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What if Jafar Was Good All Along?

Jafar is the primary villain of the Disney animated classic, Aladdin, which magic carpeted its way into our hearts back in 1992.

I’m sure many of you agree that the film is easily one of Disney’s best offerings of all time, and a lot of that has to do with its complex “good and evil” narrative, as well as some fantastic music.

Rather than leave the movie alone, however, I’ve decided that it requires a little over-analyzing, and you can thank the recent live-action Disney film, Maleficent, for my mischief.

maleficent-maleficent-movie-9

Maleficient is a modern retelling of the classic story, Sleeping Beauty, which you may fondly remember as a VHS box tape that sat next to CinderellaSnow White and maybe even Peter Pan. In this new version of Sleeping Beauty, Disney decided to turn the narrative on its head by making Maleficient a misunderstood villain.

Much like Broadway did with the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz in “Wicked,” Disney retold the classic story with Maleficient actually being justifiable in her actions, though I won’t say much more for fear of ruining the film for anyone else.

At any rate, I found it valuable to do the same with Jafar from Aladdin, and I think you’ll find I have a decent case on my hands.

was jafar good

Right now, you’re probably remembering all of the awful things Jafar did in both Aladdin and its somewhat unofficial sequel, Return of Jafar. For the sake of keeping things simple, we’ll stick with just talking about Aladdin.

In the movie, Jafar betrays Aladdin after hiring him to do a job, tries to kill him later on, hypnotizes the sultan, tries to kill Aladdin again and then uses his power to usurp the title of sultan and force Jasmine and the real sultan to do his bidding.

After all of that, how could we possibly perceive Jafar as a good guy? Case closed, right?

Well, not necessarily. The problem here is that we have an unreliable narrator that could change the way we really watch the movie. The narrator I’m referring to is the merchant from the very beginning of the film.

was jafar good

If you recall, the movie starts with an unnamed merchant who is trying to sell his wares to us, the audience. To be clear, he’s as sleazy as they come, and it’s not long before he tries to sell us the magic lamp that once belonged to Aladdin.

In other words, the entire movie is a sales pitch.

The merchant is trying to prove to us (in his words) that the lamp is important because it “changed the course of one man’s life.” He then goes on to tell us the “story” of Aladdin.

The main problem here is that in order for us to want the lamp, he would have to position the main character, Aladdin, as the good guy. Even if he’s telling a “true” story, we as the audience have no idea how far he may be straying from the truth in order to convince us that having a magic lamp is a good idea.

(I’m sure what I just said has raised a lot of questions for those of you who remember how the movie ends, but stay with me for now).

To be fair, even the merchant’s telling of the story raises a lot of doubts for me that Jafar is that bad of a guy. So before we go any further, let’s go through the “Case for Jafar.”

THE SULTAN SUCKS AT HIS JOB

This is probably the most important piece of evidence we have to work with. The root of Jafar’s motivation is to replace the sultan, but why do you think he is lusting for this power in the first place?

was jafar good

There’s a three-pronged answer to that question:

  • The sultan plays with toys all of the time instead of running Agrabah
  • The sultan has let his daughter put off finding an heir
  • The sultan has let his daughter let her tiger physically assault princes from other countries

All of these are reasons for why the Grand Vizier would be so incredibly frustrated with the current affairs of Agrabah. As we see in the opening sequence with Aladdin and Abu running from the guards, poverty and homelessness is a huge problem. 

This is likely because every time we run into the sultan, he’s goofing off or playing with toys. Jafar has to hypnotize the sultan just to get him to do his job.

WHY WOULDN’T JAFAR HAVE HYPNOTIZED HIS WAY TO BECOMING SULTAN?

Jafar himself is not a sorcerer until the end of the movie, but he does have a wide array of magical tools and instruments, which includes his cobra staff, the sands of time, etc. So why does he need a lamp to make himself sultan?

sultan jafar

We’re led to believe that Iago (his parrot) convinced Jafar that he should just get the sultan to make Jafar a suitor for the princess. But if Jafar was really as cruel as the merchant portrays him, then Jafar could have simply hypnotized the sultan to concede his title.

Instead, Jafar wants to become sultan by either “wishing” himself sultan or marrying into it, which would both occur without hurting anyone (except Jasmine’s feelings).

You could argue that Jafar isn’t powerful enough to hypnotize the sultan in this way, but he seems to have plenty of other tools at his disposal. It seems unlikely that he wouldn’t be able to accomplish this without the lamp unless he was trying to do this without bloodshed.

THE MOVIE FROM JAFAR’S PERSPECTIVE

Let’s review. We have a Grand Vizier named Jafar who is fed up with how the sultan is refusing to take his job seriously. Poverty and homelessness run rampant, the princess is antagonizing her suitors and the sultan is just standing by.

was jafar good

The law says Jasmine has to marry within the next few days, but she refuses because she wants love. So Jafar decides he needs to take matters in his own hands.

He’s been hypnotizing the sultan so far to keep things running, but that’s not enough anymore. Jafar decides he needs to become sultan himself and right what the sultan has wronged, while also allowing Jasmine to marry whomever she wants.

Meanwhile, Jasmine runs away and falls for a homeless thief who only likes her for her looks (as evidenced by how he describes her to the genie).

was jafar good

Of course, the sultan is old and could die soon. If Jasmine, his only heir, doesn’t marry in time, then the city will fall into turmoil. But Jasmine selfishly neglects her responsibility until the guards finally find her.

Jafar discovers with the sands of time that Aladdin is the key to getting into the Cave of Wonders, where the lamp resides. He hires him to get the lamp, but his stupid monkey touches something and the whole thing is collapsing. Deciding not to take any chances, Jafar takes the lamp and lets Aladdin suffer the consequences of his actions, but Abu steals the lamp back as they become trapped.

Jafar then has no choice but to save the city by hypnotizing the sultan into arranging a marriage between him and Jasmine.

aladdin jafar

But then some random prince no one has ever heard of (from a place no one has ever heard of) bombards the palace with a parade. The guy certainly doesn’t act or talk like a prince, but the sultan doesn’t care at all about how shady the situation is.

Of course, the “prince” is Aladdin, who tricked the genie into breaking him out of the cave without wishing for it and then made the promise that he’d free the genie later (even though he apparently didn’t intend to keep that promise).

Aladdin sneaks into Jasmine’s chambers (at night) and whisks her away across the world. Oh, and he lies to her again about who he really is by claiming he was a prince all along.

aladdin and jasmine

Jafar knows that the “prince” is a fraud, so he arranges to have him disposed of before he ruins the entire kingdom. But Aladdin escapes thanks to the genie, whom he betrays by going back on his promise to free him. Aladdin decides it’s more important to keep the genie around in order to keep the “prince” act up.

But Jafar realizes that the “prince” is actually Aladdin, so he steals his lamp back and commands the genie to make him sultan.

He also wishes for power, hoping that it will protect Agrabah from the country that just found out their prince they sent to marry Jasmine was attacked by a tiger. Jafar even places the kingdom on a hill to make it a more secure stronghold.

aladdin jafar

Alas, Aladdin returns and tricks Jafar into becoming a genie, thus imprisoning him.

We could also talk about Return of Jafar (which starts with the same merchant singing “Arabian Nights” by the way), but it’s pretty much the same story.

Oh, and I’m not the only person to argue for the case of Jafar. In fact, there is an entire musical based on this concept called Twisted, which you can watch in its entirety below:

(Warning: contains material not suitable for children)

SO, THE MERCHANT?

The obvious question here is, why would the merchant tell us that the lamp is essentially useless? At the end of Aladdin, the merchant tells us that the genie is freed. That definitely explains how the merchant would have his hands on it without just using it himself.

aladdin merchant

The only answer I can think of is that he wants to sell the lamp because it is rare. It’s no ordinary lamp! This is the lamp that Aladdin used to defeat the evil Jafar! Hear the tale of the magical Genie would can summon entire parades that disappear without any explanation!

Can you see how his hyperbole and twisting of the story would convince someone that the lamp would be cool to have? Even if the story isn’t accurate? This is the same sales tactic that people make even today, but especially during those times when street merchants would shout extravagant sales pitches from the corner.

THE LESSON

Am I over-thinking this? Of course. But I didn’t get into this because I want to prove something is true. Rather, I recognize the value in turning a story on its head to learn a new lesson.

was jafar good

The message here is that sometimes, things aren’t all what they seem. Sure, Aladdin is probably a cool guy and Jafar was a jerk, but my article may have made you doubt that a little. And that’s just because it’s easy to twist a story and blur the lines between good and evil (even though they are clearly distinct at the same time).

That said, which version of Jafar do you prefer?


Thanks for reading this. To get updates on my theories, books, and giveaways, join my mailing list.

Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni



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39 thoughts on “What if Jafar Was Good All Along?

  1. I was going to mention Twisted but you beat me to it!

    Villains are the heroes of their own story. Often (but not always) it’s simply a matter of perspective. 🙂

      • I think I prefer the evil Jafar. I really like the movie Aladdin,partly because of the awesome storyline,and that storyline would fall apart without the villain. Love to hate,you know? 😀

  2. One of the reasons that I enjoy your take on things such as this is that in order to do it, you have to enter the world of the story and see it from another character’s point of view. This is precisely why my favorite short story is one by Zenna Henderson called ‘Turn the Page’. That story was written in the ’50s, first published in Astounding magazine, and then republished in an anthology called ‘The Anything Box’, which is long out of print. Happily, the text of that issue of Astounding was preserved by the Internet Archive, so it’s still possible to find and read it. (I made an ePub of it so I can carry it in my phone.)

    The story is a reminiscence about the writer’s first teacher, who led her students to go beyond simply reading the stories, and take turns stepping into each character’s involvement in their world. In this way, by being the pursued, the pursuer, and the watcher, for example, they could fully understand the whole of the story. Poignantly, the writer notes that others in that first class had gotten stuck reliving the world from a single point of view, so one of them lived in perpetual fear, and another had transformed a character’s lust for power into a lust for money.

    So thank you for introducing a wider audience to this same way of experiencing the world in stories. In my own writing, I have repeatedly changed perspective character from chapter to chapter within a novel, or from story to story when a short story becomes the starting point for a series. At the moment, I’m working on the 7th, and I think concluding story in a series, so if you want to see another way that this same idea can be used, you can visit my WordPress blog: klurgsheld.wordpress.com

  3. I guess Aladdin would be incomplete without its iconic villian 🙂

  4. To Aladdin’s credit, he does first call Jasmine “smart” and then “fun,” before describing her physical appearance after the Genie wonders if she’s pretty. But that was a hilarious and entertaining article to read! 🙂 I can see a similar case in regards to Ursula, especially when it comes to her contract with Ariel!

  5. About Maleficent, Ursula, Jafar, Scar, Hook, etc. etc. everything is summed up here

    • I WAS GOING TO MAKE A REFERENCE TO TWISTED!!! THANKS FOR BEATING ME TO IT. GLAD TO SEE OTHER STARKID FANS OUT THERE!!!

  6. A very convincing read Jon, good point about having to look after the Kingdom. I find it very interesting that Disney is choosing to pursue a path, in its recent films, where the “villains” are allowed redemption. I’ll have to watch the star kid production before I make up my mind 🙂

      • Cool. I’ll probably check it out. Aladdin is my favorite childhood Disney movie, so this whole idea of Jafar being misunderstood is fascinating. And if the music is half as good as Wicked, it’ll be well worth the watch.

    • Swearing and sexual connotations

    • i know this is late but also sexual themes

    • Thank you someone really needed to bring that up.

  7. Yay, Jon’s a StarKid!

  8. Of course, this is ignoring his near-pedophilic comments and actions while enslaving Jasmine

  9. Aladdin is my favorite Disney movie ever, so this is an interesting take on the story but…not buying it. You should do Scar. I was watching it the other day and totally forgot that he was Mufasa’s brother, so royalty as well. Now that would be a better example of good guy gone bad.

  10. I’ve heard people speculate that the merchant is actually Genie. It makes sense that if he’s free and no longer a genie, wouldn’t he slowly lose his powers and be left with his old lamp?

  11. Ursula was good too, all she ever did was try to make poor unfortunate souls happy again. She charged them to teach them what real life was like.

  12. I read the beginning, and it’s clear that the salesman is the Genie. The man has a blue shirt, and a red belt, which is the Genie’s outfit too. Plus, the voices are both played by Robin Williams. So, if what your saying about the Salesman trying to sell his merchantdise, why would he see himself as a genie? And at the end of your explanation, the genie wants to sell it. Sense the lamp went through so much, he wants to sell it because of its history. And at the end, it shows the genie is free, so he had the powers to do that. But, it doesn’t make sense to me about the rest, WHY would the genie want to sell and, and what would happen if he did?

    • I like your theory. I think the merchant was Genie the whole time.

      • The merchant was Genie. He’s the only character besides the merchant to have four fingers.

  13. glad to see other starkid fans out there. i like starkids version of jafar as misunderstood but also prefer the original movies version of aladin the character. so if someone could produce something where Jafar is misunderstood but also having Aladin not be an a-hole and remain the sweet person he was in the original movie i would move heaven and earth to see that. yes i would indeed

  14. Did everyone forget that Jafar tried to stab Aladin not just let him fall… Just putting that out there not to mention that Jafar decided to kill both the Sultan and Jasmine, while laughing maniacally about it… Just sayin

    • But only when told from the merchants pointed of view the whole point of this article is that the truth was “twisted” 😉as a sales pitch we only have the merchants word he tried to stab and kill anyone

  15. This article…opens up to a lot of possibilities, I will think about this one

  16. That’s actually my take on Jafar, once one steps back from “Aladdin” to see how insane it really is. Right from Aladdin and Jasmines’ Meet Cute moment where Jasmine essentially complains to a homeless youth about how awful it is to be rich.

  17. If you’re going to write an article about a misunderstood villain, the villain should be Sid from Toy Story.
    Technically, Sid is only the villain to the toys. Just like you explain in your article, the story could go both ways if told by an unreliable source. I’m not saying the toys were unreliable, just that at their view point,Sid is the villain, so that’s how the story’s told.
    Let’s review the facts:
    1: Sid’s father is basically down in the dumps. In the brief cameo of him, we see a couple of cans that- although labeled after soda pop- is meant to represent alcohol, a guitar, and a coat wire being used as an antenna.
    2: Sid likes taking apart his toys. Why is that? Obviously the toys think it’s because he’s a crazed lunatic, but maybe there’s another reason for this.
    3: Sid’s mother doesn’t question him having a rocket or lighting it in the backyard. She even tells him where the matches are without bothering to ask what they’re for. Why is she letting him do all this?
    My conclusion: Sid is from a troubled family. His father is unemployed, possibly a failed musician. His mother doesn’t seem to notice or care that her son has a rocket and matches. Money is a problem, or at least not plentiful, and there are many things to reference this throughout the film. Sid may only take apart his toys because… well, I have no idea. But he obviously needs help.
    We don’t even know Sid’s real personality. We only see what the toys see: a villain, the bad guy. Maybe Sid is simply troubled. I’ll admit that he did be a little mean to Sally (I think that’s her name), but you can’t live with siblings and not do something like that at least ONCE.
    I rest my case.

  18. I REALLY wish that musical, Twisted, wasn’t filthy and vulgar, because I REALLY wanted to see it. Unfortunately, the opening number changed my mind 🙁 That’s disgusting and sad that he couldn’t make a musical without twenty people onstage cursing.

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