Originally, in "One Thousand and One Nights"[1], Aladdin was merely a random poor schmoe.

However, in one of the most famous adaptations (1940 movie "The Thief of Baghdad") he's now a street thief.

Is there any information on why/how/where this idea of Aladdin as a thief originated?

1. We will leave undiscussed the side issue of whether Aladdin's story was in the original book in Arabic or a separate Arabic folk tale added to the book by French translator.

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    From what I understand, Al Adin was from "Asia", which is the area now known as Turkey. This may have been mistaken to be China, but there was a ruler in Turkey with this name and I have been told that he is the one the story was based on. I do not currently have my books or I would provide more information.
    – user44905
    Apr 27, 2015 at 19:59
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    A historical Aladdin...who woulda thunk. Dec 20, 2018 at 15:30
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    There may be some conflation between Aladdin, and Ali Baba (of "... and the Forty Thieves" fame.
    – RDFozz
    Dec 20, 2018 at 17:30

1 Answer 1


The 1940 film does not include Aladdin. The young hero is named "Abu". It was a remake of the 1924 silent classic "The Thief of Bagdad" co-written by the star, Douglas Fairbanks, and Achmed Abdullah. Fairbanks stars as Ahmed, a successful thief who falls in love with a princess and fights to win her heart.

Both films borrowed liberally from various tales from the 1001 Arabian Nights. Disney, apparently, started with the Aladdin story and changed it to fit their needs, but I suspect that the screenwriters were heavily influenced by both Thief films.

  • Weren't a few of the other male heros in the 1001 Arabian Nights thieves or rogues? Maybe Disney chose to combine elements of different stories to create a more exciting character and also try to capture the general tone of the tales (with heavy bowdlerization of course). Dec 6, 2011 at 17:13
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    I read most of Burton's translation (1000s of pages)some years ago. IIRC, I wouldn't say that thieves were common main characters. The best stories were about virtuous men and women who thought fast on their feet and stuck to their principles. I do recall some stories about beggars who did well, but begging was not considered a crime.
    – ohmi
    Jul 3, 2012 at 19:59
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    You're right though that Disney was trying to capture the flavor of the stories as they are told in English. Much other flavor that is in Burton is completely absent in the way the tales are told today, such as the recitation of poetry at the drop of a turban and the frequent, idiomatic exhortations to Allah.
    – ohmi
    Jul 3, 2012 at 20:09
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    @ohmi I wonder why that is... can you imagine the main character of the Disney movie in question turning to his costars and saying: "Together we shall defeat the evil wizard, insha'Allah; truly, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Merciful"? I'd pay money to see the looks on the audience's faces... XD
    – Wolfie Inu
    Nov 19, 2015 at 6:30

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