Today I am going to take a fun look at a goofy character in a kids’ movie, because my brain has been stuck on possibilities involving the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin. Mainly, the fact that the Genie references and even creates things from the future, whether it is actual physical items or transformations into pop culture references. Now I know that, really, there is no explanation for this other than that Disney thought it would be funny to have Robin Williams doing impressions, because it is. But today I have decided, against all reason, to look at how the Genie could know all of these things despite the fact that most of his references are from the future.
The only possibility that I can think of is that the Genie possess some form of omniscience. Omniscience essentially means that there is a deity (humans obviously can’t be omniscient) who has a divine point of view and thus is able to know a great deal more than humans. Omniscience, however, does not always mean that the deity in question knows everything. There are two different kind of omniscience: first, inherent omniscience—the ability to know anything that one chooses to know and can be known. And there is total omniscience—actually knowing everything that can be known. While omniscient deities can be found in both Hinduism and Abrahamic religions, it is probably Christians that have more often employed inherent omniscience. The point of inherent omniscience is to explain how God can know everything, but at the same time allow for free will. Inherent omniscience suggests that God could know everything if God wanted to, but chooses to limit that knowledge in order to allow for free will. Others argue that total omniscience can still allow for free will by arguing that God sees all possible outcomes of each choice we could make and even knows what choice we will make, but that God knowing this does not affect our ability to freely make the choice.
Genie is not a god, however; in fact, he is more closely related to a Jinn, which in Islamic and some pre-Islamic Arabian mythology is a sentient creature with free will made from smoke or fire which can also take on more physical forms. In Islamic mythology they are one of three sentient beings along with humans and angels. They also have free will, like humans, but unlike angels. Whether or not Jinn seem to have any kind of omniscience is unclear. Certainly in Islamic mythology it seems unlikely that anyone but Allah would possess any type of omniscience, but in pre-Islamic Arabian mythology there is some indication that the Jinn were worshiped to some extent and were thought to give blessings for tribute. So perhaps the Jinn from Arabian mythology could be omniscient. Whatever the case, they at least seem to know more than humans, but that could also be due to their supernatural nature which makes them immortal and thus able to obtain more knowledge, as with many magical creatures.
Simple immortality, however, would not be enough for the genie from Aladdin to know what he does from the future. So that has to leave some type of omniscience. Genie does claim to have ultimate cosmic powers and that certainly makes him sound pretty God-like, but his being trapped in a lamp extremely limits that. It’s never explained how Genie became trapped in the lamp; in fact, it is implied that that’s just what comes from the nature of being a genie, because when Jafar asked to be transformed into a genie a lamp is immediately created for him to be imprisoned in. That implies that some other higher cosmic power is controlling and ordering the genies so that they all must be trapped and servile unless their masters wish for them to be released. Furthermore, the ignorant and less powerful humans can only wish for something three times before they are no longer able to use the genie’s power, and the genie becomes imprisoned again until someone else gets their lamp. Whatever ultimate power rules over genies in Disney, they seem to be kind of a dick.
On top of this, genies do seem to be gifted with some kind of omniscience but that omniscience does seem to be limited. Genie can obviously see the future enough to create objects from the future or mimic celebrities of the future, but has no idea if the master currently in possession of him will free him or not. He can’t see through the deception when Aladdin tricks him at the beginning in the cave, nor does he realize immediately that Jafar stole the lamp from Aladdin until he actually turns around and sees him. When Jafar turns into a genie, he doesn’t release realize once he’s turned that he will also be imprisoned in the lamp. I speculated that the lamp itself could limit the genie’s power, but immediately dismissed the idea because once Genie is free he doesn’t seem to gain any greater knowledge.
It would probably make a lot more sense if all genies were like Jafar and were originally human but somehow became genies. Their powers would then be tied to the lamp so they would only possess ultimate cosmic powers, inherent omniscience included, for as long as they were genies and lose all that power after they gain their freedom. It would also be in line with lots of other fairy tales and mythology where one can gain great power but at a terrible cost. In the case of the genies in Aladdin, that great power comes at the cost of one’s freedom. Yet Genie doesn’t lose his powers in Aladdin after Aladdin sets him free, and I think that’s when the storytelling gets poor. It wouldn’t have been so big a deal if there weren’t two more Aladdin movies and a TV series after the first, but there are, and so things start to get complicated, or rather extremely cliché. Genie only seems to still possess ultimate cosmic powers when the plot calls for him to, but then his powers will randomly be limited if the plot needs suspense. Genie becomes far less impressive when he merely acts as Aladdin’s deus ex machina when it’s needed.
As I stated at the beginning Disney never expected anyone to take Genie’s random pop culture references seriously, and I largely did this for fun. But then again, good fantasy requires rules for magic and a well developed mythology. Aladdin kind of does that with its rules regarding possession of the lamp, granting wishes, and gaining freedom as a genie, but also leaves a bunch of holes in other places. Getting into what the genies are and how their powers really work was probably too much for the movie, but you would think that the writers could have delved into that in the TV series. Yeah, it’s a kids’ cartoon, but plenty of kids’ cartoons have great mythologies developed. So while Aladdin’s Genie is, and always will be, awesome, I wish Disney had given me a little more explanation about how his abilities and especially his omniscience works.
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Every Disney animated musical has at least one song with anachronistic references. In Frozen the rock trolls song played that role.
Why is omniscience the only possibility? What about time travel? Say one of the Genie’s former master made a wish that led to him spending some time in the future. Or the Genie has already made it to our era in the normal way, and a present-day master made a wish that kicked him back to Aladdin’s era. Either way, he makes references to the pop culture of an era he’s lived in, not one he’s having prophetic visions of.
…or you could go with the theory that Agrabah is a post-apocalyptic future. No time travel necessary, the Genie is just remembering the long-ago 20th century (which he, being functionally immortal, lived through).
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