Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there (and a special shout out to mine! Love you, Mom!) In honor of our beloved mothers, here’s a tribute to a Disney mother that we never got to meet. Unlike a lot of Disney mothers who are absent from the movies without explanation, we do get the tiniest hint of Aladdin’s mom. We know from Aladdin that he’s a street rat, and we know he’s an orphan (“I’d blame parents except he hasn’t got ’em”). Or is he? We find out this is not the case in Aladdin and the King of Thieves when we meet Aladdin’s father, Cassim.
[[Can I just take a moment and try to convince you to watch this movie? No, I’m not asking you to watch Return of Jafar, unless you’re a glutton for punishment. Granted, there are some good things about RoJ–a few decent songs, Iago’s redemption–but the plot’s convoluted, there’s two different villains (Abis Mal from the TV series and, of course, Jafar), and there’s no Robin Williams as Genie. My advice is just skip the second movie and jump right into KoT. All you need to know is that Iago now works with the good guys, though he’s still just as loud-mouthed and self-serving as ever. In fact, the only mention of Jafar in the entire movie is in the opening song, saying, “Without Jafar and all his malice, everybody’s happy. What could possibly go wrong?” That’s it. You don’t need to know how Jafar meets his end to know what’s going on here. Plus, the songs are fantastic, it’s got John Rhys-Davies as Aladdin’s father, it’s got an entirely new plot, a decent villain, a magical object as intriguing as a genie’s lamp, plus Robin Williams back as Genie! The next time it’s out of the Disney Vault, just give it a chance. I promise. It’s good. Quite possibly the only truly good Disney sequel.]]
In King of Thieves, Aladdin tells Jasmine, “My past…it’s a blank. My mother died when I was just a kid, and I never even knew my father. I have no idea where I come from.” Sad stuff, but it gets worse. When Al finally meets up with his dad, we find out what actually happened to him all those years ago. As Cassim tells it: “I knew exactly what I wanted for my family: the best. I couldn’t give up and go back empty-handed. But the weeks turned into months and the months turned into years… I came back to Agrabah one night, but I couldn’t find my wife, or my son. I thought my family was lost forever. At that moment, I would have traded anything to get your mother back.” To which Aladdin responds, “We never wanted gold… We wanted you. I wanted a father, I still do.” [[See? This movie is actually good. It’s really a heartfelt investigation into Aladdin and his family and past.]]
From this conversation, we get a sense that, before their family broke apart, they had been happy. There had been love between them. We can see perhaps a glimpse into why Aladdin is such a “diamond in the rough”–it’s got to be his mother’s influence. Let’s meet her…
Though Samira and her family never had much money, she felt like she was the richest person in Agrabah. She had a husband–Cassim–who worshipped the ground she walked on, who had been so infatuated with her that he had tried to convince her parents that he was a prince in order to win their favor. It hadn’t worked, of course, but she had so adored his adventurous spirit and his winning smile that her parents eventually relented and agreed to the match. Then, when their first son, little Aladdin, arrived, Samira’s heart leapt for joy. She loved to watch Cassim tell Aladdin stories of far-off places and caves filled with wondrous treasure, of flying carpets and genies and sandstorms that a man could summon with a snap of his fingers.
Samira made a living taking in sewing and laundry; it didn’t earn much, but it was enough for her to live on. Cassim helped when he could, disappearing for days on end and return with food and small gifts for her and young Aladdin. She had long ago suspected that many of the items had been stolen, and though her conscience was heavy with the knowledge, she knew there was little she could do. She could try to return the items, but since the punishment for thievery was having a hand cut off, it was not worth the risk of getting caught by the guards. Instead, she did the best she could to urge Cassim to find steady work to provide for the family. “Things will be different soon,” Cassim would say. “I promise.” But all the promises in the world could not fill the hole in her heart left behind when Cassim went off in search of adventure and a better life for his family and never returned.
Raising a child on her own was not easy. She had hated Cassim’s secret thefts of food for the family, but now that they were gone the money from Samira’s washing didn’t seem to stretch as far. Aladdin was a growing boy, too, shooting up like a bean sprout every day. It was hard to keep a belly like his full when he was always running around the streets of Agrabah, climbing up awnings like a monkey. Aladdin was so like his father with a penchant for mischief and danger, but with a heart as big as the Sultan’s palace. One day, she caught Aladdin stealing an apple from a merchant’s cart. She was so ashamed by the act that she had slapped his hand away and brought him to tears right there in the middle of the marketplace. Fortunately, Aladdin’s tears had been enough to distract the merchant and given them time to rush home before the nearby guards were alerted to the theft.
Once home, Samira scolded Aladdin, telling him how stealing was wrong and that the consequences of it were not worth the risk. She never told Aladdin about his father, how she suspected that he had been captured and imprisoned on one of his foolish quests for gold and treasure. She did not want her son, so like Cassim, to ever have to go down that path.
But Aladdin kept growing and eating, and even honest Samira questioned whether or not it would be so bad for young Aladdin, who had so effortlessly charmed the local ladies in town at the young age of five, to put his skills to good use and procure a little extra food for the family by whatever means necessary. No, she told herself. Never thievery. Instead, Samira provided for her son the only way she could: when Aladdin’s dinner portions became bigger and bigger, Samira’s became smaller. Aladdin was a smart boy, however, and began to notice the disparity in their portion size. When asked about it, she would simply respond, “I’m not very hungry right now, Aladdin. I ate while you were out playing.” Nights were always so cold in the desert, the days so hot. Their already meager clothes began to turn to rags, and all the patches in the world weren’t enough to save them from the elements. Samira and Aladdin would huddle together for warmth on those long, cold nights.
Hard work, long hours, cold nights, little food, ragged clothing… illness soon followed. When Samira was too ill to work, Aladdin set out for help. He was so young and such a charmer that he managed a few scraps for him and his mother–an apple here, a loaf of bread there–but nothing coming so close as the medicine he desperately needed. Aladdin considered stealing what he needed, but he remembered his mother’s scolding and refrained. Everything else he did, however, had not been enough. Samira was gone; his mother was gone.
Aladdin was alone, just another street urchin without a family. For a time, pity for the poor boy who had just lost his mother, combined with Aladdin’s natural charm, had earned him a meal or two. But even the kindest of neighbors is not always so willing to take in an orphan when they already have so many mouths to feed. But Aladdin was quick-witted and even quicker on his feet and found a way to outrun the local guards. His mother had never wanted him to steal, but she was gone now, and he had to eat.
Still, he had inherited his mother’s kindness, her unwavering goodness. There was never another urchin that he hadn’t tried to aid, whether it was to find them an abandoned building to use for shelter or to share his meal with them. He never stopped dreaming, either, staring up at the palace and wondering what it would be like have everything his heart desired. But he knew that even the Sultan himself couldn’t grant him his unspoken, secret wish: the mother he lost, that diamond in the rough.
Other Disney What-ifs:
Disney What-ifs: Ariel’s Mother
The Frozen Heart
Obligatory Copyright Notice: Aladdin, Return of Jafar, and Aladdin and the King of Thieves and characters are all owned by Disney. The literary character Samira is my creation. Original artwork is done by Disney, with screencaps curtesy of disneyscreencaps.com. Photoshopping was done by me as a work of fan art. No copyright infringement is intended.