Aladdin is an impoverished young ne'er-do-well in a Chinese town, who is recruited by a sorcerer from the Maghreb, who passes himself off as the brother of Aladdin's late father Qaseem, convincing Aladdin and his mother of his goodwill by apparently making arrangements to set up the lad as a wealthy merchant. The sorcerer's real motive is to persuade young Aladdin to retrieve a wonderful oil lamp from a booby-trapped magic cave of wonder. After the sorcerer attempts to double-cross him, Aladdin finds himself trapped in the cave. Fortunately, Aladdin retains a magic ring lent to him by the sorcerer as protection. When he rubs his hands in despair, he inadvertently rubs the ring, and a jinn, or "genie", appears, who takes him home to his mother. Aladdin is still carrying the lamp, and when his mother tries to clean it, a second, far more powerful genie appears, who is bound to do the bidding of the person holding the lamp.
With the aid of the genie of the lamp, Aladdin becomes rich and powerful and marries Princess Badroulbadour, the Emperor's daughter (after magically foiling her marriage to the vizier's son). The genie builds Aladdin a wonderful palace – a far more magnificent one than that of the Emperor himself.
The sorcerer returns and is able to get his hands on the lamp by tricking Aladdin's wife, who is unaware of the lamp's importance, by offering to exchange "new lamps for old". He orders the genie of the lamp to take the palace along with all its contents to his home in the Maghreb. Fortunately, Aladdin retains the magic ring and is able to summon the lesser genie. Although the genie of the ring cannot directly undo any of the magic of the genie of the lamp, he is able to transport Aladdin to the Maghreb, and help him recover his wife and the lamp and defeat the sorcerer.
The sorcerer's more powerful and evil brother tries to destroy Aladdin for killing his brother by disguising himself as an old woman known for her healing powers. Badroulbadour falls for his disguise, and commands the "woman" to stay in her palace in case of any illnesses. Aladdin is warned of this danger by the genie of the lamp and slays the imposter. Everyone lives happily ever after, Aladdin eventually succeeding to his father-in-law's throne.
Sources and setting
No Arabic source has been traced for the tale, which was incorporated into the book Les Mille et Une Nuits by its French translator, Antoine Galland, who heard it from a Syrian storyteller from Aleppo. Galland's diary (March 25, 1709) records that he met the Maronite scholar, by name Youhenna Diab ("Hanna"), who had been brought from Aleppo to Paris by Paul Lucas, a celebrated French traveller. Galland's diary also tells that his translation of "Aladdin" was made in the winter of 1709–10. It was included in his volumes ix and x of the Nights, published in 1710.
John Payne, in Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp and Other Stories, (London 1901), gives details of Galland's encounter with the man he referred to as "Hanna" and the discovery in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris of two Arabic manuscripts containing Aladdin (with two more of the "interpolated" tales). One is a jumbled late 18th century Syrian version. The more interesting one, in a manuscript that belonged to the scholar M. Caussin de Perceval, is a copy of a manuscript made in Baghdad in 1703. It was purchased by the Bibliothèque Nationale at the end of the nineteenth century.
Although Aladdin is a Middle Eastern tale, the story is set in China, and Aladdin is explicitly Chinese. However, most of the people in the story are Muslims; there is a Jewish merchant who buys Aladdin's wares (and incidentally cheats him), but there is no mention of Buddhists or Confucians. Everybody in this country bears an Arabic name, and its monarch seems much more like a Muslim ruler than a Chinese emperor. Some commentators believe that this suggests that the story might be set in Turkestan (encompassing Central Asia and the modern Chinese province of Xinjiang). It has to be said that this speculation depends on a knowledge of China that the teller of a folk tale (as opposed to a geographic expert) might well not possess, and that a deliberately exotic setting is in any case a common storytelling device.
For a narrator unaware of the existence of America, Aladdin's "China" would represent "the Utter East" while the sorcerer's homeland in the Maghreb (Northern Africa) represented "the Utter West". In the beginning of the tale, the sorcerer's taking the effort to make such a long journey, the longest conceivable in the narrator's (and his listeners') perception of the world, underlines the sorcerer's determination to gain the lamp and hence the lamp's great value. In the later episodes, the instantaneous transitions from the east to the west and back, performed effortlessly by the Jinn, make their power all the more marvelous.
- In 1962 the Italian branch of the Walt Disney Company published the story Paperino e la grotta di Aladino (Donald and Aladdin's Cave), written by Osvaldo Pavese and drawn by Pier Lorenzo De Vita. As in many pantomimes, the plot is combined with elements of the Ali Baba story: Uncle Scrooge leads Donald Duck and their nephews on an expedition to find the treasure of Aladdin and they encounter the Middle Eastern counterparts of the Beagle Boys. Scrooge describes Aladdin as a brigand who used the legend of the lamp to cover the origins of his ill-gotten gains. They find the cave holding the treasure - blocked by a huge rock requiring a magic password ("Open says me") to open.
- One of the many literary retellings of the tale appears in A Book of Wizards (1966) and A Choice of Magic (1971), by Ruth Manning-Sanders.
In the United Kingdom, the story of Aladdin was dramatised in 1788 by John O'Keefe for the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. It has been a popular subject for pantomime for over 200 years.
The traditional Aladdin pantomime is the source of the well-known pantomime character Widow Twankey (Aladdin's mother). In pantomime versions, changes in the setting and story are often made to fit it better into "China" (albeit a China situated in the East End of London rather than Medieval Baghdad), and elements of other Arabian Nights tales (in particular Ali Baba) are often introduced into the plot. One version of the "pantomime Aladdin" is Sandy Wilson's musical Aladdin, from 1979.
Since the early 1990s Aladdin pantomimes have tended to be influenced by the Disney animation; for instance the 2007/8 production at the Birmingham Hippodrome starring John Barrowman, featured a variety of songs from the Disney movies Aladdin and Mulan. Disney Theatricals itself produced a Broadway-style musical in Seattle in 2011, and another musical originating in Toronto in 2013, going to Broadway in 2014.
- The 1926 animated film The Adventures of Prince Achmed (the earliest surviving animated feature film) combined the story of Aladdin with that of the prince. In this version the princess Aladdin pursues is Achmed's sister and the sorcerer is his rival for her hand. The sorcerer steals the castle and the princess through his own magic in this version and then sets a monster to attack Aladdin, from which Achmed rescues him. Achmed then informs Aladdin he requires the lamp to rescue his own intended wife, Princess Pari Banou, from the demons of the Island of Wak Wak. They convince the Witch of the Fiery Mountain to defeat the sorcerer, and then all three heroes join forces to battle the demons.
- Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp is a 1939 Popeye the Sailor cartoon.
- The 1959 animated film 1001 Arabian Nights starring Mr. Magoo as Aladdin's uncle and produced by UPA.
- The animated feature Aladdin et la lampe merveilleuse by Film Jean Image was released in 1970 in France. The story contains many of the original elements of the story as compared to the Disney version.
- "Aladdin to Mahou no Lamp" was a rendition in Japanese directed by Kasai Yoshinori, produced and released by Toei Animation in 1982.
- Doubtless the best-known dramatic version today is Aladdin, the 1992 animated feature by Walt Disney Feature Animation. In this version several characters are renamed and/or amalgamated (for instance the Sorcerer and the Sultan's vizier become the same person, while the Princess becomes "Jasmine"), have new motivations for their actions (the Lamp Genie now desires freedom from his role) or are simply replaced (there is no Ring Genie, but a magic carpet fills his place in the plot). The setting is moved from China to the fictional Arabian city of Agrabah, and the structure of the plot is simplified.
- The 1940 British movie The Thief of Baghdad borrows elements of the Aladdin story, including a genie who could grant three wishes and an evil vizier called Jaffar seeking to take over the kingdom through use of black magic.
- In 1957, the story of Aladdin was produced as a movie in Telugu entitled Allauddin Adhbhuta Deepam, Tamil Allavudeenum Arputha Vilakkum and Hindi Alladdin Ka Chirag. They were directed by T. R. Raghunath and produced by T. S. Balaiah.
- In the 1960s Bollywood produced Aladdin and Sinbad, very loosely based on the original, in which the two named heroes get to meet and share in each other's adventures. In this version, the lamp's jinni (genie) is female and Aladdin marries her rather than the princess (she becomes a mortal woman for his sake).
- A Soviet film Volshebnaia Lampa Aladdina ("Aladdin's Magic Lamp") was released in 1966.
- A Malayalam film Allauddinum Albhutha Vilakkum was made in 1979. This film was remade in Tamil as Allaudinaum Arputha Vilakkum the same year.
- In 1982 Media Home Entertainment released Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp.
- Gary Wong and Rob Robson produced Aladdin the Rock Panto in 1985.
- In 1986, an Italian-American co-production (under supervision of Golan-Globus) of a modern-day Aladdin was filmed in Miami under the title Superfantagenio, starring actor Bud Spencer as the genie and his daughter Diamante as the daughter of a police sergeant.
- 2009 saw the release of the Hindi Bollywood retelling in the film Aladin.
- Aschorjo Prodip, an upcoming Bengali film based on the same story of a middle class man (played by Saswata Chatterjee) who accidentally finds a magic lamp containing a Jinn (played by Rajatava Dutta). This Anik Dutta film is based on a Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay novel of the same name and deals with the issues of consumerism.
- Aladdin appeared in Episode 297 of Sesame Street performed by Frank Oz. This version was made from a large lavender live-hand Anything Muppet.
- A segment of the Marty Feldman episode of The Muppet Show retells the story of Aladdin with The Great Gonzo in the role of Aladdin and Marty Feldman playing the Genie of the Lamp.
- In 1986, the program Faerie Tale Theatre based an episode based on the story called "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp" directed by Tim Burton.
- Aladdin features as one of five stories in the Hallmark Entertainment TV miniseries Arabian Nights from 2000.
- "The Nobility of Faith" by Jonathan Clements in the anthology Doctor Who Short Trips: The Ghosts of Christmas (2007) is a retelling of the Aladdin story in the style of the Arabian Nights, but featuring the Doctor in the role of the genie.
- The New Aladdin was a successful Edwardian musical comedy in 1906.
- Adam Oehlenschläger wrote his verse drama Aladdin in 1805. Carl Nielsen wrote incidental music for this play in 1918–19. Ferruccio Busoni set some verses from the last scene of Oehlenschläger's Aladdin in the last movement of his Piano Concerto, Op. 39.
- In 1958, a musical comedy version of Aladdin was written especially for US television with a book by S.J. Perelman and music and lyrics by Cole Porter. A London stage production followed in 1959 in which a 30 year old Bob Monkhouse played the part of Aladdin at the Coliseum Theatre.
- Broadway Junior has released Aladdin, Jr., a children's musical based on the music and screenplay of the Disney animation.
- Starkid Productions released the musical "Twisted" on YouTube in 2013, a spin-off of Aladdin which is told from the royal vizier's point of view.
- Although not a direct adaptation, an ongoing Japanese comic series called Magi features Aladdin as the main character of the story and includes many characters from other One Thousand and One Nights stories. An adaptation of this comic to animation was made in October 2012.
- The video game Sonic and the Secret Rings is heavily based on the story of Aladdin, and both genies appear in the story. The genie of the lamp is the main villain, known in the game as the Erazor Djinn, and the genie of the ring, known in the game as Shahra, appears as Sonic's sidekick and guide through the game. Furthermore, the ring genie is notably lesser than the lamp genie in the story.
- There was a hotel and casino in Las Vegas named Aladdin from 1966 to 2007.