On Saturday, I took a trip down memory lane with the Disney modern classic Aladdin. I don’t need to give a synopsis. Pretty much everyone knows the plot inside and out. A street urchin dreams of a better life. A princess named Jasmine wants out of being forced to marry a prince. Then Aladdin finds a lamp in the cave of wonders. The Genie is released and adventure ensues. You know how it goes. After all, you’ve seen it. Watching it again, the film is still as entertaining for me as it was when it first came out. I still hum the songs inside my head, especially A Whole New World. The fast pace and adventurous tone still thrills, especially in the action scenes. With his recent passing, you can still admire Robin Williams’s performance and how it is still the strongest factor in the film. This isn’t going to be a review since I have not much to say about the film in terms of quality that hasn’t already been said by…everyone.But watching it again, I noticed a few interesting themes that seem to run throughout the film.
These aren’t like the fan theories of the film taking place in the future or the merchant in the opening and the Genie being the same person. For that, I’d recommend the Renegade Cut episode of the film. The focus of this article is about some of the subtext I see that adds to my viewing experience. I don’t know if others see this too. I’m not even sure these ideas were in the minds of the writers and directors when they made Aladdin. For all I know, these could have just been a series of coincidence. But these ideas make the films more interesting for me.
What I noticed first is the theme of imprisonment. Each character seems to feel confined by their social roles. Despite being a good guy, Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weinger), is labeled a Street Rat because his life of poverty forces him to steal in order to live. Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) has spent her whole life within the palace walls and wants out. To make matters worse, a law requires her to marry a prince within three days and Jasmine would rather marry on her own terms. Power hungry sorcerer Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) wants to take the throne of the good natured Sultan (Douglas Seale), whom he considers a buffoon. The prisons that bind these characters are societal norms, which forces them to stay in “their place.”
The Genie himself is imprisoned by his role of servant. Even his ability to serve is limited to three wishes. In his life, what he wants means nothing. He only exists to serves whoever rubs the lamp. While the others are confined on a symbolic level, the Genie is the character who is literally a prisoner. Despite having unlimited power, he is unable to leave his lamp unless someone rubs his lamp. That person becomes his master no matter what. As he states “Phenomenal cosmic power, itty bitty living space.” 
This leads to the second theme: Deception. Each of the main characters uses a disguise to escape their traps. Aladdin wishes to be a prince and assumes the identity of Prince Ali. Jasmine disguises herself as a beggar and escapes from the palace. Jafar manipulates the Sultan into thinking he is trustworthy. Being a shape shifter, Genie can assume many forms (mostly to showcase William’s gift of impressions). In time, they are unable to hide their true selves forever. In Aladdin’s case, he shouldn’t have.
Which leads to the third and most important theme: Self Respect. On the surface, the message of the film is to be you. But looking at Aladdin’s internal journey, the film goes deeper to show a character realizing his own self-worth. He is defined as worth more than he seems: A diamond in the rough and it shows. Despite being forced to steal in order to eat, he gives his bread to two children and then sticks up for them when a Prince nearly whips them. The audience can see he is a very nice guy but the folks look down on him and laugh at him when he’s pushed into the mud. Critics often, and unfairly, write Aladdin off as a bland hero. Through the arc, he reveals more range than expected. He tells himself he doesn’t buy the label of “Street Rat”. But when he assumes the identity of Prince Ali, there is a point where some part of him buys it. In his mind, it’s not enough for him to change his wardrobe. To win Jasmine’s heart, he assumes he must act like a prince. Though everyone tells him to be himself, he says: “That’s the last person I want to be.” He fails to realize the last person is the person the others love in the first place, especially Jasmine. Whenever he tries to play the prince, he alienates everyone around him. In fact, he becomes frustrated when he tells more lies to keep up the façade, even after Jasmine sees through his disguise. And yet, we can connect with his character for we also have probably stretched the truth thinking it would please others. It is when he acts like himself that he starts winning Jasmine over again.
Now I acknowledge there’s a high chance the filmmakers were just making an entertaining Disney cartoon and didn’t have these ideas in mind. These could just be a series of coincidences. There is a chance others already had these ideas in mind. In the end, I watch Aladdin with these ideas in mind because it adds to my movie-going experience. Most people come out a movie with their own opinions of the quality so it would make sense they could come back to old favorites finding new ideas within them. It doesn’t really matter what the filmmaker intends. It’s all about what viewers get out of it. If these ideas add to their movie going experience, why spoil the fun?
 Who reprises his role in the Broadway musical
 In a way, this sets the Genie apart from the fast talking, pop culture reference spewing copycats. The imitators focus so much on copying William’s manic comic style, they fail to acknowledge Williams’ acting. Sure, the Genie is a fast talking, pop culture spewing comic relief, but he is more than that. When Aladdin asks Genie what he would wish for, Williams brings a sympathetic side to him. From a lifetime of attending to other’s needs, this is the first time, he gets to express his own longing; Freedom. And you can feel the hurt when Aladdin goes back on his promise to free the Genie and then the joy when he is set free. In the best Disney films, the sidekicks have their own longings that serve as a subplot while helping the main plot. Lumiere and Codswork want Belle and the Beast to fall in love so they can become human. Olaf longs to see summer and helps Anna and Elsa in order to achieve that goal. And the Genie wants freedom and Aladdin promises in his third wish he will do so.