Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Episode That Cemented Aladdin and Jasmine as the Greatest Disney Couple Ever

The greatest Disney couple ever is Aladdin and Jasmine.  Period.  And it’s really not even close.

As far as exploration of a romance is concerned among Disney movies, the best is easily Beauty and the Beast.  Second is Aladdin.  But what allowed Aladdin and Jasmine to reign above Belle and the Beast, as well as the rest of Disney couples, is the advantage of having their story continued in two direct-to-video sequels and an animated series.  Sure, other Disney animated movies have those, too, but the Aladdin trilogy is definitely Disney’s best “classic film with (often) sufficiently fun but not-as-good-as-the-original (sometimes even plain bad) direct-to-video sequels” animated film series.

But what significantly fleshed Aladdin and Jasmine out as individual characters and as a couple – or the entire Aladdin universe and characters, for that matter (seriously, Aladdin and friends are one heck of an action, adventuring squad) – is the Aladdin animated series – one of my favorite TV cartoons, and objectively Disney’s best TV series based on a hit movie.
One of my most favorite episodes of the show is “Eye of the Beholder” (incidentally, one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes is also titled as such).  When I watched it for the first time as a kid, it really struck me.  It was one of the greatest moments of Aladdin and Jasmine’s love story.

In it, Mirage (one of the show’s recurring antagonists; who looks like the goddess Bastet of Egyptian mythology) is rebuked by Fasir (a recurring character; a cyclops seer that often aids Aladdin and friends) about her habit of constantly tormenting humans.  Fasir argues that her nefarious plots will always be trumped, for good always triumph over evil since good is powered by love.  Mirage scoffs at the idea, since she believes that love is weak.  Fasir then uses Aladdin and Jasmine’s love as a prime example, pointing out that their love will never be broken no matter what she does.  Challenged, Mirage sets off to prove Fasir wrong.

Mirage disguises herself and manipulates Jasmine into using a special lotion that will supposedly make her more desirable to Aladdin.  To Jasmine’s horror, she discovers that the lotion is slowly transforming her into a snake.   Aladdin asks Genie’s help, and he reveals that he knows a cure: eating a fruit from the Tree of Renewal.
To make a long story short, the body of the episode sees Aladdin and the gang travelling towards the location of the Tree, racing against time and facing off a series of obstacles, while Mirage observes them from her home.  Once Aladdin and the gang reach their destination, Mirage becomes furious but becomes collected once again by telling herself that Aladdin is only loving Jasmine all this time because he has hope that she can be returned back to normal.  Believing this, she curses the Tree of Renewal, making it and its fruits rot before Jasmine can take a bite.  She reveals herself to them, and mockingly asks Aladdin if he still loves Jasmine though she’ll never become a human again.  Aladdin tells Jasmine to not listen to her, consoling her that he’ll never leave him.  But the heartbroken Jasmine, now fully a snake creature, tells Aladdin that Mirage is right, that she can never be with him with her condition.  She asks Aladdin and the others to go back to Agrabah and leave her.  Aladdin refuses to leave and reaches out for her, but Jasmine hisses at him, and then sadly slithers away.

Genie comfortingly tells Aladdin that he’ll bring her back to Agrabah.  But in a development that I didn’t see coming when I saw it for the first time, Aladdin tells him that that won’t be necessary.  He tells the gang to go back to Agrabah without him; he’s staying with Jasmine.  And to everybody’s shock (including mine), he applies the lotion to himself, also turning himself into a snake creature.  He moves towards Jasmine, and she asks why he did it.  He explains that if they can’t be together as humans, then they’ll be together as snakes – affirming his genuine love for her.

That exact moment is when I realized that Aladdin and Jasmine are the best Disney couple ever.  Was there any other Disney couple that triumphed over such adversity in their love?
Jasmine is ready to let Aladdin go, willing to sacrifice herself and spend the rest of her life in such isolated, miserable state so that Aladdin can move on, unburdened by her, with his life.  But Aladdin would have none of it.  He wants to be with her forever, no matter what.  It’s a rendition of the clichéd “I’d rather have bad times with you” sentiment.  But it never felt cheesy in its delivery.  It was legitimately emotionally affecting.  It was beautiful.

Of course, the episode can’t end in a tragedy:  Mirage tries to take consolation that though she has failed to break them apart, they will at least have to suffer as snake creatures for the rest of their lives.   But Farsi has enough.  Pointing out that she has lost, it’s unnecessary to make them suffer further and he restores the Tree of Renewal to life, much to Mirage’s anger.

To this date, though I now recognize as an adult the lacks and pitfalls of its storytelling, I still find “Eye of the Beholder” as moving as I did when I first saw it.  It might be clichéd.  But what Aladdin and Jasmine demonstrated in this simply-told episode has always been a fine reminder – a glimpse – of a profound feature of love: “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

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