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‘A Whole New World’ for a Disney princess

By Yasmeen Aslam

(Daniel Smith/Disney)

I remember sitting in the movie theatre, anxiously waiting for Avengers: Endgame to start, when the live action Aladdin reboot trailer started to play. I’d seen the trailer before and was excited for its release, but the big screen hyped me up for it even more. There had been some doubts from people online about the film, many saying that Will Smith’s genie would not top Robin Williams’ from the 1992 original. I was just excited that they were finally making a live action version of one of my favourite animated Disney movies. 

I didn’t see the movie until two weeks after its release, but when I did — well, I’ll admit I watched it five more times. What stood out to me most was Naomi Scott’s portrayal of Princess Jasmine; to me, she was one of the few Disney princesses who could be seen as strong, independent and confident. I thought this was a change from most Disney films. 

Over the years, Disney has had a reputation for presenting its female characters as people who could not defend themselves, with their plots ultimately leading to a male character saving them. Snow White and Princess Aurora are well known examples of princesses whose only chance of survival was made possible by being kissed by a prince. This entire concept only makes the female characters appear helpless. Since I grew up watching Disney films, seeing these princesses as a young girl made me believe that all women needed to be saved, and could not save themselves. As I grew older, however, I found myself wanting to see a princess who could stand up for herself and not let anything or anyone stand in her way. 

Another recurring theme in all Disney movies is the concept of beauty, being the only thing people notice about them. Sure, some show traits and hobbies. For example, Belle loves to read and is the smartest woman in the village. But she was mocked for her knowledge by the villagers and only seen for her beauty; the title of the movie literally has the word “beauty” in it and Belle’s name means “beautiful” in French. When I was young, it gave me the impression that you had to look like a Disney princess in order to be considered beautiful. If beauty is the only thing that is supposed to be noticed among the lead female characters within Disney films, then it completely disregards other traits and abilities they may have. As well, in the Aladdin reboot, Princess Jasmine is told by Jafar that it is better for her to “be seen and not heard.” This entire concept is present in many Disney films, where many princesses hardly have a voice.

The Aladdin reboot changed multiple aspects of the original to humanize Princess Jasmine. In the original Aladdin, Jasmine’s wish was for her to be able to choose whom she wanted to marry. In the reboot, her goal is completely different: She wants to become the Sultan of Agrabah (the leader of the kingdom). Changing Jasmine’s goal was a great move in my opinion, as her true ambition is to help the people of Agrabah and fight an oppressive society wherein it is traditionally unusual for a woman to take over the throne. This concept is reinforced through music — Jasmine sings a song called “Speechless.” She went from allowing herself to be silenced to letting everyone know they can’t keep her quiet. 

Another big change to the film was Jafar’s misogynistic treatment of Princess Jasmine. In the original, Jafar confines Jasmine to chains using the power of the genie’s lamp. It made it seem as if Jasmine was Jafar’s property, completely dehumanizing her. But this doesn’t happen in the reboot. Instead, Jasmine stands up to Jafar, and rightfully claims her role as the Sultan of Agrabah with a sweeping speech. If I had watched that scene when I was younger, it would have given me the message that not all Disney princesses are helpless — they have their own power.

Jasmine’s father ends up changing the law so that she can become Sultan. Normally, the male character in Disney films becomes the most powerful, or the “leader of the kingdom,” so to say. Even though Aladdin is the main character in the film (his name is literally the title), allowing Jasmine to become the leader of the kingdom gives her a voice that the original film failed to do. 

Despite typical misogynistic representations of women in Disney princess films, there are  others besides the renewed Aladdin that present its leading women as strong, confident and independent. Arguably, the most commonly known is Elsa from Frozen, as she tries hard to protect her kingdom and sister all while attempting to contain her icy powers. Another one  The Princess and the Frog, in which Tiana is a hard-working cook who strives to open up her own restaurant. I was nine years old when this film came out, and after watching it, it made me want to work hard to achieve my own goals — it also made me want to become a chef at one point. Mulan is another example; as a young woman, Mulan disguises herself as a man to fight in the army, and soon becomes China’s savour. 

Princess Jasmine’s change in character makes her someone people can look up to, especially by the newer generation enjoying the Aladdin story for the first time. There is more to princesses then their appearance, and I hope this example will help pave the way for future Disney films.


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