WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Disney's Aladdin, in theaters now.
Disney’s live-action adaptation of Aladdin features some daring adjustments to the animated classic, and nowhere is that more evident than in its reimagining of Jasmine and her backstory. Guy Ritchie’s film showcases a princess less concerned with finding love and more concerned with her own agency as a leader of her people. It’s a change that’s both timely and refreshing.
The original story featured an independent princess in the tradition of Belle and Ariel, who were far from blushing ingenues like Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. All three were headstrong and curious, yet primarily concerned with finding their prince. The original Jasmine, while kind, smart and hungry for exploration, marries a pauper who will presumably become Sultan when her father dies. This is a street urchin, mind you, who was probably illiterate. Yes, it’s a cartoon, and, no, we aren't meant to think about its implications, but Jasmine was indicative of a broader trend in Disney princess stories that depicted them as independent, but only nominally so. They’d always start out looking for a whole new world, but by the end of the movies their priorities would shift to romance, with no mention of their desires for knowledge and exploration were made after that fact. This is a situation the live-action remake neatly does away with.
Naomi Scott’s Jasmine is still the princess who’s sheltered inside her palace looming over Agrabah, and she longs to escape, but not just to see what’s beyond the walls. She firmly believes that, in order to rule well, she might need to interact with her people. She also firmly believes she should be Sultan upon her father’s death, and that she shouldn’t be forced to marry a foreign prince because a law – one that her father can change – says so. And before you ask, she doesn’t have anything good to say about how the power will transfer to her husband if and when she does marry. The film’s original songs, “Speechless,” is an inspiring anthem about her furious desire to be heard by her father, by her culture, by the world.
Scott was emotional recording the song because of the gravitas of the message. "When I heard it and just the words and the lyrics and how timely it was, the message behind the song and the idea of not going speechless, that everyone has a voice, doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter what you look like, doesn’t matter what your gender, your voice matters,” she said at a recent press event for Aladdin. “And speaking out against injustice matters. Not just standing by and being a spectator. So yeah. Like, that day was very emotional.”
But Jasmine’s arc doesn’t stop at her song. She’s arguably the most intelligent person in the room during most of her scenes, and that includes those she shares with her father, Jafar and Aladdin. And because Scott so perfectly embodies the role, none of this feels like feminist lip service. She’s a three-dimensional woman who is scared and angry and vulnerable during the story. And when Jafar grows in power and threatens to deny her own power completely, it starts to become unclear who’s the hero, Aladdin or the princess fighting for justice, agency and voice.
What Aladdin does the most successfully is literally turn Jasmine into a living, breathing person whose journey is more inspiring than that of the title character. That may be in part because, if you’ve seen Aladdin, his story isn’t that different than the original, but Jasmine’s is. However, it could also be because Jasmine’s story, as well as Naomi Scott’s presence, commands our attention away from her love interest and, more impressively, away from the magical blue guy who’s one of the biggest stars in the world.
Jasmine’s easily the best thing to come out of a Disney live-action since Glenn Close's Cruella DeVil, and we honestly think she deserves a sequel all to herself.
Directed by Guy Ritchie, Aladdin stars Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Will Smith as Genie, Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, Navid Negahban as the Sultan of Agrabah, Billy Magnussen as new character Prince Anders, and Frank Welker and Alan Tudyk as the voices of Abu and Iago, respectively.