watched April 8, 2012
You might say my love of Disney animated movies began the first time I saw Aladdin, Abu and the Magic Carpet race through the Cave of Wonders, trying to escape waves of exploding lava. I remember thinking, Wow, this is amazing! I feel like I'm flying! It was a completely new sensation, and I was convinced it was the best thing ever.
I was 10 when my dad brought my siblings and me to see Aladdin, our very first movie at the theater, on a Saturday afternoon while my mom was at work. And it's been a twenty-year long love affair with the magic and adventure of Disney ever since.
Like so many Renaissance movies, central to this film is the main character's quest to achieve his dream. Outwardly, Aladdin would describe his dream as "winning the heart of a beautiful princess." But in reality, this story is about a journey of identity.
Early on, the reprise of "One Jump Ahead" reveals Aladdin's dislike of being defined by his social class. "If only they'd look closer," people would know that he's much more than just a poor orphan boy. And, though most of us are not orphans, or poor, we know what it feels like to be labeled and put in a box, and to long to be truly known.
Aladdin's qualities are highlighted when he encounters Genie. At the opportunity to be granted a wish (or three), he does the unconventional, asking Genie what he would wish for. Learning of Genie's imprisonment, Aladdin promises to use his third wish to set him free. No one but a "diamond in the rough" would make such a generous offer.
At the same time, however, Aladdin's perception of what makes him worthy becomes muddled as he uses his first wish to transform into the handsome, wealthy Prince Ali (although, okay, let's just admit it: he was already handsome to begin with). No longer looked down upon, he realizes he enjoys the perks that come along with being a prince. Suddenly the "labels" that bothered him so much as a street rat seem to work to his advantage with his newly advanced status.
And so, it's no wonder that when he finally wins Jasmine's affection, he is left feeling empty and confused. He gets exactly what he wants, and yet remains unhappy. Retracting his promise to Genie, Aladdin hopelessly holds onto what he thinks makes him worth Jasmine's love. As a result, he not only begins an avalanche of disasters for himself and all of Agrabah, but his reputation for being an honest, good person is called into question.
Most of us fall somewhere between street rat and prince, and yet we, too, cling to that which we think will make us special, important, valued. It's usually something easily seen: our success, material possessions, charisma, or looks. As much as we don't like labels, we subconsciously reenforce them by living as if they were the most important aspects of ourselves. I've never seen this more truly in my life than this year as I've unabashedly embraced my identity as "The Disnerd."
It takes Aladdin a trip to the frozen ends of the earth and a battle with a twisted, evil snake to realize that what makes him worthy is something that he already has. When he finally understands who he is, who has been all along, then there is real freedom. Not only for Genie, but for himself as well. Living in that freedom is probably a lot like flying on a Magic Carpet. And I know what that's like.