I originally wrote this post the night I watched Aladdin but haven’t been able to share it until now. Happy reading!
It’s been a while since I’ve actually felt completely like a little child and have been able to so totally suspend my disbelief that I have nothing but enjoyed a film. Don’t get me wrong, this film has its standout flaws (I’m looking at you, CGI human-sized genie with the disproportional head and inconsistent lighting) that cannot be overlooked from a critical standpoint, but – and this is the most important but – this film really excited me and kept me engrossed throughout. It built a world and kept me in it. It made me wish there wasn’t an interval. It made me want more of it and it actually made me go back home and watch the animated film again just so I could extend that experience.
I remember the first time I read about Aladdin. It was this gigantic comic book based on the film. I was hooked! I doubt there is another comic that I’ve read and re-read more than that and I am a huge fan of comics. It made my mind wander. It brought a world to life that I could never have seen any other way. It made my heart beat faster as I secretly hope for Aladdin to beat the guards and escape even though social conditioning told me that I shouldn’t be rooting for a thief. It made me anxious knowing he was entering a cave where he might be killed. I knew it wasn’t real but it made me suspend every ounce of disbelief I had and jump right into the fantasy that was Agrabah and the life of Aladdin. When I found out years later that there was an animated film that the book I had loved for so long was based on, I knew I had to watch it. When I did get to finally watch it, it blew my mind. It was like some impossible childhood fantasy coming to life right in front of my eyes. That’s the feeling that got me hooked onto films (it wasn’t just the one film that did that) and that’s the feeling I’ve lost and only now realised that it was missing.
When I saw the trailer for Aladdin last year, I was disappointed, to say the least. The genie looked unreal, the world didn’t seem engaging enough and neither did the characters. I didn’t have high hopes for the film and waited until the third week of its release to watch it. Now, the CGI genie (particularly when he’s in his blue, human sized form) still looks wrong in certain shots in the final release of the film but it still managed to get me to suspend my disbelief and made me just jump right in. (I still get goosebumps remember the moment when Princess Jasmine begins singing Speechless in the film. That was the best addition they could have possibly made to the film. Plus, they nailed the casting with Naomi Scott.)
It made my heart beat faster, it made me want to jump up and shout. It gave me chills. It made me feel like I was a child again. It made me feel like I was in a world where impossible was a word that did not exist. It made me believe again.
But, it also made me sad. It saddened me when I realised that I had lost all of this somewhere along the way. We’re often cautioned against letting the inner child die. Heck! I know I’ve warned myself against that countless times. While most of us are always told to grow up and “act mature”, I think us artists are privileged in that we’re expected to keep that inner child alive. I don’t mean that we’re meant to be immature or naive, but we are meant to be people whose imaginations should never be shackled and kept in a box. We’re meant to stay as curious as children. We’re meant to be people who can make the world a better place just by creating the impossible. We’re ones who deal in emotions (yes, I do mean deal in emotions) and make people feel those emotions so that they too can suspend their own disbelief and enter an impossible world.
Now, I didn’t go to film school or anything like that (I hold a Masters in Science in Media and Communication with a specialisation in media research, if that matters) but I taught myself at a young age (and have been guided to do so along the way) to think about things and analyse experiences (this includes films). Of course, what was once a very rudimentary analysis has become more extensive, but it is still an analysis nonetheless. For films, this would include studying the direction, the intent, the cinematography (lighting included), the editing, the art direction, the costumes…just about everything. I guess over the last few years, this is what made me lose sight of the impossible and brought me to this point. I once believed in a world where happily ever afters existed, a world where animals could talk, a world where nothing was impossible, no matter what, a world where hope still existed, and a world where faith still had a place. That is what fuelled my passion. Led by my faith in a God who makes the impossible, possible, that passion is what made me want to pursue a career as an artist. That is what made me want to create art that did not necessarily reflect reality but art that acted as an extension of my once boundless imagination. That is what kept me going. That was what made me feel…alive.
It troubled me to realise that I hadn’t felt this way in the last few years. It saddened me that I had let go of a world where impossible was non-existent and where absolutely anything was possible.
A single toy can entertain a child for hours on end but it will bore an adult in mere minutes! That right there is a symptom of the problem that we, as adults face. You can so easily fool a child into believing that you’ve got his/her nose in your hands or that Santa is real. Why is it so easy to fool or trick a child? Hold on! Let me rephrase that. Why is it that children are so ready to believe just about anything? It’s rather simple really. It’s because their imaginations haven’t been tainted with logic and the boundaries of reality that plagues us as adults. It’s that boundless imagination that drives artists. I would argue that it is also that boundless imagination that drives the human race. Think about it. The first people who dreamt of reaching the moon would have sounded insane to everyone else. Those spearheading discoveries, inventions and progress have perhaps always been insane.
This boundless imagination is also what drives passion. Regardless of the genre we dabble in, it’s passion that drive us, a passion that is fuelled by an infinite imagination, which is actually sparked by the suspension of disbelief.
Having said all that, I do realise that it could very well be nostalgia that sparked my own suspension of disbelief as I watched Aladdin or it could just be the Disney magic at work, but the fact is the movie did make me suspend my disbelief. I analysed this film same as I would any other film but it made me feel. It made me feel like a child. It made me believe again.
So, despite the experience of having a couple sit beside me and start to make-out as Aladdin and Jasmine rode the magic carpet, or even the individuals who didn’t realise it was a musical and kept complaining throughout, this is one of the very few movies I actually want to go to a theatre to watch again.
Here’s the thing with films (and, perhaps all art in a broader context) – there is an inherent call for the suspension of disbelief. A call that isn’t necessarily explicit. That’s why some films do so well and some don’t. That’s why some films end up having a cult following and some don’t. That’s why some garner huge fan-bases and some don’t. If a film (for whatever reason) cannot help you keep your disbelief suspended, it has failed. There are multiple reasons why this can happen – the plot might not be engaging enough, or the visual effects can fail, or the acting might not be upto the mark, and so on. Even little things like a misplaced prop might jar you out of that experience and bring you crashing back to reality. However, ever so often you come across a film like Aladdin. A film where you know exactly what is going to happen next and yet, it doesn’t lose you. A film that has its flaws but still gives you the chills. It suspends your disbelief and holds it there. It makes you experience a fantasy and almost live it.
Recent films like Aladdin, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, How to Train Your Dragon, Creed 2 have been films that have made me feel something. They’ve made me suspend disbelief and just experience them inspite of their flaws.
So, to the filmmakers, I say, thank you for making me realise what I had lost and for making me believe that nothing is impossible!
All of this might sound very naïve but to those of us who are supposed to be grown-ups, I say – suspend your disbelief and start believing in the impossible again! To those who are still in their formative years (so to speak), don’t let anything let you stop believing. Believe. Let go.