Monday, May 3, 2010

Jasmine: The Magical Princess

       Disney Princesses are arguably the most pervasive heroines in Western culture. Not only do they occupy the fantastic rank of “princess,” but they are swaddled in the romance of the Disney name. Until the introduction of Princess Tianna in December of 2009, one princess stood out from the rest: Princess Jasmine. Before Tianna’s arrival, Jasmine was the only princess of color. In addition to her sweeping raven hair and copper skin, her aquamarine harem pants, midriff-baring top, and large gold earrings starkly contrast with the billowing ballgowns of her counterparts (unless Ariel is portrayed in her mermaid form rather than her human form -- as she is in the image to the left). She’s different. She’s exotic. She’s Other.
Viewed in the light of Edward Said’s theories regarding Orientalism, Jasmine embodies the discourse between the familiar and the strange. As a result, she vacillates between the romance and the reality. This is apparent in the aesthetic choices made for the design of home and in her design.
The overall design of Aladdin was based on the style of legendary cartoonist Al Hirschfeld. Eric Goldberg, supervising animator of the Genie, suggested the style for its sweeping “thick and thin” lines as it is reminiscent of Arabic calligraphy. Further, Hirschfeld’s caricature would add the sense of whimsy that would set Aladdin apart as a comedy from other classically drawn films, such as its immediate predecessor Beauty and the Beast. Therein, the design for the film - Jasmine included - is a combination of both Western and Eastern sensibilities. Such a blend, though, illustrates Orientalism as a Western construct: it takes Eastern elements but then frames it within a Western context to accommodate its Western artists and audience: “Since the notion of the Orient is created by the Orientalist, it exists solely for him or her. Its identity is definite by the scholar who gives it life.” (Sered)
Such a blend extends into Jasmine’s home: the fictional Arabian city, Agrabah. Layout supervisor, Rasoul Azadani, provided photos of his native Iran to make Agrabah’s architecture credible (note the sketch of Aladdin’s home below). At the same time, it was colored and styled to fit with the caricatured design. Not only does the caricatured layout provide a suitable setting for the characters, but it distinguishes Jasmine’s world as a fantastic and romantic construct. Such a construct reflects the “dichotomy between the reality of the East and the romantic notion of the ‘Orient.’” (Dexheimer)



Jasmine’s animation and design was supervised by Disney’s resident “go-to” man for heroines, Mark Henn. His animation credits include Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, young Simba, Mulan, and Princess Tianna. In designing Jasmine according to Hirschfeldian aesthetic, her anatomy is exaggeratedly petite. The model sheet below says that she is “five and a half heads tall,” whereas a human is actually “seven heads tall.” Note that her face is wider than her waist. Also, she is costumed in revealing clothing that emphasizes her extreme curves. Based purely on her looks, Jasmine’s small stature makes her appear easily dominated, her skimpy clothing suggests sex, and her long hair sets her apart from Western women. In short, she visually fits the profile of Oriental women theorized by Danielle Sered: “The woman is both eager to be dominated and strikingly exotic.” (Sered)



In personality, though, Jasmine compensates for this image, reflecting a similar sophistication that Said praised Joseph Conrad for in Heart of Darkness. In the words of Amardeep Singh: “Conrad was sophisticated enough to acknowledge that he did indeed have a blind spot. Conrad recognized that the idea of imperialism was an illusion, built entirely on very fragile, mythic rhetoric.” (Singh) There are a two scenes in Aladdin, where Jasmine flaunts her sexuality and acts submissive. During the first instance, she saunters to Aladdin swaying her hips and purring about how she is a “fine prize for any prince to marry” -- then proceeds to tell him off for referring to her that way. In the second instance, she pretends to be Jafar’s sexual plaything, only to fight him later. In exhibiting the Oriental sexual stereotype as a performance, Jasmine emphasizes the outright falsity of it.

Works Cited
Dexheimer, Jim. “Orientalism.” WMich.edu. Apr 29, 2002. < http://www.wmich.edudialoguestexts/orientalism.htm> Jan 12, 2010.
Sered, Danielle. “Orientalism.” Emory University. Fall 1996. <http:/www.english.emory.edu/BahriOrientalism.html> Jan 12, 2010.
Singh, Amardeep. “An Introduction to Edward Said, Orientalism, and Postcolonial Literary
Studies.” Lehigh University. Sep 24, 2004. < http://www.lehigh.edu/~amsp/2004/09
introduction-to-edward-said.html
> Jan 12, 2010.
Image Sources
Disney Princesses: http://disney-clipart.com/princesses/princess/Disney-Princesses3.jpg
Aladdin’s Home by Rasoul Azadani: http://www.aladdincentral.org/images/displayimage.php?album=51&pos=19
Jasmine Model Sheet by Mark Henn:

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