A Whole New World: A Twisted Tale reimagines the Disney movie Aladdinby working from the premise that Jafar maintained ownership of the lamp at the Cave of Wonders. This, as you can probably imagine, does NOT go well for the Sultan, Jasmine, the genie, or Agrabah. It doesn’t make things worse for Aladdin, really, but he doesn’t get to do the whole “pretending to be a foreign prince” thing at all.
This is a much more adult story, dark and violent, not shying away from the classism, sexism, and incompetent leadership inherent to but unexplored in the movie’s setting. It’s possible that it stands alone as a good story, but it’s pretty clear that it’s assumed that the reader is familiar with the movie—which I am, so that’s the lens I viewed it through. The silliness, humor, and song & dance of the movie are alluded to occasionally, with hints of the story that could have been, but this is a more realistic story of rebellion against an evil usurper.
Similar to but different from A Frozen Heart, this is a story for older fans of a childhood movie, bringing depth to the characters and themes that’s barely alluded to in the movies.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Classism and Poverty
While Aladdin has some fun chase scenes with a catchy song about not getting caught as a thief so you can keep your hand and get something to eat, A Whole New World uses that huge disparity between the wealth of the palace and the poverty of the Street Rats to drive the plot forward. Jasmine’s father was a horrible (though not actually evil) ruler, and as he’s collected his toys and wealth, the people of Agrabah have suffered tremendously. Jasmine is completely unaware of this until she escapes the palace and sees it for herself. When Jafar first comes to power, he showers the people with gold and food, thus making the transition pretty smooth—it turns out that the poor people don’t care much who’s in power as long as they can eat.
Because Aladdin doesn’t keep the lamp, the whole bit with him pretending to be a prince doesn’t happen. The action of the story takes place in the slums of Agrabah, and we see what poverty has done to many of the characters. Aladdin had a falling out with other young thieves because he only stole enough to feed himself, while they made a career of it. Morgiana (the head of the thieves) explains that the thief organization means that they can feed those who can’t even steal for themselves. She trains young thieves which, in addition to helping her, also helps keep them safer.
Violence, Gore, and Death
Thieves are not dealt with well—getting a hand cut off is the typical punishment. Jafar takes that further, with the body of a thief pegged up on the palace wall with daggers as a warning to others. He brands the people who are loyal to him, and the aftermath of that is described in a bit of detail. When a man can’t tell him what he wants to know, Jafar makes the man’s head turn until it comes off, and this happens in a bit of detail. We learn that Jafar killed Iago as a blood sacrifice to gain power.
Aladdin digs out of the collapsed Cave of Wonders with his fingers, getting them bloody and losing nails in the process. He’s a mess by the time he gets out. There’s a black magic book bound in human flesh and another with an active human eye in the cover. Many characters receive cuts and wounds, occasionally described in some detail.
The magic carpet is strung on a torture rack and Jafar cuts it into pieces which he makes into cuffs to help him and his guards defy gravity a bit. Yes, it’s a carpet. But it’s personified a bit in the book, and a lot in the movie, and the scene is kind of graphic. Jafar also stretches the genie out on a bed of nails when he finds out the genie has been talking to Jasmine.
Jafar killed the Sultan, pushing him off a balcony as soon as the genie makes him a sultan and a sorcerer. Jasmine is right there when it happens—she notes later that Jafar could have done so many other things, like turning her father into a mouse or something, but he just pushed him off the balcony. It was an act of hatred, not just a political move. Jafar uses his power to slam Rajah against a wall, and the tiger carries the wound from that through the rest of the book. Sounds like he probably also got a concussion.
A grandfather and two little kids are in the sand timer at the end. Duban, the son and uncle, gets so angry that he uses black magic to kill Jafar—this isn’t seen as a good choice, although possibly one that needed to be made. But he gave up a bit of his humanity to do it.
Aladdin is responsible for the death of the head guard, which he has some trouble dealing with.
Jafar learns to bring the dead back to “life” as ghouls. When one of her soldiers is given a mortal wound, Jasmine holds his head until he dies. When he comes back as a ghoul, she herself cuts off his head to end his unlife. It’s hard for her, but she feels that she must deal with this if she’s asking people to put their lives in danger.
Aladdin realizes that, as hard as parental death is, it’s even harder for parents to lose their children. Part of what helps him realize this is a nine year old boy who was killed in an accident and comes back as a ghoul.
Sex, Love, and Kissing
There are a few passionate kisses between Jasmine and Aladdin.
There’s a lot mentioned in passing—rapists mentioned as among the worst criminals, a woman out without her head covered is called loose and told to return to her harem, a woman is called a slattern. “Harem” is used as a term for women doing what they must to survive, with the implication that they may be sex workers. One reason Jasmine doesn’t want a husband is that he’ll stuff her full of babies. She has no problem with being a mother someday on her own terms, but fears an arranged marriage would turn her into a baby factory—a fate she might not survive for long.
The genie at first assumes that Jasmine is married to her father, saying that May-December romances are pretty common for sultans. Jafar is looking for ways to break the rules of magic, partially to force Jasmine to fall in love with him.
Slavery and Lack of Choice
The genie is a slave, with shackles on his wrists. He talks about this with Jasmine a bit, who can easily commiserate about being in a situation where you have no say in your life. She starts to see the genie as a real being, and not a mythological magical creature, even though his skin is blue and his experiences and culture are different from hers.
Jasmine is determined to be a better leader, doing everything she can to make sure everyone has a choice. She wants to overcome poverty and make sure every child has a chance to be educated.
It’s frequently pointed out that women have fewer choices than men.
None of the parents in this book are perfect—far from it. One of the themes seems to be realizing the shortcoming of your parents, even if they weren’t outright cruel to you. The Sultan may have been doting, but he’d have forced Jasmine to marry. And she realizes that he was a horrible and delusional leader. Aladdin’s mother was well meaning, but he sees her as delusional as well, waiting for his father to return and make everything better.
Aladdin’s father abandoned him and his mother. Morgiana’s parents were alcoholics, and Duban’s sister’s husband beat her (they’re the parents of the little kids who end up in the sand timer). Jafar’s mother apparently sold him into slavery when he was a child.
There are few typical “bad words,” although animal piss is mentioned. “Slattern” isn’t exactly polite.
The main reason this gets its own heading, though, is that the vocabulary is occasionally challenging, in a good way. There were a few words I wasn’t readily familiar with, but they were used in ways that I could discern meaning from context. I think this is good thing in a book aimed at younger readers.
I’m really enjoying these novels that add depth to Disney movies, exploring things that were ignored due to time or age appropriateness. This is a very dark take on Aladdin, definitely for older reader of probably 11 or 12 and up. On some level, it treats the movie as a very silly alternate reality that wouldn’t actually happen. This take is much more grounded in a familiar reality. How can Aladdin jump out a window and know a tarp will break his fall? Because a good thief would set up an emergency escape route, of course.
Jasmine and Aladdin both have a lot more depth in this story, becoming revolutionary leaders and learning about sacrifice, rather than just lying and faking and singing songs. There’s a hint of the silly side of the genie, but as the last of his kind and enslaved to an evil man he doesn’t support, he’s very much a tragic figure. The novel is all the more thought provoking when explicitly compared to the movie, and I can see a lot of young future English majors really enjoying that aspect of it.
Disclosure: the publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.