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Disney's Live-Action 'Aladdin' Should Have Let Jafar Sing

By Kristy Puchko | Film | May 29, 2019 |

By Kristy Puchko | Film | May 29, 2019 |


I have a soft spot for the villains of the Disney Renaissance who were unapologetically extra. Ursula with her tempting tune about “poor unfortunate souls,” complete with shade-throwing asides to her eel minions. Scar with his dark spin on the Boys Scout oath “Be Prepared” and a backup dance team of hundreds of cackling jackals. Jafar with his flair for the dramatic from his big, pointed shoulder pads, his wise-cracking parrot, and his bold, expressive eyebrows that worked in conjunction with his frown so plunging it pierced sewer lines. His song may not be as memorable as his peers. Still, its energy and attitude was desperately missed from Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin.

In Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin, Jafar is given a new backstory and greater definition to his ambitions. He tells Aladdin he was once a street rat too, and later proves he hasn’t lost his touch as a pickpocket. He also tries to convince the Sultan to wage war with a neighboring nation, which seems a naked ploy to extend the lands of Agrabah through ruthless conquest. In this movie, Jafar’s motivation is purely more power. In her excellent in-depth review of the film, Roxana detailed how this depiction feeds into racist stereotypes of the power-hungry Middle Easterner. And on top of that, Richie and co-screenwriter John August’s attempt to make Jafar seem freshly menacing wasn’t only problematic, it was also boring. Marwan Kenzari is given little to play besides seething over being “second.” But this problem of dull could have been solved by keeping Jafar’s reprise of “Prince Ali.”

In 1992’s Aladdin, Jafar drops his scowls and sneers for one spirited song number. And it’s all about mocking Aladdin.

By this point in the story, Jafar has the genie. He has all the power he’s ever wished for. It’s his moment! And he uses it to get very petty. Specifically, he uses his new sorcerer skills to strip Aladdin of his wished-for finery and his royal status as Prince Ali. Then, Jafar embarrasses Aladdin in front of Jasmine by revealing the truth about his identity, and—the vicious cherry on top—he does it all to a mocking reprise of the song that victoriously marched Aladdin into the palace. And Jafar relishes every moment. Even if you think he’s a scoundrel, it’s hard not to smile at the sheer verve of this performance.

Now, ‘92’s Jafar was problematic in his own right, with the queer-coding of its villain and the Middle Eastern character being voiced by a white actor, Jonathan Freeman. So some changes to this character make sense for 2019. Still, I missed his song while watching the new Aladdin. By making Jafar a wannabe warlord, Ritchie and August not only played into problematic tropes, but also annihilated the fun of this Disney villain. The exciting thing about Jafar was not that he was relentlessly power-hungry. It was that he loved being a villain. He was totally delighted with himself when he used his extravagant snake-shaped staff to hypnotize the portly little Sultan. He cackled mercilessly when he snatched that lamp and left Aladdin dangling at the Cave of Wonders. And here, in his greatest moment of victory, he didn’t just banish Aladdin to a far off land to be freeze to death. He did it by breaking down his wishes, his lies, his hopes, and all with a song number that dragged that meddling street rat for daring to mess with him!

I mean, look at the final lines of this song:

His personality flaws
Give me adequate cause
To send him packing on a one-way trip
So his prospects take a terminal dip
His assets frozen, the venue chosen
Is the ends of the earth, whoopee!

So long, ex-Prince Ali!

It’s a garish and classless victory lap by a guy who thinks he’s the smartest, funniest, most underappreciated dude in the room! All that vanity and ego is on glorious display in this short and sassy number. And all of it will come back to bite him in the end. Which means this ego-centric reprise is a perfect setup for the climax!

Jafar wanted to be in power, yes. But as the story went on, it wasn’t just that. He took Aladdin’s success as a personal attack! He deeply resented that some street rat could sneak into the palace and charm his way into being the next in line for the throne. He resented Aladdin’s charisma, street smarts, and connection with Jasmine, all of which got him closer to the coveted throne than Jafar had gotten after years of being the sultan’s “most trusted adviser.” Frankly, considering what a happy-go-lucky dum-dum the 1992 sultan seemed, who could blame Jafar for feeling he’d be better suited to rule? But even though the sultan is painted as less dopey in this new version, Jafar’s song would make sense. More so even, because in Ritchie’s Aladdin, Jafar was a former pickpocket who’d worked his way into these halls of the wealth and power, and still he got out-gamed by a lovestruck goofball and his monkey!

Looking back, “Prince Ali’s Reprise” could have been the Rosetta stone of rebuilding Jafar’s character. His one song was not about his thirst for power, but about his outrage over someone trying to claim what he felt was rightfully his. It isn’t enough that Jafar is Sultan. He’s so ego-centric that he has to utterly destroy the other guy who came close! That level of vanity could have given Kenzari the freedom to do more than glower. If Ritchie and August had kept “Prince Ali’s Reprise,” it would have supported the new backstory they gave Jafar. It could have given the character greater complexity, a better setup up Jafar’s tragic flaw, and brought the mirth back into Jafar’s menace! In short, including “Jafar’s Reprise” might have brought some of the magic back into one of Disney’s most deliciously wicked villains. Sadly, this whole not-so-new world squandered the chance.

Kristy Puchko is the film editor of Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.

Header Image Source: Disney