Disney has been on a rebooting rampage. From live-action princesses, to CGI fuzzy animals, Disney is on the hunt with a gun filled with nostalgia bullets. None of these remakes mattered much to me. I watched Disney all throughout my childhood, and even got second place in a hula-hoop contest just to win The Little Mermaid 2, but none of these remakes piqued my interest until the announcement of a new Aladdin movie. And not only was the movie—my favorite Disney movie—getting a remake, but it was coming out on MY BIRTHDAY.
Aladdin was originally released on November 25th, 1992 to critical acclaim. It made 19.2 million in its opening weekend, and was the most successful film of that year. A lot of other great things happened for the movie, all of which of easily Wikipedia-able. So now that we get that it was a financial bop, let’s move on.
Aladdin has its problems. For one, most of the voice acting cast is white. Hell, most of the people involved in creating the movie is white. Did Scott Weigner, of Full House fame, play Aladdin well? Sure. Was he the only person who could have done that? Absolutely not. But the problem isn’t just voice acting. Maybe if they hired some actual Middle Eastern people, they wouldn’t have created lyrics like “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric but hey, it’s home.” (italics mine to emphasize the racism of it all). Even the character design is a problem. While Aladdin and Jasmine look like (in the words of Roger Ebert) “white American teenagers,” the minor cast are the one with darker skin and ethnic stereotypes. Jasmine has an hourglass figure (foreshadowing!) and Aladdin looks pretty buff for someone who 1. Has a diet of apples and bread, and 2. squats in someone’s dilapidated attic.
Now that I’ve laid out some issues in the movie (and I didn’t even mention the queer coding), it’s time to talk about why I love Aladdin. The movie came out the year I was born, and while I do not remember this at all, my mother tells me that I saw it in theatres. I would have been 6 months old, but even my infant pea brain must have kept something about the movie sacred because I’m 27 now and that movie is still incredibly special to me. I watched the movie religiously. One Halloween I was pissed that my mom wouldn’t let me be Aladdin because I wanted to wear a vest shirtless. Another year I wanted to be Jasmine but couldn’t find her exact outfit so I went as I Dream of Jeannie instead (which is basically the same exact outfit but pink). It also had a fake stomach stitched that was not even remotely close to my skin color. But I was committed. I’m not saying I’m the #1 Fan, but I am saying that that movie means a lot to me. But it wasn’t just the animation, the acting, or the music that grabbed me; It was all really one person who stuck with me all these years: Princess Jasmine.
As a child, I saw Jasmine as a proud, vocal woman who refused to compromise herself. When an arbitrary law demanded she marry a prince, Jasmine decided royalty was not for her. She jumped over the temple walls and ran away. Her plan to escape changed once she met a cute boy who also felt trapped in his life. Jasmine don’t take shit from no one, and her infamous line, “I am not a prize to be won” cements her fervor. Neither she, nor her kingdom, is a game or a toy to be played with. As the first princess of color, I looked to Jasmine as an icon, and I loved her and all of her “flaws.”
With every Disney princess, Jasmine has been hit with criticisms. Many feminist critics claim that Jasmine has no real substance, and that she follows the same footsteps as Princess Aurora or Snow White, who are only rescued once their prince comes to save them. Because she doesn’t read a book like Belle, or obsess over trinkets like Ariel, she’s seen as a passive princess. Friendly reminder that reading a book does not make you interesting.
While it’s true that Aladdin does rescue Jasmine, I also believe that Jasmine was on the way to saving herself. In fact, there are multiple times where Jasmine active tries to save Aladdin. She isn’t afraid to punch at some corrupt guards, or use her political power to order them to unhand her newly acquired man. Aladdin and Jasmine both feel trapped in their situation, and by meeting they find solace in each other, and help each other along the way. Does Jasmine land the final blow of the main villain, thus saving Agrabah and the world? No, but why should that diminish the power she wields throughout the entirety of the movie?
When the remake of Aladdin came out on May 24th, 2019 everyone was terrified of a blue, buff Will Smith, but Will Smith really didn’t deviate at all from the original. Who was changed the most was actually Princess Jasmine.
2019’s Aladdin takes everything that was problematic in the original and tries to fix it; The majority of the cast are people of color, that weird line about barbarism was removed, and everyone’s clothing seems pretty tasteful for a children’s movie. Jasmine still wants to marry someone she loves, but her main priority is in convincing her father that she should be Sultan of Agrabah rather than her future husband. The movie is less of a traditional sticky-sweet romance and more of a story about a woman who gets to be queen and keep a man, too.
Jasmine is also given a song, titled “Speechless,” where she sings about the frustrations of being told to be silent and to be “seen and not heard.” The movie is extremely explicit in what it’s trying to convey. Jafar outright tells Jasmine to stay in her place. Subtly does not exist in the streets of Agrabah. Aladdin is a street rat who will be mourned by insects, and Jasmine is a woman.
These changes are important. For those who had qualms with the original film, this new version really tackles what the original got wrong and tries to correct them. If the original Jasmine was meant to a “heroine of the nineties,” then this newer version is absolutely a heroine of the twenty-tens. Though, there’s something to be said about the fact that so often, female characters are the most rebooted and reworked because something about the original seems flawed, or must be changed to appease a newer audience. I understand (and am ostensibly a part of) the clamor for women who have larger roles in stories, but sometimes that clamor means turning every female character into the Strong Female ProtagonistTM, and diminishing the power of a woman who may be flawed, who may be weak, but who can still thrive and succeed regardless.
Reboots aren’t inherently an issue. Movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Spiderman: Homecoming, and—perhaps the best reboot to have ever been rebooted—Freaky Friday starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis are strong examples of what a reboot can do to revive story. Rebooting a Jasmine to have more demand to be Sultan can be in a way, reclaiming her as the feminist icon so many want her to be. She was already independent, vocal, and ferocious before, but now her stomach is fully covered and she wants to be a leader. Now that she has it all, she is good enough.
What do we do when our female icons were also positioned as sex symbols? What happens when a female character is designed to be smart, witty, and comedic, while also with short shorts and a large breasts? I’m not breaking any new ground here. This conversation has been brought up pretty much for every female game character created in the 90’s or early 2000’s who have been rebooted or remade. It’s just the truth of it: A lot of female characters in movies or games were created with very large breasts, and not a lot of clothing! What do we do with that?!
It’s a balancing act, to accept female characters as they are while also wanting them to not project stereotypes about women. But the problem is never the women; after all, all women should be allowed to dress however they like and have whatever size breasts they want. The problem is in the people who think women with large breasts, or women who simply want love, are bad.
I won’t lie: I’m a little salty that 1992 Jasmine gets treated as if she slept in a glass tube waiting for Aladdin to kiss her back to life, but I’m not at all mad about what was added to Jasmine’s role. I don’t believe either version is a superior version. 2019 Jasmine is an add-on to the ferocity and the rebellion that was already established 27 years ago. Obviously, I’m biased, seeing as I’ve wanted to be like Jasmine basically since I was 6 months old. I found my icon back in 1992, but many people did not, and so I hope 2019 Jasmine helps new people see what was already there.