What I’ve Learned from Disney Princes: Aladdin
by Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)
In 1992, Disney released Aladdin and introduced a twist in the Disney Princess paradigm–a twist that has yet to be duplicated. Aladdin is the only movie classified among the Princess movies that actually features the prince as the lead. This doesn’t mean that Jasmine doesn’t play a significant role. In fact, she has all of the hallmarks of the other Princesses: kindness, compassion, mercy, a penchant for talking to animals, and so on. Additionally, like the other Disney Princesses, Jasmine is the ultimate heroine of the movie even though Aladdin, himself, is quite dashing and heroic.
Do not be fooled by common place appearance
Aladdin is the “diamond in the rough,” and we generally take this imagery to be strictly figurative or metaphorical. I would suggest, however, there is a much deeper truth to Aladdin’s character and essence than simple metaphor. In almost every way, Aladdin is very like each one of us. Every single one of us is a diamond in the rough. We are all waiting to be discovered, to be shaped–to have our disfigurements buffed away. We are all waiting to be shined, polished, and perfected.
Or maybe, we should want to be the diamond in the rough. We should want to be the one worthy of opening the Cave of Wonders, and seeking out the treasure hidden within–without the greed problems that invariably ensue. We should want to be the one to score the loaf of bread, and seeing the need of the poor around us, offer it up to them instead. We should want to sacrifice on behalf of others. This is what we’ll call the “diamond” part of the equation. The “rough” bits hide the diamond under layers of filth, stone, and baggage. The rough bits of Aladdin have to be chipped away, and this chipping away is usually a painful process. We spend our lives, those of us who want to be made shiny (some don’t want to be the shiny diamond, just look at Jafar as an example), in a seemingly never ending refining grinder that strips away all of our impurities, and crud that keeps us from being who we truly are. And the end really is worth the journey.
Money changes everything
There was a Castle episode where the murdered victim had recently won the lottery, illicitly as it turns out, but that’s not the important bit. The important bit is when Castle states that money doesn’t change us, it magnifies we already are. It sort of unleashes that which is deep within us. Aladdin’s windfall comes in the form of the Genie in the Lamp. Once Aladdin is in possession of all of this “phenomenal cosmic power,” the rough bits threaten to completely undo the shiny diamond. He attempts to lie, and present himself to Princess Jasmine as her equal and possible husband. Jasmine, unimpressed with the tediously long line of foppish suitors, sees only the pretentious Prince Ali Ababwa come to woo her. In a chance encounter with Raja, her tiger, Aladdin’s disguise is undone, but he attempts a cover up and deepens the deception through overt lying that he only pretends to be a servant in order to escape the palace life.
As we are all diamonds in the rough, and need to be refined and polished, we must remember that there is a process whereby this is accomplished, and that process is important. We cannot become the shiny diamond without the becoming after all. No one can simply snap their fingers and be the fulfillment of their potential. Aladdin provides a perfect example of what happens when we attempt to be the end result without the process of getting there. Through use of the Genie-created wealth and power, Aladdin ditches his friends, breaks a promise to the Genie, and unintentionally wreaks all manner of havoc through his greed. In his attempt to bypass his own refinement, he puts the entire kingdom at risk by not releasing the Genie when he’d said he would.
The law of love is kenotic and supersedes the laws of culture
The existentialist philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, once wrote of a king who wanted to go about the kingdom unobserved by his subjects and so he put on the guise of a peasant. Sound familiar? The king, in disguise, falls in love with a peasant woman, but cannot wed her because he’s the king and she’s a peasant. Because the king cannot marry the peasant woman, he takes her to his home, and lifts her up to nobility. He makes her worthy of being his bride by virtue of his kingship. He makes her noble. The end result being that he becomes what she is so that she can become what he is.
This occurs in Aladdin as well. Princess Jasmine goes throughout the kingdom as a peasant, and falls in love with a peasant street rat. Through various songs, trials and tribulations, Aladdin is transformed from the diamond in the rough, to a shiny, cut diamond, and Jasmine sees him as his fulfilled self. The problem remains, however, that he isn’t a “prince.” Even though he is the the kindest, and most “noble” personage in the kingdom, because he is of the wrong class, and so cannot marry the princess.
The law of the land states that the princess must marry a prince. It’s as if Princess Jasmine, and her father the sultan, are bound by the laws of the land even though the sultan’s word is law. And so, it is time to change the law. By virtue of Princess Jasmine choosing the peasant to love and marry, the cultural laws of the kingdom must be overridden. Similar to Kierkegaard’s king, Aladdin is raised up to the level of Prince as he marries the Princess. The law of love supersedes cultural law and the false notions of classes and ontological differences between the ruler and the ruled.
Deep within each of us, sometimes very deep indeed, a diamond awaits to be perfected. We are all potentials, diamonds that must be mined, cut, and buffed to reveal our inherent priceless beauty. While it is true that there may be flaws even though we are cut and polished, the beauty of the end result far outweighs these. And even as we are all inherently priceless, it takes a life of seeking, digging, cutting, and polishing for us to uncover and recognize that beauty in ourselves and in each other. Like Aladdin, it takes a life well-lived to reach our ultimate potential.