Aladdin was released in November of 1992 by Walt Disney Pictures, being ranked as the fourth highest film based on popularity (“Best Disney Movies”). This movie was one of my favorites as a kid because I love how adventurous it was, specifically the magic carpet scene. However, the film has been criticized for its unfair portrayal of the Arab world and is a clear example of modern Orientalism.
Aladdin’s opening theme song, “Arabian Nights”, is often criticized for its lyrics “Oh, imagine a land, it’s a faraway place/ Where the caravan camels roam/ Where they cut off your ear/ If they don’t like your face/ It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home” (1992 Original Aladdin). The lyrics indicate to the viewer that Aladdin’s home is not just a faraway place, but a place of mystery much different from the audience’s. When the song says, “…where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face/ it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home” it demonizes Aladdin’s home and reinforces the audience to recognize it as uncivilized and barbaric. This idea further supports the film’s representation of “faraway place” not able to be related to by the audience.
After several complaints, Disney changed the lyrics to “Where it’s flat and immense/ And the heat is intense/ It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” The new lines still represent a false reality to the audience. Previously, Aladdin’s home was viewed as barbaric and mysterious, but the song still portrays Aladdin’s home as mysterious, but with these new lyrics, it gives the impression that his home is a boundless and uninhabitable area.
In addition to song lyrics, the movie uses characters with strong accents. The characters perceived as the good ones speak with American accents. The rest of the cast, mainly antagonists of Aladdin, have exaggerated Arab accents. Since Aladdin is one of the main protagonists in the film, he is given an American accent, which allows the audience to distinguish him from the antagonists who speak with Arab accents. To Americans, the American accent sounds very familiar, while the Arab accent is recognized as foreign. In a kid’s perspective watching Aladdin, they may think that the negatively represented Arab accent is bad, mysterious, and foreign.