Aladdin came out in 1992. I was two years old and my mom took me to see it THREE times at the theatre. She adores that film. I hadn’t seen it in a long time until I found the DVD three weeks ago. I wasn’t planning on doing a big study of it just yet… but it’s mind-blowing and I couldn’t wait to share my thoughts.
So the armature of the story has a lot to do with being yourself and what that is worth. And if you look closely, there are four main characters that are extensions of this armature. Four main characters that start the movie off unhappy with their identity.
Aladdin, of course, is unhappy being a street rat.
Jasmine is unhappy being a princess.
Jafar is unhappy being second best.
And the fourth, Genie, is unhappy being trapped into servitude.
Throughout the story, I can’t help but think Genie as a mirror of Aladdin.
For example, when Aladdin really looks at the lamp for the first time, he says “Looks like such a beat-up, worthless piece of junk.”
Which main character could be compared to a beat-up worthless piece of junk? Notice the word ‘worthless’ was the same word used earlier, when Achmed insulted Aladdin. Then Aladdin rubs the lamp and a magical Genie is inside.
That motif, the idea that ‘it is not what is outside, but what is inside that counts’, is present throughout the film. Aladdin was also specifically called the “diamond in the rough”. Why would he be called that?
Because he’s a spectacular guy who happens to be a street rat. There is a moment, near the beginning. It’s what Blake Snyder would call the ‘save-the-cat’ moment. Aladdin had just spent an enormous amount of energy and endured some very close calls to procure for himself a loaf of bread. And what does he do?
He gives it to hungry children.
This is the moment I chose for my storyboard study.
Without this moment, this 'save the cat' moment. Aladdin becomes Jafar.
Quite a declaration, I know. But hear me out. Without this scene, Aladdin becomes just a thief that tries to be something better than himself. Jafar spends the entire movie trying to become better or more powerful than what he is. They’re actually very similar characters. Both want the same thing. But the thing is… we don’t root for one or the other until this scene.
When Aladdin gives his bread away to starving children… I don’t know about you, but I’m with that guy. He has a good heart and I want to see him succeed and win. It also magnifies the ruthlessness and selfishness of Jafar.
It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?
Repeats and Priming
Repeated elements and scenes often prime the audience for later sequences. It helps the world feel cohesive and also allows odd things, like magic carpets, feel natural.
When Jasmine pulls a trick on Jafar near the climax of the film… it was not the first time she did so.
I also love this clever thing they did with the "Do you trust me?" line. It's used as a device for Jasmine's suspicions.
What things did you notice about the film? Were there repeated elements that caught your attention? In Part Two, I will be talking about the design and color of the film (IT'S FREAKING GORGEOUS). Stay tuned!