Faerie Tale Theatre 5.01: “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp”

Once upon a time, in a magical decade known as the Nineteen Eighties, a then-modest little cable network called Showtime decided to launch its very first original television series. Although today known best for programs about serial killers, drug-addicted caregivers, and criminal suburban mothers, this was a quainter, more distant era, all but lost to the mists of time, and thus it was pronounced throughout the land that this first production wouldn’t be an edgy tragicomedy at all but rather an anthology series composed of beloved children’s tales known as Faerie Tale Theatre, produced by the actress, Shelley Duvall, who assembled all of her closest Hollywood celebrity friends to appear in modern dramatizations of the most cherished children’s stories of yesteryear.

As a child, I fell in love with Faerie Tale Theatre and watched it whenever I could. Unfortunately, however, my family didn’t have premium cable back then, so I was only able to see whatever episodes were available to rent on video and/or my mom’s friends were able to record off their TV for me, and/or eventually showed up on PBS. And so, while out of the 27 filmed episodes, there are some I watched over and over until I practically wore out the tapes, others I still haven’t seen up to this point.

And now, years later, I’ve decided to finally revisit this cherished series from my childhood, in order, continuing with the twenty-third episode, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, which first aired on July 14, 1986, when I was 5 1/4 years old, and was one of my favorites when I was growing up…

"Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp"

“Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp”

I loved loved loved this episode as a kid. It was one of the ones I would watch over and over again, and it still holds up well today. The pacing is excellent and never flags. The performances are terrific, across the board, particularly the one and only Leonard Nimoy as a nefarious magician…

Magician

Magician

…Joseph Maher (probably best remembered today as the open-minded Bishop O’Hara in Sister Act) as a Sultan who loves shiny things…

Sultan

Sultan

…and the great James Earl Jones as not one but two genies. Yes, that’s right, two: the Genie of the Ring…

Genie #1

Genie #1

…and the famous Genie of the Lamp:

Genie #2

Genie #2

This is because Faerie Tale Theatre, as per usual, recreates the original versions of the stories, not their Disney counterparts, which this one actually predates by six years. And just from a compare-and-contrast standpoint, it’s extremely fascinating to note just how and where Disney and the original story part ways. Much like the Disney Aladdin, the original Aladdin is a hapless young street rat who makes it big when he chances to be conned by an evil sorcerer into nabbing a magical lamp from an underground cave in the middle of the desert. Unlike the Disney Aladdin, however, the original one doesn’t really have a lesson to learn about being honest. His genie basically gives him everything he wants, helps him marry the princess and attain all of his wildest dreams, and in the end, Aladdin defeats the evil sorcerer, who, incidentally, is not the same character as the Grand Vizier, who wants to marry the princess just as Jafar did but doesn’t get any further than that desire.

Also, when Aladdin temporarily loses the lamp to the evil magician, it isn’t due to his own stupidity in going back on his word to the genie to free him (a desire for freedom never even enters into the equation) but simply because the magician manages to trick the princess by dressing up as an old beggar man, trading old lamps for new. To be fair, she might not have been so gullible had Aladdin simply told her the truth about the lamp, but he’s never held accountable for that, because the story has very different goals.

The Disney Company actually deliberately changed the story because it is so problematic from a modern-day viewpoint. Besides the feminist issue of the princess truly only being “a prize to be won”–to quote the defiant words of Princess Jasmine from the Disney film–the story doesn’t have much meaning per se, other than even the poorest, least intelligent person (because Aladdin is pretty dopey in the original) could manage to luck out and become a prince…if, that is, he has magic on his side. The end.

Author: Robert Berg

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