OK, I know the film is 20 years old … I got thinking about it again because we have a little Aladdin book that my son likes to look at. And in thinking about Disney’s Aladdin, I’ve finally been able to pinpoint what bothered me about the film.
I like many things about this film. I like the way Aladdin and Jasmine look; I like the songs; I like the chase sequences. The fact that Aladdin, the street rat, and Jasmine, the princess, both begin the movie feeling “trapped” is appropriate to the setting and the story. (Though Jasmine isn’t nearly as trapped as she should be. How does she get away with refusing suitors? And where are the sultan’s dozen or so other daughters?)
The arrival of the genie is supposed to bring the solution to the lovers’ trapped feeling. But the genie brings problems of his own, for the plot. First of all, there is the annoying pop-culture banter that might be appropriate on a talk show, but that ruins the feel and escapism of the movie. (For me, anyway. Hollywood is something I want to escape from, not to.)
But more serious are the issues with the genie’s magic. Magic, of course, always goes by strict rules, and in fact one of the themes of the film is that the genie is strictly bound by the rules of his nature. But unfortunately, the writers did not stick to this consistently.
When Aladdin asks the genie to “make me a prince!” the genie provides him with clothes, P.R., and an entourage, but Aladdin, predictably, feels like a fraud, and not up to the task of ruling as sultan, which will come with marrying Jasmine. At the end of the film, when Aladdin goes to make his third wish, the genie exclaims, “One bona-fide prince pedigree coming up!” Which raises some big questions. Is the pedigree going to be magical forgery? Or is the genie, in fact, able to change people’s past and their very identity? The latter would be a dangerous concept to introduce. But either way, forgery or changing the past, why didn’t the genie do it in the first place, when Aladdin said, “Make me a prince”?
This leads to the question of how much discretion the genie has over which wishes he grants. On their first meeting, Aladdin tricks the genie into getting him out of the Cave of Wonders, without counting it as a wish. Waiving that requirement appears to be up to the genie, who says, “All right, you baaad boy. But no more freebies!” But later, when Aladdin is unconscious at the bottom of the ocean, the genie desperately tries to get him to “make the wish” to save him, finally taking a pitiful sag of the head as a nod. These incidents seem to seriously undermine the basic premise that the genie is bound by the rules of his nature.
What do you think, fellow story hounds? Do flaws in a book or movie’s plot prevent you from really enjoying it … or can you enjoy it anyway as long as there are compensating factors like great music or action? And what do you think about showing kids movies with holes in the plot?