This is a topic that I thoroughly enjoy debating with people: who is the most feminist Disney Princess from the era of Snow White to Jasmine? Of all of the Disney Princesses, between Snow White (1937) through Jasmine (1992), it’s truly clear to me that Jasmine is the most feminist of them all. That also makes sense given that she is the most “modern.” Between these Princesses, there is Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), Aurora in Sleeping Beauty (1959), Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989), Belle in Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Jasmine in Aladdin (1992). A set of the Princesses are from Walt Disney’s lifetime (Snow White: Walt’s deepest love that he put his life savings to developing her into film, Cinderella, and then Aurora). The other set of Princesses is post-Walt Disney’s life and were created in the 80’s and 90’s (Ariel, Belle, Jasmine) as part of the Disney Renaissance, a period of time between 1989-1999 where Disney produced critically and commercially successful animated films.
The more contemporary Princesses had scores notably created by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. Howard wrote the lyrics and Alan composed the music and together they were part of the Renaissance of Disney Animation. It was in 1988 that Ashman pitched the idea of Aladdin to Disney. Ashman, essentially on his deathbed with an HIV diagnosis, wanted to focus his efforts on Aladdin, but was requested to focus his efforts on Beauty and the Beast instead. Mr. Ashman passed away from complications of AIDS in 1991, just months before the release of Beauty and the Beast. He would not live to see Belle or Jasmine on screen, which is tragic. Some of his songs after his death were incorporated into Aladdin. I look at Princess Jasmine in particular as a special character considering how Howard Ashman would have perceived her character in Aladdin… with the hope that he sees Jasmine the same as I do. It’s also worth noting that Jasmine is the first Princess of non-European descent, which introduced the Princesses to racial diversity. Voiced by Linda Larkin, Jasmine is the first Princess character to be voiced by two different women: Linda Larkin provides Jasmine’s speaking voice, while Lea Salonga provided her singing voice. Howard Ashman had a great interest in working to develop a film that he was not able to. I think Jasmine would surpass all expectations.
For my generation, I think it’s clear that Jasmine is the most feminist and here’s why:
- Jasmine’s character is quite literally of the royal life: she is part of a royal court most clearly throughout Aladdin. In comparison, Snow White does not really live out her “royal life,” nor does Cinderella, nor Aurora (she is only made aware later that she is a Princess by her fairy godmothers who have been raising Aurora in hiding). This is significant because Jasmine has a belief system that is rooted in civil rights and an abolishment of the class systems. To Jasmine, love is equal, and has no class. The other Princesses do not explore that topic as vividly as Jasmine, if at all. Cinderella is an early predecessor to this concept, though. Cinderella represents an early image of social mobility – she goes from being a servant to a Princess. Ariel and Jasmine are the only Disney Princesses in that era which are “living out” life in a royal court. Belle, on the other hand, becomes a Princess later, but all the while she is trapped in a castle with her abuser, she basically suffers from Stockholm Syndrome. Truly, Belle’s convictions are sincere, but a Beast who locks you up in a castle and never apologizes for his actions? That’s not a comforting tale to me. Ariel, on the other hand, shares a similar desire as Jasmine to leave the comforts of the royal court, and in Ariel’s case, she hopes to become human, giving up her magical powers of being a mermaid. Ariel, naively, believes that being human is a better scenario than being a mermaid. It’s romantic though to see that her love of Eric overcomes her so much that she is willing to convert her physical being to be with him. This is, however, a troubling message to young girls: women should not have to seriously adapt themselves to be with the one that they love and young girls should be taught this very early on. Ariel’s transformation into being a human and staying a human is an ironic twist for a Disney plot, since it erases the spiritual narrative in the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The original story outlines the importance of spiritual life, whereas Ariel’s spiritual life is becoming mortal, which somewhat defeats the point of the original story. The Little Mermaid is nonetheless a joyful film. Ariel and Jasmine do share the most in common of all of these Princesses and this is significant when examining the feminist undertones.
- Jasmine recognizes her sexual power and uses it accordingly. When Jafar needs to be distracted, Jasmine kisses him. Many would say that this ‘sends the wrong message’ to young girls. This comes from personal experience: all girls will eventually realize that their value is much more than their sexuality, and it would be a gross understatement to simplify Jasmine’s character as seeing “only value in your sexuality.” That is categorically untrue, and people know that. You would be assuming the population is dumb if they didn’t. Women knowing that there is power in their sexuality can be liberating and empowering, which has nothing to do with sexual objectification. Jasmine, being a Princess trapped into marrying a suitor who is only wealthy would be objectifying. She rails against that.
- Jasmine has no qualms with speaking truth to power. When she finds out that Aladdin has been detained, she fearlessly approaches Jafar and inquires why this is. Jafar lies to her and tells her that Aladdin has been executed at his direction for being a thief. Jasmine mourns Aladdin until they meet again.
- Jasmine wants independence and happiness above all else, which is part of the Pursuit of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit Happiness. This is an American ideal outlined in the Declaration of Independence.
- Jasmine has a pet tiger because she values the wild side of life. Originally, the complementary character to Jasmine’s court was going to be a hand maiden, and not a pet tiger! The doting hand maiden character was replaced by Rajah, the pet tiger. This is worth noting because Jasmine is considered a “supporting character” as Aladdin is a “high comedy” (she is not a central character like Ariel or Belle in their respective films), therefore, producers wanted to put more focus on Jasmine when she did have her scenes.
It’s remarkable how much material there is to deconstruct all of the Disney Princesses during the time period of 1937-1992, but the deeper I have considered each narrative, the more it’s worth highlighting just as how much Jasmine stands as a feminist character in comparison to her peers. She should continuing being elevated as such.