Aladdin

It’s no secret that Redeeming Culture is a big fan of fantasy: magic, high adventure, thrilling hijinks and beautiful vistas in dangerous but beautiful lands far away.  We’ve talked about this before; how there is a definite bias on the site toward things that look beyond the world we’re in and investigate a more amazing world beyond.  But one of my favorite films of fantasy and wonder – and one we haven’t looked at yet – is Disney’s Aladdin. One of the most compelling things about it is the world Aladdin inhabits, so we’re going to look at it today—and how it’s not all that different from our own.

A Whole New World

Agrabah is a magical, wondrous land where anything can happen. It’s the kind of land that we all wish for…well, except for the flatness, immenseness, and heat-intenseness. But a mystical place- with magic carpets in Caves of Wonder, genies in ordinary-looking lamps, and sorcerers with talking birds at the right hand of the sultan- ahh, what a world that would be.

What would it like to live in a world where the natural order could be upended at any time? Where astounding things keep happening all the time? Where the only thing you can count on is that things will never be the same again?

Like us, the world Aladdin is born into seems mundane to him. He’s sure that the only world he’ll ever know is that of a “street rat,” stealing food and running from law enforcement. But as soon as he meets the Genie, he’s introduced to the magical world beyond his everyday: with only a word, Aladdin can become a prince! With just a zap from his finger, the Genie can show him a whole new world; a world that Aladdin, of course, shows Jasmine on a magic carpet.

Nothing fundamental has changed about the world. But Aladdin’s view of it has. He can see the beauty and wonder beyond his daily existence.

Perhaps You’d Like to See How Snakelike I Can Be!

And this land is more than just magical. There’s good magic here – but there’s also evil.

Royal Vizier Jafar conspires from his place alongside the Sultan, with his rough-voiced parrot friend and swirly-eyed staff. Like in our world, the evil is insidious, close to the top, and apparently undefeatable. And when he gains access to the Genie, all seems lost. First as Sultan, then as sorcerer, Jafar has become the most powerful human in the world. How can our heroes possibly win now?

It’s important to notice that Aladdin doesn’t defeat Jafar alone. He doesn’t fell him with a mighty punch. He tries and fails to kill the snake by stabbing him through the heart with a scimitar. He doesn’t even recognize Jafar’s fatal flaw without having it practically spelled out to him: that Jafar craves power more than anything. He needs the help of another to be victorious.

The land of Agrabah is more than just magical; here, good triumphs over evil…but, just like in our world, it doesn’t do it alone.

You ain’t never had a friend like me!

But, of course, the best part of the movie isn’t Aladdin, Jasmine, or any of the human characters. It’s Robin Williams’ brilliant work as the ever-impressive, long-contained, often imitated but never duplicated, Genie of the Lamp.

And here, the world we’re looking at diverges the most from our own. In Agrabah, phenomenal, cosmic powers don’t come cheap. In the Genie’s case, it comes (of course) with itty-bitty living space. The Genie is fallible, doesn’t know everything, and is limited by the whims of his master.

So would the Genie be more compelling if he were more like God? God isn’t chained. He doesn’t need us. He’s also not bound to give us our heart’s desire at the mere wish (and thinking of God like that is dangerous) because He always does exactly what is best for us, regardless of what we want. He loves us perfectly and understands the world He created flawlessly.

My answer is no, I don’t think Genie would be more compelling if he were as powerful as God. Flawed characters are fun, and they move the storyline along without eliminating conflict.

Still, I think that one of the big draws for Agrabah to us is the fact that Genie lives in that world. Knowing an all-powerful being with incredible power who’s on our side is something we all really want, deep down. We want someone who can help us, can fight our battles for us, can raise us up and make us better than we really are.

I’m history! No, wait, I’m mythology!

However you slice it, Aladdin features a land we can’t help wanting to be a part of.  Thankfully, the world we find ourselves in isn’t so different from the one in the film.

Genie-2But how do you see it? What elements of Agrabah draw you near and spark your desire? Is it the world’s wonder and magic, its triumph of good over evil, or the Genie? Is it something completely different?  I’d love to hear what you have to say about it in the comments below.  Remember, the mythology and culture we love always point us back to the Creator and the world He made for us to worship Him.

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Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture! Please be sure to comment below with what you think about Aladdin. And if you want to brush up on the film, may I recommend picking it up over on Amazon?

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