The Flower of the Orient

SEPT / OCT 2017: BY MARIANNA KAPLUN

I am not a prize to be won!

Far, far away in the kingdom of Agarabah lives beautiful and brave princess, the daughter of the Sultan—Jasmine. She lives according to its strict laws, but with all her heart wants to feel freedom. Jasmine doesn’t know a powerful desert magic waits to be unlocked, ready to change her world forever…

I hate being forced into this! If I do marry… I want it to be for love

Jasmine stands apart from many of her Disney contemporary princesses. Let’s remember Disney’s animation plots prior to this: she loves him, he loves her, but some tragedy stands in the way of the lovers. Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid adhere to this simple format. What do we have in Aladdin? Brave, independent Princess Jasmine chooses her own way of life and her prince (he’s not even a real prince!), because there is so much of the world she has never seen and she wants to marry for love, not because of the law.

In almost all Disney’s tales, there is a motive of predestination, where the prince must choose a princess or princess chooses a prince (except the industrious Cinderella) and she/he must (yes, must) love them back (remember Ariel and Eric). We can’t say this about Jasmine and Aladdin, who not only belong to different worlds but prioritize independence and adventures over love.

Please, try to understand! I’ve never done a thing on my own, I’ve never had any real friends! I’ve never even been outside the palace walls!

Let’s remember what others Disney’s heroines did to earn their happily ever after: Snow White sings songs and waits for a prince’s kiss (how lovely), Cinderella cleans and waits for the prince to bring her a shoe (work must be rewarded!), Aurora just… sleeps while she awaits her prince (at least she got to rest; Cinderella had to clean), Ariel does everything she can think of to win the prince but still needs his help (we believe in you, little mermaid).

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Jasmine, however, does not sit around and wait for her prince. She escapes the palace (a bold step!), flees with a “street rat” to his rooftop home (the princess isn’t in the tower, but on the roof, have you seen this before?). On this blessed roof, the princess and street urchin discover they have a lot in common. Jasmine feels free at last and doesn’t intend to go home (then maybe I don’t wanna be a princess anymore!). Ever. Jasmine doesn’t just sit and wait for adventure, she finds it herself.

You are the boy from the market! I knew it! Why did you lie to me?

Do you remember the scene where Aladdin (Ali) persuades Jasmine to take a ride on the Magic Carpet (and under the wonderful music by Alan Menken) and Jasmine realizes Prince Ali is the boy from the market? Although delighted Aladdin is alive because she is already in love with him, Jasmine is angry that he tricked her by pretending to be a prince. I cannot imagine Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora or Ariel scolding the man in their life for his misdeeds, but Jasmine is tired of other people deciding for her what to do and how to behave. It does not matter whether it’s a prince or a simple man. She believes, “I know what to do and what is bad or good for me,” and she intends to do it

I’m a fast learner.

Do you remember the main antagonist in the Disney’s stories? Tradition often casts “villainesses” to contrast the princess (The Evil Queen, Lady Tremaine, Maleficent, Ursula) but here, Jasmine’s enemy is not woman, but… a man—the Sultan’s vizier, Jafar, whose desire is to be the most powerful person in Agrabah. Jasmine can’t think of a worse fate doing what Jafar wants (he wants to marry her to become the next Sultan, are you kidding me?), but she plays along to help Aladdin steal the lamp. She even kisses Jafar to distract him, marking the first time a Disney princess used her “feminine wiles” (in the past, reserved for villainesses such as Ursula) to help defeat a villain.

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Oh, that stupid law. This isn’t fair… I love you.

Her reward for her independent, intelligent, spirited nature is the right to marry the “street rat.” The Sultan abolishes the law so Jasmine can marry whomever she chooses. Meeting Aladdin was the best thing that has ever happened to Jasmine; now, she is free to go wherever she likes and choose… Him! I choose you, Aladdin.

Jasmine possesses many qualities associated with traditional Disney Princesses… grace and beauty among them, but also introduces something new: strength of mind, independence from all the princes in the world, and emancipation. Jasmine is much more like Belle, from Beauty & the Beast, than the former princesses, but is still much more of an active “doer”: Belle loves to read books about romance and adventure, and longs for a real-life fairy tale to take her out of an ordinary life into one filled with adventure. Her prince is still a prince, but also something unexpected (a cursed beast), and her antagonist is the handsome but heartless Gaston… but Jasmine sets out on an adventure, and Belle still waits for one to chance upon her.

The character’s feature on the official Disney website reads, “Jasmine is an independent, fiery beauty capable of taking care of herself” who “longs to experience life outside the palace.” And we love her for this. Keep it up, princess!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marianna Kaplun was born in Moscow. She is candidate of philological sciences specializing in the first Russian drama and theatre of XVIIth century. She’s also a film and TV critic by calling. You can find her essays on her Facebook page, Twitter, and on Lumiere. She also blogs in English and Russian.  

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