In Disney animated canon, wishing can be a tricky business.
Take, for instance, these two cases of wishing – Gepetto from Pinocchio and Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. One wishes to have a son; the other to be able to own a restaurant. They each get their wish – eventually. But that doesn’t come until the end of the movie.
In other words, the wishing/evening star does not grant instantaneous gratification (or else we wouldn’t have much of a movie, would we?). It does start the motion that finally accumulates into the fulfillment of their respective wishes, though.
With that in mind, while I was visiting Walt Disney World recently, I was struck by the sentiment of dreams and wishes that infused the park, along with the potential power of wishes and dreams.
In particular (and what got me thinking about it) was Dream Along With Mickey, a stage-show in front of Cinderella’s Castle that advocates that dreams have the power to defeat evil (or Maleficent, anyway).
This led me to wonder just how magic and wishes are connected, and in particular, how such themes are represented in Disney’s 1992 animated film Aladdin, famous for the wish-granting Genie.
To begin with wishes… I would say they are what people want; they are what we would like to have or to be. In Sleeping Beauty Aurora wishes to find her dream prince; in The Little Mermaid Ariel wishes to be human.
Occasionally, a wish may double as someone’s dream, as in Tiana’s case. Her dream is to open her own restaurant and her wish is to realize this dream. (How turning into a frog achieves this, I don’t know, as she seems to just scare the Fenner Brothers into giving her the sugar mill.) Regardless, a wish is essentially what someone wants.
Furthermore, in Disney sentimentality, wishes seem linked to an expression of one’s deepest desires, which again correlates nicely to Tiana; her main goal and desire through most of The Princess and the Frog is to open her restaurant.
Supporting this Disney definition of wishes is the fireworks performance called Wishes. In the show various Disney characters speak about their wishes and what they thought of them (I’m thinking of Jiminy Cricket here). I only heard/saw some of it, as we were on our way to Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, but the sense I got was that wishes were, again, what the characters wanted.
In contrast, wishes are unique in Aladdin. There, they do provide exactly what the wisher asks for and hence are what the characters want but without the legwork of the evening star. Additionally, the act of wishing for what you (or the character) want is not portrayed positively in the film.
Point in case: Aladdin’s first wish to be a prince. It allows him to become a viable suitor for Jasmine, but at the cost of lying for the rest of his life (as Ali) and breaking his promise to Genie. His second wish is out of simple self-preservation to escape drowning.
In both instances, his wishes, while definitely giving Aladdin what he wants, do not actually help him be true to himself, and consquently, in the case of his first wish, cause problems for him later.
As for Jafar, once he gets the lamp, his wishes give him exactly what he wants, as well: power and authority. But seeing as he’s the villain, I doubt his wishes are supposed to be seen as good, especially since the climax of the movie is Aladdin fighting the second-wish-empowered sorcerer Jafar.
Aside from villainy, each of Jafar’s wishes lead him deeper and deeper into an ever-expanding grasp for power. He goes from the authority of a sultan to the magic of a sorcerer to the cosmic power of a genie in less than a day.
It is comparable to the wife in The Fisherman and His Wife who constantly wishes to be more and more prestigious, until she wishes to be like God. Jafar never reaches that point, but he comes as close as he might in Aladdin.
I say this is because out of all the characters and places we see in the movie, Genie is the only one able to do (nearly) anything, with the exception of killing people, making people fall in love, and bringing back the dead.
Also, based on how powerful Jafar claims he is when he becomes a genie, it is reasonable to assume that, in the world of Aladdin genies have pretty close to unlimited power. But the flipside is that genies lack freedom; they are not able to actually grant their own wishes.
With that in mind, let’s address magic how occurs in Disney. In general, Disney sentimentality seems to relate it to transformation; something is able to become something else through magical intervention.
In Cinderella, it’s what turns the pumpkin into a coach and Cinderella’s ruined dress into a beautiful, silvery ball-gown. In Beauty and the Beast, it’s what turns the spoiled prince and his servants into a beast and enchanted objects, and likewise is what reverses the spell when Belle declares her love for him.
Even in Tangled, the magic of Rapunzel’s hair (somehow embodied in her tears) is able to transform Eugene from being dead to being alive; that’s something even a genie can’t do.
Aladdin also follows this sentimentality by having Genie be a literal shapeshifter; he is always transforming into different people or things. What’s interesting about that is, by Disney definition, Genie’s ability to transform so rapidly with ease singles him out (and all genies) as distinctly, magically powerful.
Furthermore, the movie links magic directly with wishes – what you desire is granted by a wish which functions as magic because it is able to transform you into anything you want. Aladdin wishes to be a prince and so he is transformed into Prince Ali; in Jafar wishes to be sultan, a sorcerer, and finally a genie, and is transformed into every single one. So in Aladdin genies have unlimited magic; they can transform anything into anything else.
But there is a catch to this magic (at least in Aladdin). While Genie’s magic has the ability to transform people into whatever they wish, they are limited by three wishes; no more and no less, regardless of interference. Even after Jafar had used up all his wishes, Aladdin still had one leftover. So there is a limit on how long you can have access to Genie’s unlimited transformative magic.
So to sum up, in Aladdin, genies, and in particular Genie himself, are essentially magical entities that have the ability to grant (nearly) anything anyone would want through the use of unlimited transformative magic.
But even with all this cosmic power, unlimited magic, and potential for wishes, Genie cannot give himself what he most desires – his freedom. That is only accomplished by Aladdin.
In comparison to the Disney sentimentality of wishes, dreams, and magic, Aladdin’s final wish is unusual because it is made for someone else, e.g. Genie. Aladdin does not wish for what he wants or for his dreams, but for his friend’s dream and/or wish.
Additionally, his last wish is a confirmation of who he is; he is not a prince, he’s “‘just Aladdin’” (Aladdin). He would rather be true to himself and his friend, than pretend to be someone else. He no longer wants Genie’s unlimited transformative magic.
And to my mind, that begs the question of whether Aladdin’s final wish is actually more magical than all of Genie’s unlimited magic.
I say this because Aladdin is able to change the natural laws that exist in his movie which state that genies are naturally enslaved without having any of Genie’s unlimited power. Yes, his wish uses Genie’s wish-granting power, but in-movie, is there nothing that can contradict a genie-wish, other than another wish (e.g. How Aladdin’s first wish is reversed by Jafar’s second wish). And now that Genie is free, he cannot contradict his own power.
In conclusion then, Aladdin is able to permanently change what is supposedly a natural law in his movie because he uses his final wish to grant Genie’s wish, one given out of honesty to himself and loyalty to his friend.
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Aladdin. Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. Walt Disney Studios Buena Vista Pictures, 25 Nov. 1992. DVD.