Disney’s Aladdin centers around a universal question: how do we achieve freedom? Support ScreenPrism on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=7792695
Aladdin, Jasmine and the Genie each have their own freedom, but also constraints. It is only when they use their freedom to help others and build a better society that they are truly free.
Transcript provided by Youtube:
The Disney classic “Aladdin” is full of extravagant displays of wealth, power, and magic.
But all of this is there to ask a basic, universal question:
How do we achieve freedom?
Every main character struggles for independence.
Poor “street rat” Aladdin longs for the advantages of the rich.
Princess Jasmine would happily trade her royal position for Aladdin’s freedom to roam.
“You just feel trapped.”
And the nearly all-powerful Genie is the most trapped of all — a slave to the wishes of
Over the course of the film, the characters learn what it really means to be free.
Their happy ending only really comes when they start using their freedom to help others,
and they learn that freedom also has to be built into the legal foundation of society.
“Aladdin” is the most egalitarian and class-focused Disney movie.
Ultimately it argues that both free will and social power for all people are essential
to any civilized state.
“Some day, Abu, things are going to change.”
Aladdin and Jasmine experience oppression in opposite ways,
but for both, their social class is a prison.
Aladdin is a poor orphan with no way to move up the social ladder,
and no way to eat besides stealing.
“I steal only when I can’t afford.
He’s looked down on and detested by his society, which offers him no help, trust or
“You’re a worthless street rat.
You were born a street rat, you’ll die a street rat, and only your fleas will mourn
He has a lot of a certain kind of freedom — free time, free movement and free will.
He can do as he pleases and make decisions for himself.
But still he can’t do what he’d like — because he has no money, opportunities or power.
So he can’t take control of his life and make his dreams a reality.
Jasmine has all the wealth and privilege anyone could dream of.
“I’ve never even been outside the palace walls.”
But she lacks the very basic independence that Aladdin or anyone living on the street
“The law says you must be married to a prince by your next birthday.”
Her major life decisions are dictated by the law and the men in her life.
“How dare you?
All of you, standing around deciding my future!
I am not a prize to be won!”
So wealth alone doesn’t guarantee freedom, either, as it often comes with many social
Jasmine is just as limited as Aladdin.
She can’t do anything with her privilege without free will,
and he can’t do anything with his free will without means and opportunity.
Whatever side of the class divide the characters fall on,
Aladdin makes it clear that the dividing line itself is a breach of freedom.
We can understand the parallels in their situations by looking at the concept of positive vs.
Philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote a famous essay clarifying these two liberties.
Negative liberty is the freedom from external pressures and constraints.
Aladdin has a lot of this because he’s not tied to overbearing parents or needy dependents.
He’s his own man.
But he has no positive liberty, or the ability to act on his desires,
since he has no means or opportunity.
Meanwhile Jasmine has the lion’s share of positive liberty.
She has access to endless resources and luxuries.
But she has none of Aladdin’s negative liberty because her life is full of constraints.
One of Aladdin’s key mistakes is that he blindly thinks that
having wealth is everything, because he’s never had it.
So he doesn’t understand how Jasmine could also feel frustrated and trapped.
He tricks her into thinking he’s rich without understanding that this isn’t what matters
In fact, Jasmine falls in love with him despite his Prince Ali persona,
because he offers her something else that she’s never had before —
the experience of free movement through the magic carpet ride.
So eventually he learns that he was short-sighted not to imagine that
others could have different problems than he does.
And he was wrong to base their romance on dishonesty.
Ultimately lying and deception are also ways of taking away someone’s freedom of choice.
Does it feel good to be outta there!”
Like Jasmine, the Genie is locked into a situation where he has many gifts,
but no free will to make use them.
The Genie is the most powerful character we meet — an incredible sorcerer — but he’s
“Phenomenal cosmic power…itty bitty living space.”
He can grant any wish — except his own.
His golden bracelets look beautiful to us, but they’re really shackles.
“What would you wish for?”
No one’s ever asked me that before.
Well, in my case…ah, forget it.”
Come on, tell me!”
So the Genie proves that power also doesn’t guarantee freedom.
And the film also uses the Genie to personify the lack of freedom that the central characters
however much they might seem to have from the outside.
Like Aladdin’s first interactions with Jasmine,
his initial reaction to the Genie shows us key differences in how various people think
You mean, limitations on wishes?
Some all-powerful genie.”
Aladdin assumes that the best way to milk the Genie for all the wishes he can get is
to question his power.
Since Aladdin has almost no power to affect change in his life,
it stands to reason that he would think magic or wealth would be the most valuable things
to someone else.
But the Genie’s reaction tells a different story.
“Did you rub my lamp?
Did you wake me up?
Did you bring me here?
And all of a sudden you’re walking out on me?
I don’t think so!
Not right now!
You’re gettin’ your wishes, so sit down!”
Genie doesn’t care to brag about his magic abilities,
and he’s hardly offended at the suggestion that he isn’t all-powerful.
The Genie he’s offended that Aladdin might send him right back into the lamp
and squander the little freedom he has.
Genie actually sees Aladdin as one with the power,
because Aladdin has free will and controls the Genie’s fate.
“But to be free!
To not have to go, poof, what do you need?
Poof, what do you need?
Poof, what do you need?
To be my own master, such a thing would be better than all the magic and all the treasures
in all the world!”
So we see that great power can actually result in not being free at all,
as it can come with rigid conditions and burdens.
Isaiah Berlin argued that people’s freedoms can actually clash or contradict each.
Essentially, something I want to do might infringe on your freedom.
So Berlin wasn’t sure it was actually possible for everyone to have lots of both positive
and negative liberty
in a society where people want and value different things.
“Aladdin” also explores rules and restrictions to power and freedom.
The Genie outlines three unbreakable restrictions on his magic.
“Uh, rule #1: I can’t kill anybody.
So don’t ask.
Uh, rule #2: I can’t make anybody fall in love with anybody else.
You little punim there.
Rule #3: I can’t bring people back from the dead.
It’s not a pretty picture.
I don’t like doing it!”
These rules all relate to either the natural laws of life and death, or to free will.
No person should be able to control life and death, manipulate other people’s feelings,
or have the god-like omnipotence of unlimited wishes.
So ultimately there’s no such thing as unlimited power or unlimited freedom.
“The only way I get out of this is if my master wishes me out.”
“Aladdin” argues over and over in its story that we all have a basic right to freedom.
Any time this freedom is violated in the movie, things start to fall apart.
This happens most clearly when Aladdin goes back on his promise to free the Genie with
his third wish.
Denying the Genie his basic human rights leads to disaster for everyone.
“This is all my fault.
I should have freed the genie when I had the chance.”
Because Aladdin has treated his friend as a mere possession,
that possession — the magic lamp — can be stolen by Iago.
If the Genie were a free individual, of course none of this could happen.
But the Genie can’t escape, and he’s forced to make Jafar’s wishes come true because
he’s still a slave.
All this shows us that exploiting people for our own gain and acting like we “own”
them backfires on us.
I got a new master now.”
Finally, Aladdin makes a sacrifice to give Genie his freedom,
instead of continuing to put his self-interest first.
He acknowledges that the Genie’s fundamental rights must come before anyone’s personal
“But what about your freedom?”
“Hey, it’s only an eternity of servitude.
This is love!”
“Genie, you’re free!”
As the Genie is wished free, his bracelets fall from his wrists like handcuffs,
creating a clear visual image of his liberation.
“Wish for something outrageous!
Say I want the Nile!
Wish for the Nile, try that!”
“Uh, I wish for the Nile.”
Liberating other people is the ticket to our own freedom.
Aladdin can only have his happily-ever-after once he learns to empathize with both Jasmine
and the Genie,
and understand that no one can live free and breathe easy
until everyone’s intrinsic rights are recognized.
The villain Jafar is the extreme example of not learning the lesson Aladdin does, of what
freedom is worth.
Jafar has absolutely no respect for other people’s free will or basic rights.
“He’s obviously lying.”
He sees other people as mere pawns in his game of pursuing wealth and absolute power.
“The one who has the gold makes the rules.”
But because he doesn’t understand the value of other people’s freedom,
he also not aware of the freedom he already has is worth — and this is his downfall.
“The genie has more power than you’ll ever have!”
He willingly becomes a genie for the promise of infinite power,
without understanding what that means.
Jafar has never understood what freedom means, or how it must co-exist with power,
so his fate of becoming a genie-slave is poetic justice.
The movie teaches that an ideal society must achieve a balance of free will, opportunity
This is the only way to guarantee true liberty for all.
After Aladdin frees Genie from slavery, everyone in Agrabah is much safer
because Genie can’t be stolen and used for evil purposes.
So a society that doesn’t guarantee all of its people’s freedom
is ultimately risking the good and security of the entire nation.
At the beginning of the film the Sultan insists that Jasmine obey a sexist, classist and outdated
And he suddenly realizes that he’s been trapping himself into following unfair laws,
when all along he’s had the power to change what’s unjust.
“It’s the law that’s the problem.”
“Well, am I Sultan or am I Sultan?
From this day forward, the princess shall marry whoever she deems worthy.”
Jasmine’s and Aladdin’s engagement at the end symbolizes them
combining their partial freedoms to form a new, fair society.
Genie draws the whole group into a magic bear hug —
these are all free equals from the highest to the lowest of society,
and Genie’s magic power is a part of all of them.
He shoots off into the sky and turns into a firework,
just like the fireworks we saw earlier when Jasmine and Aladdin fall in love during their
magic carpet ride.
The firework has become the ultimate symbol of the joy in feeling free.
Their happy ending once again is the experience of free movement and adventure.
And the real fairy tale ending is freedom for everyone.
The future must be bright for all, or it can’t be bright for anyone.
“Made you look.”
This post was previously published on Youtube.
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Photo credit: Screenshot from video