Riffraff. Street rat. Orphan. Thief. Sound like a hero to you? If only you'd look closer, you'd find out there's so much more to Aladdin. Let's check him out…along with that cute fez he's wearing.
Prince of Thieves
When we first meet Aladdin, he's running from the guards after stealing a loaf of bread. So, he's a criminal, then? A real jerk? Nope: Aladdin might steal, but he's more of a Jean Valjean-type of thief. He only steals food so that he and his monkey friend won't starve to death. You can't really blame him for that, can you?
And you've got to admire Aladdin's skills on the mean streets of Agrabah. He actually gets a whole song about it: "One Jump Ahead" is a celebration of how Aladdin is an awesome thief who's great at outwitting and outlasting the guards who are always trying to catch him:
ALADDIN: Gotta keep...one jump ahead of the breadline,
One swing ahead of the sword.
I steal only what I can't afford—
One jump ahead of the lawmen,
That's all, and that's no joke.
These guys don't appreciate I'm broke!
This kid is like the Michael Jordan of petty theft.
But Aladdin does good deeds, too. Like, he totally gives bread to other poor kids? And he helps out Princess Jasmine right away when he sees she's in trouble. Think about it: this guy doesn't have to get mixed up with some random girl in the marketplace, even if she is really, really, really ridiculously good looking. But he swoops in and risks his life to save hers. That's hero stuff right there.
Obviously, Aladdin's wits are his true skills. No, he doesn't have money or power or fame, but he's got brains for days. Hey, if you had to spend years coming up with scams to snag food every day so you wouldn't die of starvation, you'd probably be pretty good at thinking on your feet, too.
Flaws and All
Okay, so Aladdin's got the hero qualities down, but he's gotta have some flaws, too. Everyone does. Well, one of his problems is that he's kind of insecure about being poor:
ALADDIN: Riffraff, street rat. I don't buy that. If only they'd look closer. Would they see a poor boy? No siree. They'd find out, there's so much more to me. Someday, Abu, things are gonna change. We'll be rich, live in a palace, and never have any problems at all.
We get it. Being poor is no picnic, but that's no reason to get down on yourself. Aladdin thinks that all his problems would just magically disappear if he only had a pile of money. He's only partially right: money would most definitely buy him food and clothes and better living arrangements, but as he finds out in the end, money's still never going to buy him true happiness.
Maybe this is why Aladdin, who's usually pretty smart, falls so easily for the old man's promise of riches at the Cave of Wonders early in the movie: he's blinded by the promise of gold and treasure and a chance with the princess. Even at this point, Aladdin should probably realize how fishy this all sounds, but he just isn't thinking clearly.
To be fair, he's also locked up in a dungeon, so it's kind of a low point for him overall.
Prince Ali the Flop
So, Aladdin finds the lamp and releases the Genie and gets his three wishes. That means all his problems are solved, right?
Nope. They're just starting.
Because Aladdin's not comfortable in his own skin, his first wish is essentially to become someone else—a prince. The Genie gives him a total makeover, complete with money and treasures and fancy clothes, but that only pushes Jasmine further away. She wants the simple, down-to-earth boy from the marketplace, not the pompous prince. Oh, the irony.
It's not until Jasmine starts to suspect who Aladdin really is that she gives him a chance. Aladdin, of course, messes this up by piling more lies on top of his lies. And that's a problem. How is he going to keep these lies up? he wonders. He kind of freaks out about it, in fact:
GENIE: Huzzah! Hail the conquering hero! Aladdin, you've just won the heart of the princess. What are you gonna do next? Psst, your line is, "I'm going to free the Genie." Anytime.
ALADDIN: Genie...I can't.
GENIE: Sure you can. You just go, "Genie, I wish you free."
ALADDIN: I'm serious. Look, I'm sorry—I really am. But they want to make me sultan—no!—they want to make Prince Ali sultan. Without you, I'm just Aladdin.
GENIE: Al, you won!
ALADDIN: Because of you! The only reason anyone thinks I'm anything is because of you. What if they find out I'm not really a prince? What if Jasmine finds out? I'll lose her. Genie, I can't keep this up on my own. I can't wish you free.
Oh, that's stone cold. Aladdin's lies have not only hurt him, but now they've also cost the Genie his freedom. Wow, Aladdin. And you call yourself a hero.
The Truth about Aladdin
They say the truth shall set you free, and that's exactly what Aladdin finds out in the end. Once he defeats Jafar, and once Jasmine knows the truth—that he was a lowly street rat all along—Aladdin comes through for his buddy:
GENIE: Al, no problem. You've still got one wish left. Just say the word and you're a prince again.
ALADDIN: But Genie, what about your freedom?
GENIE: Hey, it's only an eternity of servitude. This is love. Al, you're not gonna find another girl like her in a million years. Believe me, I know. I've looked.
ALADDIN: Jasmine, I do love you, but I've got to stop pretending to be something I'm not.
JASMINE: I understand.
ALADDIN: Genie, I wish for your freedom.
GENIE: One bona fide prince pedigree coming up. I—what?
ALADDIN: Genie, you're free!
This is a big moment for Aladdin. Sure, before this he was a thief, but he cared about others. He helped people. Now, he's upping the ante: he's giving up his chance to spend the rest of his life with the woman he loves for the sake of his friend the Genie. We're getting a little choked up here.
And that's probably why Aladdin gets everything he wants in the end. By sacrificing his true love for the sake of someone else, he ends up winning it back. When the Sultan sees that Aladdin is a young man of such character and honesty, it inspires him to change the laws of Agrabah to allow a commoner to marry his daughter. Awww.
Aladdin wins. Love wins. Freedom wins. Everyone wins. (Well, except Jafar, but no one liked him anyway.)