Aladdin: So here we were, early 1990's, and the Disney Renaissance was at its peek. The studios had produced two of the highest grossing animated films of all time and still were pushing on. However the team suffered a tragic loss with the death of lyricist Howard Ashman who surprisingly had had a large amount of creative input on the previous two films. (He named Ariel) It was even his idea to make the next Disney animated feature, Aladdin released on November 25, 1992. However, much to the disappointment of many, this would be the last picture to showcase a royal fairytale princess for the next impending 17 years, Princess Jasmine.
Jasmine is unique for a plethora of reasons. One being the fact that she is the only princess of the Disney Lineup whom the story does NOT revolve around. Not surprisingly, this lends to the fact that researching her is slightly more difficult without deviating into the design of the other characters.
Jasmine is also the first princess of any ethnicity. Keeping in mind that this film was released pre-September 11th, (not to say 9-11 affected the way we view these characters today) but unlike the upcoming princess Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, racial sensitivity and political correctness was surprisingly not as touchy an issue in the creation of a Muslim princess.
In fact, in the book 1001 Arabian Nights the story of Aladdin (and subsequently the princess) was Asian. However Aladdin was most likely not originally apart of the stories dating back to about 1000 A.D., but was added to the compilation by Antoine Galland, a French author/translator, who published the books in 12 volumes between 1704 and 1717.
While the Disney version underwent many contemporary changes, the princess’s predicament of being pressured to find a suitor remained relatively the same. However, originally the princess's name was Badroulbadour and was very vain and spoiled.
Obviously, Disney writers decided to change this personality flaw along with her name to something more 'relatable'. It turns out Jasmine was their first choice as it was among the most popular girl names in the early 90's largely due to actress Jasmine Guy. Although some early sketches were based from some of her features, her look came off as too severe.
Yet another unique detail about Jasmine is the fact that her final look was not based after any particular celebrity. Mark Henn who has been partially responsible for the design of every disney princess since Ariel, turned to a number of exotic models to base Jasmine off of but ultimately was dissatisfied. He describes having seen a guest at Disney World with long black hair and knew he wanted that feature but was having difficulty finding a face for the princess. Eventually Henn looked in his wallet to find a high school graduation photo of his younger sister Beth Allen. He did a concept sketch based off of her which the directors liked and ended up approving.
In a similar spirit that incorporated the angular look of medieval tapestries into Sleeping Beauty, Art Director, Bill Perkins wanted to incorporate the look of Arabian text and architecture into Aladdin. Once such place to compare with Jasmine is the Taj Mahal. Although, NOT Arabian but Indian, the Taj Mahal is located in the city of Agra which is arguably the inspiration for the fictional city Agrabah. At closer inspection of Jasmine you may notice similar arches and curves in her clothes, jewelry, hair and features.
With the finalized look of princess Jasmine being whole-heartedly approved, the directors faced a problem. Aladdin had been developed to be a young, scrawny underdog of a character. However Jeffrey Katzenberg, Disney's then Chairman, believed the romantic chemistry between the two characters would be 'unconvincing' (that the princess would never find him attractive). So, at the last minute, animators were told to make Aladdin older and resemble Tom Cruise. Therefor in this case, Jasmine’s design influenced that look of the hero.
Many people are unaware of the two major themes representing the Princess which are presented in her first scene. The first is the water fountain. Jasmine was chosen to be dressed in a light blue specifically to represent water, the most precious substance one can find in a desert. The princess's first scene was situated next to a fountain to emphasize this connection.
The second theme is a caged bird. Also, in the first scene we see Jasmine release birds from their cage. This was meant as a metaphor for her plight; While she is “taken care of [and] provided for” she is caged from a world she has never seen and yearns to be released. We see this theme again in Jasmine's birdcage-shaped boudoir.
The whole concept of Jasmine escaping the palace in the dead of night to experience the 'real' world is directly inspired from the 1953 classic Audrey Hepburn film Roman Holiday. Hepburn plays a Princess Ann from a nondescript country visiting Rome. After a slight emotional breakdown, the princess sneaks out of the royal embassy and enjoys living as a regular person for a day going by the name Anya. (which would later be the name used for Don Bluth’s misplaced princess Anastasia) She meets a guy, they fall for each other, her bodyguards come after her...all of which is in Jasmine's story~Great movie. Watch it!
As I've mentioned before, this movie has directly inspired pretty much every Disney Princess since Sleeping Beauty.
In conclusion, Jasmine is an asset to the Disney Princess lineup. She is a pioneer so to speak, being the first heroine of color Disney had ever produced. Notably so, every following addition to the Princess lineup has been ethnic with Pocahontas, Mulan and now Tiana. More than that, Jasmine represents a fight for civil rights, to fight against laws that stifle life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For this, she continues to represent one of the most important messages to our society today. Whether it be racial tolerance, social hierarchy, civil rights or something more, each person can take a lesson from her and her story. She broke a long-held exclusive bearier for girls (and boys) paving the way in letting children believe that anyone of any race can be a princess and more importantly, to fight for what you believe in.