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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.

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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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What ‘The Incredibles’ Teaches Us About Inequality

If I make the statement that “Inequality” is one of the most pervasive issues of our time, then most of you will probably agree.

It seems like everyone is always talking about inequality politics, especially when it comes to race, gender and income.

Now, if you’re like me, then talking about politics is really boring and superfluous unless you make sense of it with movies and philosophy, two of the greatest things in the world.

Fortunately for us, The Incredibles is a movie that exists, and it even provides us with some basic philosophy that sheds some insight into how we should honestly make sense of inequality in the real world.

Go on…What ‘The Incredibles’ Teaches Us About Inequality

Retronalysis: Can We Reboot “The Last Airbender” Already?

2 years ago, we were handed one of the worst movies of all time that was depicting one of the greatest animated series of all time. Our feelings were hurt when The Last Airbender (TLA) failed to capture the greatness of Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA).

With the rising popularity and success of the animated series’ successor, The Legend of Korra, it’s high-time that Hollywood try again with the Avatar series while the timing is still good.

By the way, I spent a lot of time talking about social media last week, so expect this week to be a little more entertainment-heavy.

Now, let’s get some basic points out of the way. ATLA is my favorite animated series of all time. Debuting in 2005, this show had everything I could possibly want in a sprawling epic.

Amazing animation (it is an American cartoon animated in South Korea), deep and interesting lore, a high-stakes storyline (making it accessible for an older audience), some of the most memorable characters on television, and even humor.

So, making a movie out of this show should have been a cinch. As we understand it, the show’s studio gave Hollywood a lot of freedom with the story, over $150 million was put into its production, and the show lends itself very nicely to a trilogy since it was made with three seasons.

The movie even had M. Night Shyamalan directing it.

Well, okay, all of these things ended up being a negative. Hollywood ruined the story because they had too much freedom, they spent way too much money on the wrong things, making three movies meant changing the length of the story to keep up with aging actors, and M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed it.

If you haven’t seen the movie or know what I’m talking about, watch these videos that recap everything wrong with the movie pretty perfectly (SPOILERS from here on out).

The question being asked by some is whether or not Shyamalan will follow-up this disaster of a movie with a sequel the movie begged.

Obviously, no one outright wants it, but the movie did manage make $300 million worldwide. So, the movie does make sense financially, if not critically.

Still, that’s no guarantee the sequel will manage to pull off the same magic, especially if none of the first movie’s mistakes are corrected.

That said, I have two possible solutions that would please everyone.

We should either reboot the first movie or go the way of The Incredible Hulk (Most people did not like Ang lee’s Hulk that came out in 2003, so 2008’s The Incredible Hulk served as an unofficial sequel to the 2003 film).

A reboot is the nice solution, because it would take less effort to rework the movie’s mistakes.

Here’s my wish-list for a reboot:

1. Change the writers. The animated series had different writers for almost all of their episodes. Tapping into their talent for a movie just makes sense, especially since they’re the biggest reason (along with the creators) why the series was successful.

2. Pronounce the names correctly. Shyamalan decided that the names in the show were not pronounced correctly in Asian. That was misguided, considering the show takes place in an alternate world influenced by Asian themes, not Asia. Changing the pronunciation did nothing but annoy all of the show’s fans.

3. Change the casting strategy. In the movie, the Fire Nation was depicted by Indians, the Water Tribe was caucasian, the Earth Kingdom was chinese, and the Air Nomads were diverse. This doesn’t make sense alongside the show at all.

The Fire Nation was clearly influenced by the Japanese, which we see in their culture, architecture, and how we find out later on that “firebending” originated with dragons. So, why not carry that over to the movie? Also, a Japanese actor playing Zuko would be way more interesting.

The Earth Kingdom makes way more sense as the “diverse” nation because they are largest. Even the show implies this, since Zuko and Iroh were able to pass as Earth Kingdom refugees in season 2, and many of the characters in this part of the world look very different from each other.

The Water Tribe is composed of two separate tribes, the North and South Pole. You can get away with having Europeans depict the North Pole, but Katarra and Sokka should just be darker skinned like they are in the show to please the fans. A “white” Katarra is just too much of a change, and our pop culture could really use more diversity anyways.

Also, Dev Patel would’ve made a far better Sokka than Jason Rathbone. Sokka is humorous and very animated. Patel’s “Anwar” in Skins was one of the most animated characters in that show, so why not give him a character with more to do?

Finally, the Air Nomads should be Chinese for the same reason that the Fire Nation should be Japanese. They clearly represent Tibetan monks, and we’d have an easier time casting a child actor for Aang who can handle all of the physical stunts throughout the trilogy.

4. Rework the plot. The first season of Avatar is the most challenging to compress into one movie because almost every episode is “standalone.” It’s basically about a group of friends travelling the world having various adventures.

That said, the movie left a lot of really critical characters out, including the Kyoshi Warriors and King Bumi, who play major roles in the other seasons. 

Here’s how I would break it down: The first act would focus on Aang, Sokka, and Katarra. We needed that more in TLA, which glossed over major character development points.

The second act should introduce us to the Kyoshi Warriors and King Bumi, who could be Aang’s method of receiving his world-saving mission from Roku. This could all culminate with Book 1’s most important episode, The Blue Spirit, which teaches us a lot more about Zuko.

Finally the third act would focus on the North Pole, giving us more time to commit to Yue’s character, Aang’s confrontation with Koh, the fight between Zuko, Katarra, and Zhao, and Aang’s epic fight against the entire Fire Nation navy.

5. Make the movie longer. Yes, this is a kid’s movie, but that didn’t stop us from letting Harry Potter have at least 2 hours, and there’s really no other way to tell the show’s story.

I’d go on, but you get the point. A reboot would be a much-needed, major overhaul of the 2011 iteration.

As I said before, we could also just skip the reboot and do the sequel as an unofficial follow-up to the reboot I just described. After all, season 2 of the show was far more like a serialized saga with major set pieces, making a movie easier to create.

Or we could leave ATLA alone and just skip to a prequel for Legend of Korra. After all, who wouldn’t want to see a young version of Korra mastering water, earth, and fire?

 

Everything You Missed When You Watched ‘Inception’

inception

Inception is rapidly becoming my favorite movie of all time. I first saw it during the midnight premiere back in 2010, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I remember being mesmerized by its originality and unrelenting assault on my mind’s stamina.

It took another dozen viewings of the film, however, to persuade me that this is one of the best films of my lifetime, and the first truly great film of the 21st Century.

Let me explain.

For me, a truly great film isn’t really like a masterpiece. A masterpiece, after all, is more about critical praise and the apex of one’s career. Inception is great in a different way. It’s just smart. It didn’t receive universal, critical praise (though it got some) because it completely went over the heads of almost everyone.

inception

For all of you who think you “get” the movie, I sincerely doubt that more than a handful actually caught everything that was going on in the story.

Here’s a test to see if you did: do you think the ending was a cliffhanger? Because if you did, you are dead wrong.

Let me be clear about something. I’ve seen this movie backward and forward, so what I’m about to get into is just a summary of what I’ve personally discovered, combined with some great insights provided by the research of others.

Spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading this and get that taken care of.

inception

I believe the entire movie was a dream, and we are supposed to arrive at that conclusion. Nolan implants countless clues that point to this, but he works to make sure that even the clues themselves are ambiguous.

The first clue? To catch it, you have to watch the movie at least twice. There is a line in the movie when Cobb points out that our dreams always start in the middle of something, but not really the beginning. We never think about “how we got there” as he puts it.

Inception begins in the middle of Cobb’s story, as well as the middle of a dream heist. We aren’t introduced to Cobb, Arthur, or Saito. We are given a brief look at the end of the story, and then the movie just shifts seamlessly into the dream heist.

What does that remind you of? When we recall a dream, we typically start at the end (Cobb and “old” Saito) and try to remember how it actually started, but we can’t remember how it really started and just start somewhere in the middle.

inception

So, let’s say you buy that. The whole movie was a dream. Doesn’t that make you mad? Well here’s Nolan’s genius: that shouldn’t matter. We get mad that the movie was just a dream and say, “Why bother watching a movie that didn’t really happen–” and then you realize that the movie is fiction anyway.

That is just one example of why this movie is so amazing. It has scores of themes you didn’t even think were possible to associate with the film. And it takes work to sort this all out.

Back to the first statement that everything was a dream. Maybe you’re not convinced? I’ll give you more clues. The basis for the “It’s a dream” theory is based on how limbo works. When the “kick” happens, namely suicide here, you go one level up in the multi-level dreams.

inception

Cobb explains to Ariadne that he and Mal, his wife, ended up in their world-building limbo because they were experimenting with multi-dreams and Cobb pushed them too deep. He says they grew “old” together and eventually committed suicide on the train tracks to go back to reality. But here’s the thing…that would have sent them only one level up.

Cobb believes inception is the reason Mal went insane and killed herself, but it was actually true. If they died in limbo, it would be impossible for them to return to reality again unless they died again and again. Totems mean nothing here because the totem Cobb used was Mal’s, and he even broke the rules and explained how it works to Ariadne, compromising its purpose. (Talking about the totems alone would take up this entire article by the way)

Another clue that they were in a dream when Mal killed herself: She trashes the hotel room to make it look like Cobb killed her so that he will eventually join her, but when he approaches the window, she’s across the road in another hotel room. If you look closely, it’s the same hotel room, plus it would make no sense for her to go to the other side. Cobb even proves that he doesn’t catch how that’s odd when he tells her to come inside and motions for her to come into the window he’s currently at, even though she’s across the street.

inception

One of the characteristics of a dream is that weird things happen that we don’t catch. When the dream was happening, strange things happened that we didn’t realize were major “plot holes” or illogical until we woke up and actually thought about it.

The entire movie is like this. The fast (and sloppy) editing, the one-dimensional characters all revolving around Cobb, the walls closing in on Cobb for no reason during the chase scene in Mombasa, bodyguards coming out of nowhere to attack him, Saito showing up just in time to save Cobb, and so many more examples all lead the diligent audience to believe that this is really just a dream.

After all, do we really believe that an energy tycoon that is smart about money would actually buy an entire airline just for the heck of it? And then said tycoon would risk his life in order to take part in the mission? It doesn’t really make sense the more you think about it.

inception

Watching the movie play out, it’s hard not to catch that it is clearly an allegory to filmmaking. When watch a movie, we are watching what is essentially a dream. Plot holes and the like exist because the director is trying to explain his “dream.”

Nolan himself has even admitted that he framed the characters around certain roles in filmmaking.

Cobb is the director: he leads the whole thing.

Arthur is the producer: he organizes everything.

Eames is the actor: he changes his appearance.

Ariadne is the screenwriter: she designs everything.

Yusuf is the special effects studio: he’s behind the technology to make everything work.

Saito is the bank-roller: he funds the project.

Robert is the audience: he’s the person they’re trying to plant an idea into.

inception

Need more clues? We’re told during the movie that elements of a person’s subconscious creep up during the dreams. That’s why Robert’s number, 528491, appears so often in the movie. He initially guesses the number is a combination to his father’s safe. Later, the number shows up on a napkin, a hotel room, and eventually his father’s safe at the snow fortress.

This carries on throughout the whole movie. The number of the train that kills Cobb and Mal, when they are in limbo is 3502. The taxi number later on is 2305, and the hotel Mal trashes is in room 5302. This implies that Mal’s death happened during a dream. And in the image above, you can see 3502 on the train that appeared during Robert’s dream.

Here is the most important subconscious clue, since it has to do with the ending that ticked everyone off for being a supposed cliffhanger. The end scene when we watch to see if the totem will fall (and prove Cobb is in reality) is a red herring. A massive misdirection that serves to make us miss what’s going on in the background.

inception

Remember, killing yourself only sends you one level up. We find “old” Saito and Cobb about to shoot themselves to escape limbo. If they did, then that means they would go back to the snow fortress. But wait, that was Fisher’s dream and Fischer received the “kick” already. If they went back a level up, that means there is nothing there. That means that the first person to die, Saito, would fill that dream with his subconscious, leading to the ending scene where Cobb supposedly reunites with his children.

How am I sure? Saito says that he always wanted a “house on a cliff.” In limbo, he is an old man living in a house on a cliff. At the very end when Cobb spins the totem and greets his kids, they say that they have just built a “house on a cliff.” This points to the whole thing taking place within Saito’s subconscious.

The beauty is how that can be a number of things. What if “house on a cliff” referred to Cobb’s subconscious being projected through Saito? That would mean Saito never existed. Honestly, there are countless ways to interpret this, but that’s not the point. The point is that this movie was designed in a way to make us understand that movies themselves are, well, inception.

inception

I could go on and on about this movie, honestly. There are just so many ways to interpret and find new revelations within the narrative. That is why it is a truly great movie, and it pains me to see that so many people dismissed it because it went over their heads and a movie like this lost “Best Picture” to The King’s Speech.

I’ll leave you with some more crazy facts in case you’re interested:

DREAMS: Dom, Robert, Eames, Ariadne , Mal, Saito.

If you add Peter, Arthur, and Yusuf, it spells DREAMS PAY (their profession is to make money by stealing from others’ dreams).

Hanz Zimmer created the entire soundtrack for this movie using only one song that is slowed down and sped up: the song used to initiate a dream is over, which is “No Regrets (translated)” by Edith Piaf. Seriously, even the blaring trombone composition is taken from that song. Also, the very last word in the song is “mal” which coincidently refers to the character Mal.

inception

The running time of the movie is exactly 2 hours and 28 minutes long, which is how long the song “No Regrets” is when translated to minutes and seconds.

Ariadne is a mythological princess who aids Theseus in escaping the Minotaur’s labyrinth. The name is also associated with Ariadne auf Naxos which is an opera that is essentially a “play within a play.”

The movie is based on Cobb’s mission to get home. His first name, Dom, literally means “home” in Latin (think domestic).

One last thought, a lot more about this subject can be found in this book, Inception and Philosophy, by Kyle Johnson. I haven’t read it myself, but I’ve been told it goes even deeper into the movie and what it all meant. Click here to check it out. 


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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