WARNING: The following article contain spoilers for Disney's Aladdin, in theaters now.
Disney’s latest live-action adaptation strays further afield from the animated original than any has done since 2014's Maleficent, and it works. The ending of director Guy Ritchie's Aladdin is engaging and culturally relevant in ways that haven’t been seen since Frozen.
The original Aladdin ended with a happily-ever-after wedding typical of the fairy tales so loved by Disney. The Sultan got his agency back, Jafar was defeated, Jasmine and Aladdin were wed, and Genie got his freedom. Jasmine was the third in a line of headstrong princesses that began with Ariel, was cemented by Belle and improved upon by the Sultan's willful, smart daughter. Unfortunately, as much as the 1992 animated classic tried to introduce her as someone disdainful of arranged marriage and curious about the world outside the palace walls, its denouement erased all of that. Jasmine was promised to Aladdin, and the most powerful move her father made in the entire movie wasn’t to stop her from being engaged to someone she neither loved nor knew, but rather to abolish the law that decreed she marry a prince. So, she wed Aladdin, and everyone got to forget that Jasmine didn’t seem interested in marriage in the first place.
Jasmine's nature in the original didn't go unnoticed by director Guy Ritchie, who, speaking at junket recently in Los Angeles, pointed out what many Disney fans already knew: "...if there was anything that looked like there could be some evolution in this narrative, it was that there needed to be a voice given to Jasmine," he pointed out. "I mean, Aladdin has been given enough challenges to get on with. Genie had his hands full. And the most conspicuous character thereafter was Jasmine, who was arguably a tad bit passive in the original." Just a tad, but still.
But the new live-action remake abolishes that subplot and then some. Jasmine falls in love with Aladdin and appears poised to marry him in the end, but the law her father winds up changing isn’t to stop her from marrying whomever she wants. It’s to enable to her to do what she wants. Jasmine wants to be Sultan, and Aladdin concludes with her in line to do so. Also speaking at a recent junket, Naomi Scott pointed out how appropriate the choice was: "The fact that she wants to become the leader. I kind of just want people to walk out and go, oh yeah, that makes sense, right?" she pointed out. "She should be the leader. And as opposed to, it’s not this thing that’s been shoe horned in. It just makes sense."
That's not only a daring statement for Disney to make, given its history, it’s an audacious change from the original. Most of the live-action adaptations follow the formula of the animated source material. But as the producers of Game of Thrones have learned, in these times, creators anger their feminist audiences at their own peril. Despite how much political leaders play at stealing agency from women, entertainment hasn’t been as successful. Daenerys Targaryen's death on Game of Thrones has been lampooned by fans not because of its narrative weakness, but because the optics of her death and downfall have been poorly received by a culture that refuses to allow its feminist totems be torn down by male writers.
So what does this mean for Jasmine? It means that instead of incurring the wrath of a woke culture, Disney took the opportunity to change its own narrative and made Jasmine less focused on love and more focused on her job. She likes Aladdin, sure. He respects her and he’s less of a dolt than her other suitors, but her ultimate concern is her own independence and the welfare of her people. She knows she needs to be connected to her people in order to rule them properly, and she also knows that she’s more than qualified to fit that position. Or as Scott opined, "For me, I really think it was a natural progression."
So the ending of Aladdin isn’t about the defeat of Jafar, the freeing of Genie, the elevation of Aladdin, or Jasmine’s engagement. It’s about Jasmine defeating Jafar and taking control of her kingdom and the people that are her responsibility. It’s an ending that pushes Aladdin to the side and gives the focus to a leader who has always been better suited to lead than he.
As much as we love the original Disney masterpiece, this ending makes more sense and gives one of the studio's favorite princesses the opportunity to shine in way she’s never been able to before.
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. The film opens Friday nationwide.