redeeming values, and I want to lay it out here for your consideration. So, over the next good while, I will be both reviewing and re-viewing Disney movies. And this, dear friend, is your invitation to join me on that noble quest.

So come on down,
Stop on by,
Hop a carpet and fly…
…cause we’re starting with a lamp, a street rat, and another Arabian night.