Aladdin Stole From Raiders of the Lost Ark, But Steven Spielberg Was OK With It

It's hard to over-emphasize just how influential Raiders of the Lost Ark has been to generations of American filmmaking, including Disney's Aladdin.

Indiana Jones goes for the golden idol, while Aladdin goes for the golden lamp
Photo: Paramount/Disney

As we inch closer to the 40th—yes, 40th—anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s natural to reflect on just how influential the Indiana Jones blockbuster has been to American filmmaking. One needs look no further than the Marvel Cinematic Universe to see how relevant Steven Spielberg‘s action-adventure story remains today, but, having just done a Raiders rewatch, I couldn’t get over just how much Raiders reminded me of another iconic movie from my childhood: Disney‘s Aladdin.

Both are adventure stories made by white Americans and set mostly (and, in Aladdin‘s case, vaguely) in the Middle East, with all of the colonialist racism that usually accompanies such an effort. And both feature iconic scenes that see their heroes venturing into an underground cave or cave-like structure to retrieve a golden treasure. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana is a Peruvian jungle, retrieving a golden idol from a long-abandoned temple. In Aladdin, our plucky street-rat is sent into the Cave of Wonders by a disguised Jafar in order to snag the genie’s lamp. See below…

The references are intentional. According to the Aladdin DVD commentary with directors John Musker and Ron Clements (via Film School Rejects), the filmmakers showed the movie to Spielberg and apologized for stealing (read: referencing) some of the visual imagery from Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s opening sequence, which is heavily referenced when Aladdin attempts to escape from a collapsing Cave of Wonders after stealing the golden lamp. Spielberg was apparently cool with it, noting that he had borrowed a lot of visual imagery from earlier films when bringing Indiana Jones, which was directly inspired by adventure serials of the early 20th century, to life.

Interestingly, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Aladdin actually share a cast member: Frank Welker, perhaps best known as being the voice of Scooby-Doo, voice-acts as a monkey character in both movies. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Welker provided (uncredited) the voice of the Capuchin monkey that causes so much trouble for Indiana and Marion while in Cairo, cluing in the Nazis and bad guy archaeologist René Belloq as to which basket Marion is hiding. The monkey later inadvertently saves Indy, when he eats the poisoned food meant for our favorite professor archaeologist. In Aladdin, Wekler voices the much more prominent monkey character of Abu, Aladdin’s right-hand man who is similarly alternately getting Aladdin into and out of trouble.

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According the DVD commentary, when the filmmakers showed Aladdin to Spielberg, he said, “Yeah, whenever things got too gooey in the movie, cut to the monkey.” Words to live by.

Have you ever thought about the many references Aladdin has to Raiders of the Lost Ark? Let us know in the comments below.