It’s Movie Time: Aladdin

Newest in my venture to watch my movie collection in alphabetical(ish) order. To see other posts in the series, click here. As always, potential Spoiler Alert

Can I have a pet tiger? Please?

I admit, this was my biggest takeaway from Aladdin – the 1992 animated film, not the 2019 live-action remake – when I first saw it. I actually saw it by accident. An independent theatre was doing a double bill of … something science fiction-y, I think. It was a theatre I went to regularly, so I just showed up at their normal start time, only to discover that the double bill had been pushed back for an early showing of Aladdin. I hadn’t seen it, and I liked Disney movies well enough, so I stayed.

And it was enjoyable enough that I bought it. I used to pop it in the player a lot while I was ironing. And when my husband and I bought our first house, which wasn’t quite finished yet, we’d play the Cave of Wonders scene to the contractors as they came and went to show off our home theatre system.

The Cave of Wonders scene has always been my favourite from the film. (That voice!) But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Aladdin, and watching it now, a different scene caught my attention. When Aladdin takes Jasmine to his home and shows her the view of the palace, their opposing reactions – Aladdin’s that the palace means freedom, and Jasmine’s that it means oppression – mirror the duality I felt while watching this film today.

On the one hand, it does contain some good stuff. It features the Magic Carpet, an inclusive, fully non-verbal character. Jasmine fighting for, and achieving, the right to decide her own future was very forward-thinking for the time. And of course, Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie is brilliant.

On the other hand, there’s the copious amounts of racism. Everybody in the story is from Agrabah, yet Aladdin has American features and accent, while Arabic features and accents denote bad guys. Sword-wielding, belly dancing secondary characters drip stereotypes. And Disney’s idea of ‘fixing’ a problematic song lyric entailed changing, “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face,” to, “Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense,” while leaving the next line, “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home,” as it was.

It’s a confounding dichotomy.

I was surprised to find myself thinking along the same lines as I did while watching 9-1/2 Weeks as part of my It’s Movie Time series. In that case, I mused on how the conversation had changed in the 30 years since the film’s release, from being scandalized about sex to being critical of toxic relationships with the release of 50 Shades of Gray.

There’s somewhat of a parallel between that and Aladdin and its racism, specifically in terms of the live-action remake. Like 50 Shades, I’ve never seen the Aladdin remake, so I can’t speak to the film itself. But I did notice the conversation had changed, not in terms of topic, but in the timing of it. The discussion was proactive, beginning when the movie was announced, instead of reactive after the film’s release, when the damage was already done.

So once again, I find myself writing this as a closing line: I just wish it hadn’t taken us 30 years to get here, and that we didn’t still have so far to go.

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