This parent-child discussion guide for Walt Disney Studios’ Aladdin is a supplement to The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years.
Aladdin (1992): A parent-child discussion guide
by Krista Andberg, LCSW
Krista Andberg holds a master’s degree in social work from Salem State University. She is a clinician at the Home for Little Wanderers in Boston, Mass.
Common Sense Media recommends Aladdin for children ages 6 and up, due to some frightening scenes; but their review notes that the film may be okay for some 4-year-olds, too, depending on the child.
In Disney’s Aladdin, the title character is an orphan “street rat” who dreams of a better life while stealing to survive in the city of Agrabah. Aladdin accidentally meets Princess Jasmine in the marketplace, where she is in disguise to escape an unwanted marriage to a prince. Both Aladdin and Jasmine are looking for a better life but are stuck in the roles to which they were born.
Aladdin soon becomes involved in a plot with the sultan’s evil advisor Jafar to steal a magic lamp from the Cave of Wonders. Deemed the only one worthy to retrieve the lamp, Aladdin finds the lamp in the cave but is trapped when Jafar, trying to take the lamp for himself, pushes Aladdin back into the cave as it collapses. Underground with no way out, Aladdin realizes he still has the lamp. With the help of his friends, the monkey Abu and a magic carpet, Aladdin releases a genie from the lamp who grants him three wishes.
Wanting only to see Princess Jasmine again, Aladdin wishes to become a prince and they fall in love on a magic carpet ride around the world. Jasmine suspects “Prince Ali” is the boy from the marketplace, but fearing that he will lose her, Aladdin continues to hide his true identity.
On the day Jasmine announces she chooses Prince Ali as her husband, Jafar steals the lamp from Aladdin and exposes him for what he is: a street urchin, unfit to marry a princess. Aladdin tricks Jafar into using his third wish to become a genie, knowing that a genie’s cosmic power is always tempered by imprisonment in a lamp. Aladdin uses his last wish to free the genie rather than becoming a prince again, as he has learned the value of being yourself and telling the truth.
In the end, Aladdin’s moral character compels the Sultan to change the law to state that the princess may marry any man she chooses. Jasmine chooses Aladdin and they ride off into the sunset on the magic carpet, happy and in love.
Here are some suggestions for discussion, roughly categorized by age level. Use these as a rough guide: tailor them to your own child’s level.
- The Pretty Princess Mandate:
The characterization of Princess Jasmine in Aladdin provides an opportunity to discuss and critique the use of beauty as a means to an end. Though her intelligence and quick-thinking is highlighted throughout the film, the message that Jasmine can use her looks to persuade other characters to do what she wants is pervasive. You can help your children think about other ways they can persuade people and get others to hear their point of view.
With children ages 4 and 5, you might say:
- “I like that Jasmine is wearing pants, but I don’t like that the rest of her outfit shows that much skin. I think it is too revealing.”
- “The clothes Jasmine wears in the marketplace are more realistic of how women would dress in public during the time the story takes place. Why is she dressed so differently when dressing like a “normal” person?”
- “Jasmine is really smart and has a good sense of humor, but Aladdin seems to focus a lot on her looks. He should give her more credit.”
- “See how Jasmine pretends to like Jafar to distract him from noticing Aladdin? She doesn’t seem to like it though—how else could she distract him?”
With children ages 6 to 8, you might comment:
“When we were watching Aladdin this afternoon, I noticed that Jasmine has a lot of great qualities—she’s smart, funny, and athletic—but she also uses her looks to get what she wants from Aladdin, Jafar and the Sultan. What do you think about that? What are other ways you can get what you want?” Give your child time to respond to this question; listen carefully to what she says and respond accordingly.
“I noticed that Jasmine’s clothes are very revealing and show a lot of her skin. Do you think that’s okay? Why or why not? What do you think Jasmine’s outfit says to girls and boys about how women should dress?”
Make it real: Consider discussing different ways people can be beautiful, not just in physical appearance. Who do you know who has a beautiful heart, beautiful laugh or beautiful mind? Take the conversation a step further and discuss how we are taught what is “beautiful” by the media as well. Look through magazines with your child and ask her what the pictures tell us about what it means to be beautiful. Do the real women in real life look like the people in the magazines? If they don’t, does that mean they’re not beautiful?
- The Gender Stereotypes
Jasmine is portrayed as a very intelligent, quick-thinking young woman who rebels against her father in order to stand up for what she believes in. This is fairly atypical of the “princess” stereotype and Jasmine takes an active role in helping to save the day with Aladdin. Take the time to point out Jasmine’s positive qualities to reinforce to your child that these are traits you like and think are important to have.
With children ages 4 and 5, remark on her positive characteristics and voice your questions and opinions out loud. Part of teaching children how to critically think about what they’re consuming is to ask questions yourself, even those you don’t know the answers to.
- “Jasmine is very brave for standing up to her father for what she believes in. I like that she speaks her mind and makes sure that she is heard.”
- “Jasmine is such a quick thinker! Did you see how she caught on when Aladdin came to help her in the marketplace and then pretended to be crazy to stay out of trouble?”
- “Wow Jasmine is really athletic! Did you see how she leapt over the alley without any help? She doesn’t want Aladdin to treat her differently; I like that about her.”
- “The Sultan only mentions Jasmine’s mother once in the whole movie. I wonder what happened to her? What do you think?”
With children ages 6 to 8, try to help them ask their own questions about the film. Have them reflect on the characters and have them practice imagining the background of the characters to better understand what motivated them to make certain choices.
- “I really like how Jasmine stood up for herself in the movie. Where do you think she learned how to do that?”
- “Before Jasmine ran away, she had spent her whole life behind the palace walls. What do you think her life looked like before she made the decision to leave? Who did she spend time with? What did she do?”
- “Being honest is really important to Jasmine. If you found out a friend had lied to you, what would you do? Why?”
- “Even though Aladdin pretends to be really confident to impress Jasmine, underneath he seems unsure of himself. What would make it hard to show someone how you really feel or tell them what you really think?”
Make it real: Find other strong female role models from history, or check out the library for other books that feature real-life princesses. Talk about what qualities and characteristics make those women special and unique and strong. Help your child make an “About Me” book that highlights all of her special qualities and characteristics.
- The Romance Narrative and Healthy Relationships
In general, the Disney princess films follow a fairly predictable story line: boy meets girl, they fall in love, they live happily ever after. But how real is that story line? What does that teach our children about how relationships form and develop in real life? Consider having a conversation about healthy relationships, both romantic and not.
With children ages 4 and 5, critique the romance story and remark on how quickly they seem to fall in love. Take time to point out the positive aspects of the relationships portrayed but don’t be afraid to douse the fantasy story with a bit of reality.
- “I like that Jasmine talks about her feelings with her father. It’s important to be honest with the people you love.”
- “Aladdin took Jasmine on a pretty amazing first date, but that wouldn’t be enough for me to fall in love with him and decide to get married! It’s important to get to know someone first before you decide to commit to each other like that.”
- “The Genie, Carpet and Abu are all trying to tell Aladdin to be honest with Jasmine and tell him to be himself. Instead of listening, he gets mad and tells them to leave him alone. Aladdin isn’t being a very good friend to them.”
With children ages 6 to 8, use this opporutunity to hear their thoughts and feelings about honesty, trust and relationships. Try something along these lines:
- “Jasmine stands up for what she believes in, even if it means disagreeing with her father. I like that they can be honest about their feelings with each other. That’s something I think is important for a healthy relationship. Can you think of a time when it was hard to tell someone how you felt but you did it anway?”
- “Jasmine keeps giving Aladdin chances to tell her the truth about who he really is, but he keeps lying to her. How do you think that made Jasmine feel? Has someone ever lied to you? How did it make you feel?”
- “Remember when Aladdin asks, ‘Do you trust me?’ to Jasmine? It made me wonder whether he has really earned her trust. He’s been lying to her about who he is. What do you think? How would you earn someone’s trust?”
- “The Genie, Abu and the magic carpet try to encourage Aladdin to tell Jasmine the truth about who he really is, but Aladdin ignores them. Good friends always try to help you make good choices. What else makes a good friend?”
Make it real: Talk with your child about healthy relationships and the importance of trust, honesty, and communication. How does your family solve problems? Is it okay for children to disagree with their parents? Consider sharing a story of how you developed a friendship and what is important to you about that relationship. Share with your child qualities that you think are important in friends.
- The Race and Class Stereotypes
The opening song Arabian Nights features a line, “Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense; it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” Though set in the 15th century when violence was commonplace in not only the Arab world but in many other parts of the world as well, the film provides an opportunity for you to discuss how media can reinforce stereotypes about other cultures, countries and people. Placing the film and the story into a historical context can help to draw out the myths of modern-day stereotypes of Arab culture while teaching your child to question how race and class are depicted in the film:
- “It’s important to remember that this movie was set a long, long time ago. Even though Agrabah isn’t a real city, the Middle East is a real place and doesn’t look anything like the movie.”
- “Did you notice that all the “bad” characters have foreign accents but Aladdin and Jasmine have American accents? They’re all supposed to be from the Middle East…why do you think they talk differently?”
- “Aladdin seems to think that being rich will make him happy, but Jasmine is rich and isn’t happy. What do you think is more important than money?”
- “I don’t like that the movie makes Arabs seem violent—like the shopkeeper with Jasmine. Arab people are just like you and me—they just live in a different part of the world. They don’t chase people around the street with swords, either!”
Make it real: Teach your child what a stereotype is (a widely held but over simplified idea of a type of person) and point out common stereotypes portrayed in the media and label them for your child (the nerd, the popular kid, the princess, etc). This could also be an opportunity to discuss how stereotypes can impact real life. For example, after Setember 11th people who “looked” like they were from the Middle East were targeted and sometimes hurt just for looking different.
- Teaching Children About Media Creation
Disney does an excellent job blurring the lines between fantasy and reality and it can be hard to convince a child that Jasmine is a made-up character after she saw a living, breathing Jasmine at Disney World or at her friend’s birthday party. Discussing with your child how films are made may take some of the “magic” out of the movie but can be helpful when teaching critical thinking skills. Explain to your child that characters are created and voiced by real people who do not look or act like the characters on the screen. For example, Jasmine was animated and developed by a middle-aged white man and voiced by a young blonde woman. Producers make choices about what to depict on screen and tailor the story, voices, and animation to fit an idea.
Here are some talking points about the making of Aladdin, taken from the movie The Making of Aladdin: A Whole New World, that you can use:
- “Did you notice how the colors in the palace changed to red and black when Jafar becomes the sorcerer? That was a decision made by the people who created the movie. By putting all the characters in the same colors as Jafar, what does that show the people watching?”
- “Aladdin was made in 1992—when a musician named M.C. Hammer was popular. The animator who drew Aladdin’s character was inspired by this artist and drew Aladdin’s pants to look like his!”
- “When Aladdin was made, computers were just starting to be used by animators to help enhance movies. Before computers, every single thing in animated movies was drawn by hand. In Aladdin, animators used comptuers to ‘draw’ the designs onto the magic carpet but they still drew all the backgrounds by hand.”
Make it real: There are several videos on YouTube that feature “The Making of…” various Disney films. Consider co-watching these videos with your children to reinforce that films are created by real people. For example, in The Making of Aladdin: A Whole New World, children can see the actors who voice Jasmine and Aladdin sing to each other. Hearing Jasmine’s familiar voice coming from a person wearing an oversized sweater is a clear way to show your child that films are made and characters are voiced by actors, not by real-life Jasmines or Aladdins.
Find more parent-child discussion guides from RebeccaHains.com here.
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