Saturday, June 25, 2011

Alchemical Aladdin Part 1: Color Theory

By now it should come as no secret that I have a bit of a thing for the works of Walt Disney. There's something incredibly compelling about Disney's animated classics which, combined with deity level marketing savvy, has propelled Disney's flagship properties to cultic status in the minds of children and adults alike. That said, I want to take a closer look at one of my favorite disney films, and in many ways, the most magical: Aladdin.

Aladdin's nods to mysticism are both obvious and surprisingly subtle. The film is set in Arabia, homeland of the magi, and boasts two opposing magical forces, a djinn named, appropriately enough, Genie, and the sorcerer Jafar. Though the interplay of these magical forces is blatant enough throughout the film, the animators also added subtle visual cues reinforcing the characters' personalities and objectives in a manner affecting the viewer beyond the conscious processes of thought. In this post, I'd like to address one of Disney's most effective uses of superconscious imagery: their use of color theory to describe character's nature and desires.

As any student of marketing knows, colors can be used profitably to influence a consumer's desires. This is the reason that movie theaters are lit red before the previews begin - red is known to stimulate the appetite, and thus lure consumers to the concession stand for a $6.00 tub of popcorn.
Hungry yet?

This is also why the emperors of antiquity clad themselves in purple and gold - purple was seen as a connection to divinity while gold symbolized strength of will and physical power. The synthesis of these two colors with white robes to signify purity lead to the ideal qualities necessary in an imperial autocrat.

Color theory finds its best exponent in modern society in the Hindu-Buddhist chakra system. The seven chakras are aligned up the endocrine system based roughly along the spine, and their wavelengths correspond to increasingly refined vibrational states. Those who can perceive auras are in actuality translating these subtle vibrations into the colors they relate to, though the vibrations of energy are many octaves above the vibrations of light. In most systems, the seven chakras correspond to the seven colors of the ROYGBIV color spectrum in the same way that a prism refracts the colors of the rainbow from a beam of pure white light.

Red corresponds to the first or 'root' chakra at the base of the spine, and feelings of rootedness, comfort, and materiality. It symbolizes the crux of the physical world, and concerns over food, shelter, and necessary goods are rooted here. For this reason, the color red can inspire hunger pangs among the easily influenced.

Orange corresponds to the second chakra at the sexual region. Its primary emanation is desire, which makes sense considering the lusty region where it makes its home. Orange is a highly charged color, often indicative of subconscious lusts - especially veiled in conjunction with black. It is perhaps for this reason that Halloween garbs its proceedings in black and orange - to parade the subconscious desires that lay dormant three hundred sixty four days of the year.

Yellow corresponds to the third chakra, which is located at the solar plexus. Yellow is indicative of strength of will, physical health, and personal power. It is the color of the sun, source of all life on this planet, as well as the color of gold, which until recently was the basis of the world's currency. It is located at the center of gravity of the physical organism, and is said to be the seat of prana, the inborn source of vitality.

Green corresponds to the fourth or 'heart' chakra, located in its namesake, the heart. Its responsibilities are in universal compassion, tenderness, and nurturing. In the same manner, the heart pumps oxygen filled blood into every cell of the body without prejudice or differentiation. Green is the color of new growth, nature, and the budding of new life.

Blue corresponds to the fifth chakra, located in the throat. The fifth chakra involves communication in all its forms, whether it is between individuals as in mundane conversation or as a dialogue between one's subtle internal forces, emanating outwards in the form of creative expression. Whatever the expression, as the conduit between the oft warring head and heart, the neck acts as the body's major channel of restorative communication.

Indigo corresponds to the sixth chakra, that of the mind. Its main concern is the fruitful operation of the ego, or sense of self, as well as the successful balancing act between the left and right brains, which control different sides of the body as well as logical and creative actions respectively. For this reason the sixth chakra is also known as the two petaled lotus, as its successful operation necessitates a union of opposing polarities.

Violet corresponds with the seventh chakra, and is located, intriguingly enough, an inch or so above the physical head. For this reason the seventh chakra is known as the crown chakra. The seventh chakra's purpose is to unite the microorganism with the macroorganism, enabling a conversation between individual and absolute forces, or in other words, with a higher power. This chakra is reputedly linked to the pineal gland, and in addition to the balancing of the physical organism, its successful functioning is a necessity for all those desiring conduit to extraphysical experiences. Violet has long been the color of royalty because of its links to a higher force than man - with its extremely high vibration, it represents the threshold of what our eyes can see. Colors are thus grouped violet and ultraviolet, with violet as the gateway between the two spheres. The seventh chakra acts in much the same way.

(A notary word of caution regarding energetic speculation: just as ultraviolet radiation can be harmful to the human eyes without necessary shielding, so too can forces beyond the seventh chakra be harmful to a person's energies without the numbing shield of the ego. It is for this reason that most who wish to venture deep into uncharted realms of the spirit require the shield of a guru. Going on a long journey into uncharted territory without proper shielding or preparation would be akin to exposing oneself to x rays or bathing in nuclear fallout expecting to become a superhero - mutation will almost certainly occur, but it could mean spiritual sterilization, perverse or cancerous outcroppings within the personality or even madness and death, should the energetic channels become too tangled. I have seen it happen to others and weeded out signs of it in myself, and it is not a pretty picture, nor does it result in gains in the material world. It is best always to balance the self before attempting to master the forces beyond the self. Having learned this maxim through a series of painful mistakes, I practice it whenever I can remind myself to do so.)

Don't let this happen to your soul!

Now that the exposition is over with, I would like to apply this ruberic to a number of characters in the disney pantheon, starting with Aladdin:

ALADDIN. Primary colors: red, purple.

Emphasized here is the tension between Aladdin's material nature and longings and his spiritual gravity. Aladdin was born a poor 'street rat,' lacking family, stability, and material possessions. He therefore has an innate craving for the wealth that would reverse this imbalance, and this drive for materiality is shown in the color red. Purple comes in because, though he grew up under harsh circumstances and must steal to live, Aladdin has an underlying kindness, nobility, and goodness about him, as well as a drive for 'something more' than what his station would suggest. Aladdin lives in a shanty with a room overlooking the palace showing that, like other Disney protagonists, he sees himself as destined for more than his station will allow. More tellingly, Jafar considers him a 'diamond in the rough,' possessing a special quality that for all the sorcerer's efforts, he is not able to manufacture in himself. As Jafar holds every other advantage throughout the film, I will call this quality an effortless connection to higher spiritual sources. When Aladdin transforms into a prince, the red and purple are echoed in his jewel and feather, joined with yellow and white, heralding power and purity appropriate in any visiting noble.

JASMINE. Primary colors: blue, gold. Secondary color: orange.

Jasmine is a princess, beneficiary of all life has to offer, but she is unhappy. The reason is that she is possessed by her possessions, held captive by her gold bangles and the barricade of the palace walls. Jasmine lacks someone that she can communicate with on an honest level, rejecting suitor after suitor because they treat her as "some prize to be won" rather than viewing her as a human being, with wants, needs, and feelings. This desire for communication is more than adequately described in her turquoise jumpsuit. I meantion orange here not because Jasmine wears it on her person, but because it is the color of her sole companion, her tiger, Rajah.

Rajah's place is in the wild but he sits pampered and out of place in the inner cloisters of the palace. Rajah's color scheme, genus, and position hint at the sexual suppression of his mistress, pinioned behind barriers of tradition and removed from any sense of natural self- expression.

JAFAR: Primary colors: black, red. Secondary color: gold

Jafar is a type of villain familiar to all: a villain whose egotistical hunger for power knows no bounds. Jafar is already incredibly wealthy, having used his black sorcery and learning to assume the position of the Grand visier to the sultan of Agrabah. Yet he has designs on the throne and Jasmine's hand, not for love or duty but for power. This power is exemplified in Jafar's serpentine staff. It is from the powers of the serpent which Jafar gains his sorcery. Thus is witnessed in the movie through his golden serpentine staff, which stands tall as a possible nod to Indian tantra or Egyptian ceremonial ritual. Eventually, asw ith any unscrupulous use of extraphysical power, Jafar's serpentine lust for influence and material wealth consumes whatever human elements there were of his personality.

At movie's end he becomes the snake from which his powers were derived, before making a fool's bargain and transforming himself into a red djinn in a black lamp, an unwitting prisoner of the forces he subsisted upon in producing his dark magic.

GENIE. Primary colors: blue, gold.

The Genie is colored the same as Jasmine, and like Jasmine has similar restrictions on his free will, though Genie's problems are more spiritual in nature. Genie is the custodian of "phenomenal cosmic power," but because of his otherworldly strength, he is unable to exercise his own will and is instead bound to serve the wishes of those whose powers are limited. He requires communication with worldly creatures in order to make his powers manifest, yet this individual must be incredibly sensitive to otherworldly energies in order to pinpoint the lamp in its prison in the Cave of Wonders. Aladdin was one of the few with the ability to do exactly that. Genie is bound to communicate the wills of others into reality, yet the golden shackles of the lamp and his own service prevent him from leading his own life. It is telling that Aladdin, with little power and wealth, but no restrictions save his own material wants, serves as the vessel of liberation for Jasmine, imprisoned by her own wealth, and the Genie, a prisoner of his own power.

EPILOGUE: One Costume More!
At the film's end, Aladdin gains a costume change worthy of a newly crowned sultan. By freeing the genie at the expense of his material aspirations, Aladdin proves that he can be trusted with the throne and Jasmine's hand. The red jewel of his princely trappings incarnations is no more, and his fez, no longer red, is now striped with purple and gold, traditional colors of imperial power and spirituality. It is perhaps in this costume change that Disney shows its true colors best - as well as how best to use them.

POSTSCRIPT. Partially because I can't resist, and partially because both I and Disney appreciate him as an artist, some Phil Collins for your listening pleasure. Ahh, Phil Collins. As the immortal Hedwig said, "you should pay attention, because we are talking to Phil Collins' people. But then again... aren't we all?" Quite right, Hedwig. If we have the ears to listen.