With the live-action remake of Aladdin hitting theaters this week we’re taking a look at the original animated film.
Aladdin was a major part of the Disney Renaissance of the ‘90s which included Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Pocahontas. The film is constantly acknowledged for its amazing songs and the role of Robin Williams as the Genie, all of which are undoubtedly worthy of their praise. Robin Williams brought everything to the table with his performance, and his role as the Genie became a staple of ‘90s pop culture. It’s also something that has helped him remain in our hearts for years. But there’s an element of the film that often gets overlooked, and it’s the one thing that makes it all come together: the evil villain, Jafar.
Every other storyline throughout Aladdin is entertaining and fun to watch. Aladdin has to come to terms with who he truly is and be proud of that. Jasmine fights for her own freedom as an individual and as a woman. Genie yearns for his freedom while still wanting Aladdin succeed because he sees the good in him. But Jafar and his evil plans to rule all of Agrabah are the true meat and bones of the film. Jafar is the one who is responsible for advancing the plot.
The film begins with Jafar discovering the Cave of Wonders. He then discovers that Aladdin is the “diamond in the rough” and removes him from prison to get him to retrieve the lamp. When Aladdin seems to be dead, Jafar and Iago concoct a scheme to have Jasmine marry Jafar, which is only interrupted by Aladdin arriving as Prince Ali. He attempts to kill Aladdin and marry Jasmine only for them to realize he’s evil. He steals the lamp from Aladdin and becomes everything he always wanted to be only to be brought down by his own hubris.
The film is completely Jafar’s through and through. It’s all reliant on everything he does, and each character’s arc is mostly defined by their reactions to what Jafar does. In a way you don’t even want to see him fail either. He’s so entertaining to watch that you want to see what he’s going to do next. You want to see how he’ll outwit the Sultan and Aladdin to achieve his goals. Honestly, it makes sense for Aladdin to outwit him in the end, but it’s almost a disappointment because he’s constantly coming up with some new way to outsmart everyone else.
The other overlooked element of Jafar is how well he adapts to the world around him, not just with the challenges he faces but with the logic of it all. He listens to Iago and accepts that he may have good ideas from time to time. (The line about Iago having a “foul/fowl mind” is a treasure.) When Genie’s mouth drops at Jasmine saying Jafar is handsome, he pulls it down so it’ll fly back up like a projector screen. When he enacts his evil plan, he sings and pantomimes a golf swing as he sends off Aladdin, Abu and the Magic Carpet. It’s all amazing and wonderfully entertaining.
If all of that wasn’t enough, you also have to commend Jafar on his costume changes: the disguise as the old man when he takes Aladdin to the Cave of Wonders, the Sultan outfit and little hat for Iago, the awesome sorcerer outfit when he makes his second wish, and the fact that he looks insanely frightening and yet also insanely badass when he turns into a Genie. The designs for Jafar are phenomenal. Meanwhile, Aladdin gets an Aladdin-sized version of the Sultan’s clothes and a new vest at the end of the film.
The film may be titled Aladdin, and we may have been fooled into thinking that meant he’s the main character, but this film is Jafar’s movie through and through. None of it would work without him and everything the filmmakers bring to his character and the character’s journey. The only question now is how well the live action remake takes that into account.