The Heroic Journey of Aladdin: the Diamond in the Rough
The same hero wearing a different mask appears throughout great literature and films. The “hero’s journey” motif, as Joseph Campbell, the acclaimed American mythology professor and famous author identified, has been present in all cultures since the first documented stories. From Odysseus and the other great figures of the ancient Greek myths to the more modern character of Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the audience essentially accompanies the same hero throughout a series of stages and obstacles that compose the original heroic journey.
The hero’s journey can be particularly followed in the various animated Disney films that give existence to some of the most loved heroes of all time. For instance, the successful film, Aladdin, released in 1992 and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, brings to the public the interesting journey of a young man on a quest to find himself. The character of Aladdin fits the profile of the hero as he embarks in the hero’s journey unintentionally but proves to have undergone a complete maturation of character while attaining valuable insight about his true nature and worth by the end of the adventure.The film Aladdin narrates the emotive love story of a poor young man who falls in love with the beautiful princess Jasmine and begins a meaningful journey to conquer her love. Aladdin, a “street rat,” as he is often called by those who know him, is a true “diamond in the rough, whose worth lies far within” that has great potential but has not been given the opportunity to shine yet (Clements, Musker). Because of this reason, he is the only one who can enter the Cave of Wonders.He does so to retrieve a magic lamp for Jafar, the Sultan’s evil vizier.
This event initiates the departure of the hero’s journey as Aladdin’s encounter with Jafar disguised as an old prisoner signifies the call to adventure. Even though Aladdin is not aware that this is the beginning of his journey, from this point on everything will change. The young man becomes trapped inside the cave with his inseparable pet monkey, Abu, where they encounter one of two supernatural aids, a magical carpet that becomes their close friend.Inside the cave they also find the lamp and its friendly magical inhabitant, the Genie, the most important supernatural aid, who also becomes Aladdin’s essential guide. The moment Aladdin makes the first wish out of the three the Genie grants him; he crosses the first threshold. Simultaneously, he enters the belly of the whale since from this point on Aladdin abandons the life of poverty and crime, which he is accustomed to for a life of wealth and royalty. This begins his adventure into new territory as playing prince becomes more complex than expected.
At first Aladdin embarks in the heroic journey’s initiation merely for the material rewards and the opportunity to abandon his difficult life in the streets of Agrabah, but along the way he learns to appreciate his true self and comes to fit Campbell’s prototype of the hero. Aladdin’s objective for going on the journey is to win the heart of Jasmine, who he has deeply fallen in love with since their first encounter at the marketplace or the meeting with the goddess. The love Aladdin and Jasmine share motivates him to begin and continue on the journey in hopes of marrying her.Once Aladdin has already initiated the journey, the evil Jafar becomes “the woman as temptress” in his life. Jafar continues to place obstacles in Aladdin’s path physically by: first trying to kill him in the Cave of Wonders, then by attempting to drown him in order to stop him from courting Jasmine as Prince Ali, and finally attempting to murder him as a giant cobra. Most importantly, Jafar psychologically tempts Aladdin to give up several times and interferes with his mental quest by recurrently making degrading comments that obstruct Aladdin’s ability to recognize his strength and value.The initiation phase in Aladdin continues with the atonement with the father.
In this step, Aladdin has an argument with the Genie, who has become a mentor, much like a father figure. The Genie criticizes Aladdin’s change in character. He feels that Aladdin’s transformation into Prince Ali has altered his personality. Aladdin has become arrogant and selfish. This argument results in Aladdin’s realization and reawakening of his true self as he recognizes he must stay true to his convictions. This epiphany allows Aladdin’s true self to focus on the ultimate boon, which is marrying Princess Jasmine, what he originally begins his journey for.Aladdin concludes his journey with the return, which successfully brings him to the freedom to live.
Aladdin experiences the refusal of the return earlier in the story when he lets his insecurity overcome him. After he has had the chance to experience life as Prince Ali, Aladdin says, “the last thing I want to be now, is be myself” (Clements, Musker). He refuses to return to his normal life where the Genie cannot wish all his troubles away. The Genie is also an important part of the rescue form without stage in Aladdin’s journey. At this point Aladdin’s vulnerability as well as the Genie’s appreciation for him are evident.Aladdin is captured by Jafar and thrown in to the bottom of the river with a rock tied to his feet. Without the Genie’s aid this would have been the end of the hero’s journey.
Most importantly soon after this incident the Genie rescues Aladdin from himself and his selfishness when he makes him realize that he is only concerned about his own well being. Finally, Aladdin’s quest ends with his attainment of the freedom to live. By this point the young hero has learned to accept himself and is willing to renounce to his own happiness for the joy of others.The protagonist of Aladdin experiences the many stages of the hero’s journey in order to realize his true potential as well as come full circle in terms of character. In the beginning of the film, the viewer meets Aladdin and can immediately recognize his innate good nature. Early on in the movie, Aladdin’s generosity and compassion become evident when he gives up his only meal of the day to two poor children he finds rummaging though the garbage for something to eat. Not late after this, he saves the same two children from Prince Achmed’s whip.
At this point, Aladdin does not realize his worth and this is why he must “take off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary to discover some life giving elixir” (Campbell 127). The life giving elixir, as Campbell puts it in The Power of Myth, is Aladdin’s realization of his self worth, which becomes essential for his happiness. The journey tests Aladdin’s physical abilities numerous times, but it is from the psychological trials that Aladdin gains the most insight. Aladdin’s experiences along the journey affect his good character but eventually lead him to the ultimate level of maturity.Before going on the quest Aladdin does not know himself, and thus, “he is that mystery which he is seeking to know” (Campbell 15). However, Aladdin is not successful in staying true to his nature along the journey. Aladdin becomes caught up in the life of luxury and comfort that the Genie grants him.
He begins to live in a lie and adopt an arrogant and selfish attitude. Aladdin had promised the Genie earlier that he would utilize his third wish to free him from his life as the lamp’s slave, however he becomes unable to stay true to that romise because of his selfishness and insecurity. He is afraid to be himself and feels he needs the Genie to maintain the fantasy life he has created. This is why the hero’s journey ultimately represents the “pattern of life, growth, and experience” (Harris) for Aladdin. The journey serves as a revelation for accepting one’s self and renouncing to one’s own satisfaction for the interest of others. As Aladdin follows the steps in Campbell’s hero’s journey, he ends the adventure by reaching the ultimate realization.The tale comes full circle as the journey polishes the diamond in the rough that embarked on the journey to produce a man who is aware of his potential and utilizes it for the benefit of others.
At the end of the story, Aladdin’s complete maturation of character becomes undeniable as he gives up his happiness by renouncing his third wish to marry Jasmine for the Genie’s freedom. Of course, Disney could not end the adventure with the young man’s disillusionment, the Sultan changes the law, and Aladdin is able to marry the Princess because of his merit.