The question with all of these Disney live action do-overs is why? 101 Dalmatians, Maleficent, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Beauty & the Beast, The Jungle Book, Dumbo and now Aladdin are all based on much loved and generally superior films from Disney’s back catalogue and they are remade out of the filmic art form that the studio is most famous for and has always excelled at.
So far almost all of these movies have lacked a compelling reason for existing beyond the commercial one (these films have collectively earned $6.4 billion and counting.) Aladdin is different though; Aladdin has a reason. That reason is the new Princess Jasmine.
Most of the film plays out entirely as expected. Will Smith does a solid job following Robin Williams as the genie but he’s still a shapeshifting, wisecracking comedy sidekick granting Aladdin three wicki wicki wah wah wishes and making him a fresh prince. There’s a nice idea about the grey areas in wishes and the genie’s willingness to bend the rules but it essentially follows the familiar beats (narrative and musical) of the 1992 original. Jasmine, as played by Naomi Scott and written by John August and director Guy Ritchie, is singing a new tune though.
Walt’s company have been slowly reinventing the Disney Princess trope for a few years now. Mulan played a man’s game to find her happy ending, Tiana in The Princess and the Frog worked hard for hers even if she eventually married into her fortune, Rapunzel in Tangled saved her guy at least as often as he saved her, Merida had no need for a man of any kind and Moana stood toe to toe with a demigod and totally drove her own destiny. Even in these recent remakes, Belle and Cinderella were making their own choices and succeeding on their own merits. Interestingly though with all of these Princesses we’ve never really seen one actively focused on their future role as a monarch. Elsa became queen in Frozen but then ran away from it. With this Jasmine we have a young woman in a patriarchal society who is unafraid of politics and rule and wants to use the crown to fix the problems of her people and bring equality. Jasmine was headstrong and capable back in ‘92 but was still shackled by the men around her, literally at one point. Here she is still fighting oppression and tradition but does so in a newly empowered and feminist way. She gets a great new anti chauvinism anthem too she doesn’t spend most or her screen time in a bra top.
What is significant here is that this Jasmine is still the same character that we already know. Unlike Moana, Merida and Mulan this is not a total reinvention of the Princess trope; Scott’s Jasmine fits the model as previously defined but still pushes it forward.
Jasmine still apparently needs a guy with flashy transportation to show her the world and interestingly she is actually robbed of one girl power moment from the original movie where she doesn’t just pole vault between buildings in the street chase but needs encouragement from Aladdin first. This works though because feminism is about equality and men and women working together and in the end she is the more powerful character than Aladdin, as her connections and political position should guarantee. She doesn’t need new tricks, she’s not a superwoman, she’s not playing the men at her own game, she’s a woman and that is enough. No concessions necessary and no magic lamp required.
There may still be a lad in the title of this film then but it puts a lady at the centre of the adventure and in the end it is her more than him, or his magical blue buddy, that is left in a position to reshape things for the better. In this respect, if for no other, this is a better film than its predecessor and all of those old Princess movies. It’s a relatively subtle change from what we’ve seen before and one that may not register in the same way with everyone but here we have a traditional Disney Princess more interested in addressing change than changing dresses (not to mention a woman of political influence in pre 1300s Iraq) and frankly that’s a whole new world.