Aladdin has long been one of the most beloved animated Disney classics, and with the recent release of the live-action remake, the story is back in the spotlight. Like so many “Mouse House” hits, Aladdin was inspired by a folkloric tale written long before it was adapted by the famed animation studio. Here’s a look at how both movies borrow and differ from the tale that inspired them.
The Origin of Aladdin
To really understand the story of Aladdin, you have to go back centuries to the publication of a French translation of One Thousand and One Nights. The book (which in English is also known as Arabian Nights) collected a series of stories that were connected by the tale of Shahrazad, a young woman who was held captive and kept herself alive by telling her captor a new tale each night.
The reason we have to go back to a French translation, though, is that according to record there’s no version of the “Aladdin” story in the original Arabic text; it’s thought that the story was added by the Syrian storyteller Youhenna Diab, who sold the tales to the French Antoine Galland.
What’s the Same?
One Thousand and One Nights‘ version of “Aladdin” shares a lot of similarities with the story as Disney fans know it. It’s about a young impoverished boy who gets tricked into retrieving a magical oil lamp from the depths of a strange treasure-filled cave. Aladdin also befriends a genie and ends up getting the girl, though his journey to get there is decidedly different.
The core difference between the films and the original story is that in the earliest versions, Aladdin was described as being “from one of the cities in China,” which shifts both the location of the tale and the ethnicity of the hero that fans know and love. There are plenty of narrative differences too. The Jafar character (Maghreb) poses as Aladdin’s uncle to trick the young boy and his mother into helping him, promising the poverty-stricken boy that he’ll become a rich merchant if he joins his “uncle” on the journey.
Another key change from the Disney version is that, in the classic folktale, Aladdin has a magical ring that includes a second, less powerful genie who plays a key role in the story, as though he can’t out magic the lamp genie he helps Aladdin outsmart the villainous man who tricked him and even acts as a friend and sometime spy for the young man, eventually saving his life. The lamp genie is just as powerful as the version we’re familiar with but far less humorous.
In the original version, Aladdin marries the daughter of the sultan quite early on. The conflict comes from trying to keep that power and happy ending after the genie makes all his wishes come true. With Aladdin and Princess Badroulbadour living well in a huge palace built by the lamp genie, Maghreb hears of the new status quo and heads to the city to wreak his revenge, eventually tricking Badroulbadour into giving him the lamp and using the genie to steal all of the riches that his faux nephew has “earned.
Aladdin is understandably unhappy. Utilizing the skills of his wife, he manages to trick the sorcerer into giving him the lamp back, regaining all of his wealth. This version also has a lot more murder; Aladdin kills the sorcerer Maghreb and his brother who shows up in disguise as a weak old lady, seeking revenge.
No matter the differences, Aladdin has become a legend both off and on screen, and it’s always fun to look back and learn where the pop culture monoliths that we love came from.