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.