While swiftly earning its title as a beloved Disney classic, Aladdin courted controversy upon its release in 1992. This article sheds some light on the darker side of this animated fable.
Aladdin: More Controversial Than We Think?
While not the first controversial film you may think of, and although it was never banned, the controversy surrounding it has been serious enough to cause Entertainment Weekly to dub it the 25th most controversial film of all time.
The first and major point of controversy upon the film’s release was to do with the representation of the Arab people. Disney was slated for its representation of Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, in that compared to other characters and background actors, they are quite noticeably Americanised. Aladdin and Jasmine both have paler skin, American accents, and facial features. The citizens of Agrabah, however, all have big noses, darker skin than the lead characters, and speak with thick accents.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee made a complaint against Disney regarding these issues, and the fact that not only were the main characters Americanised but that most citizens that had a walk-on bit appeared as villainous, greedy and deceitful merchants.
The ADC also made a complaint about the opening song’s lyrics, which on the original release ran: “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face/It’s barbaric, but, hey, it’s home”. They were subsequently censored in July 1993 and changed to the considerably less offensive: “Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense/It’s barbaric, but, hey, it’s home”, and this version was present on the VHS and DVD release. However, the original lyrics were present on the soundtrack release, which came out before the movie. But this was rectified when the soundtrack was re-released alongside the DVD version.
It is said that some plot elements and character design from Aladdin share many similarities to independent production the Thief and the Cobbler, which was released in 1993 in Australia and 1995 in the United States. Also released after Aladdin, the film had a long and troubled past, and, due to being independently funded, was in and out of production since 1964. Although there has been controversy surrounding the appearance of the villains in Aladdin and the Thief and the Cobbler, Jafar and Zigzag, it is widely accepted that the Disney production was mere ‘heavily influenced’ by the earlier example. This is probably attributable to the Thief’s troubled history and negative reception, contrasted with Aladdin’s commercial success: after so long in the making, the original spirit of the film was completely untraceable. Blasted by the critics it earned the title of one of the worst animated films of all time, and director Richard Williams refuses to talk about the film to anyone.
While the issues of race and copyright largely passed by the eager paying public, in time these same fans would generate controversy over Aladdin in a different way.
Disney as a multi-billion-dollar global force has gained a nefarious reputation in recent years for the suspected inclusion of hidden messages in its films. This stems from the theory that Walt Disney himself was an incredibly corrupt character, and the company was involved in CIA mind control techniques. Conspiracy theorists have discovered an array of different messages in many Disney cartoons, and these involve encouragement of sexual promiscuity, possible Satan worship, death, pornographic images and blatant references to mind control (almost ‘boasting’).
In Aladdin, the most famous supposed subliminal message plays out in the balcony scene, where the disguised Aladdin visits Princess Jasmine and tries to charm her. As Raja the tiger threatens him, Aladdin backs away and is heard to say: “Come on… good kitty, take off and go…” However, this piece of dialogue is strangely muffled, slightly distorted and seems to be joined by another voice in the background. Many people claim that what Aladdin is saying is: “Good teenagers, take off your clothes.” Upon analysis of this clip, I could without a doubt hear these words, although the diction is ambiguous. Once this discovery gained momentum and spread across the Internet, Disney replaced the offending phrase with ‘down, kitty’ in the DVD release.
Also, in the Cave of Wonders scene after Abu touches the giant ruby and the cave begins to collapse, there’s a brief moment where above the roar of exploding lava bubbles you can hear his distinct voice say: ‘Oh, shit’, and this too is apparent in the clip. This was also redubbed in the DVD release.
Browsing YouTube you will find myriad videos about hidden sexual messages in Disney movies – these are usually intended for subversive entertainment purposes rather than inciting moral panic. However, the Internet has magnified the hypodermic needle effect, spurring others to seek out more and more hidden messages and perhaps uncovering a side of Disney that wasn’t ever meant to be seen.