August 2, 2014
By Pedro Hernandez
Whether a song’s conception comes from artistic or commercial needs, a great majority of them ultimately become a part of our lives, with a select few that take on a much deeper, spiritual level. Sometimes, it only takes one song to help you understand your own life better; you gain a point of view so fantastic that you’re now a completely different person from who you were before. For me, this song was “A Whole New World” from Disney’s Aladdin. It represented the kind of escape I always desired as a child, an escape that I never expected to take.
I come from the small, Puerto Rican mountain town of Jayuya. As I was considered a child with special needs, I used to attend multiple therapies that helped me surpass some of my educational struggles. Another unfortunate struggle of my childhood was some emotionally-scarring bullying by my peers. As with other bullied children, I looked to seek comfort through fantastical worlds with sights beyond belief, in which the good guys always defeat the bad guys, and the day is always saved by the end. For me, Disney’s animated films delivered those in spades. I grew up during the now-fabled Disney Renaissance, a decade in which animated films like The Little Mermaid became household names. The artistry and the music behind these films so moved me, especially the happy endings bestowed to everyone. Outside of Beauty and the Beast, no Disney film shaped my beliefs and life views as Aladdin did, especially with its theme song, “A Whole New World.”
Imagine, I could escape from my mountain town with a hop on a magic carpet ride. I could leave behind everything that hurt me; instead, I would be dazzled by this whole new world. I looked to the song as my favorite part of the film; for many years and much to my parents’ annoyance, I’d play it on repeat on my VHS tape. And yet, I never quite got it, I never really let it in. I knew what it was about, I understood why I loved it so much for many years. But I simply did not “get” it, at least not until a fateful trip in 2004. For the first time in my life, I took my magic carpet ride.
In 2004, I ventured on a one-week visit to the city of Boston, Massachusetts to meet an online friend for the first time. That’s when my life’s proverbial blinds wildly opened. No longer did I stand in my provincial mountain town amongst similarly-minded people. I set foot in a new city, one ruled by a completely different cultural mindset. Literally, I found myself in a whole new world; I had only experienced such things through books, television, movies, and the internet. And yet, here it was, a world I had desired for so long, only not knowing it at the time. Traveling to a new place for the first time brings about such an intense, yet welcoming, feeling of euphoria. I couldn’t experience this any other time, this was a first-time feeling that only happened in that special moment. It has been ten years since I went on that magic carpet ride, but I still feel the thrill and the butterflies at the bottom of my stomach.
In addition, 2004 also marked the year that Disney’s Aladdin saw release on DVD for the first time, thus giving me another chance to experience “A Whole New World” in a glorious, digital way. This time, though, I began to “get” it. I knew that the song didn’t just present us with another romantic duet between the prince and the princess; it proudly proclaimed themes of freedom, taking that first step, and the magic of escape. Thanks to a more adult mind, I could greatly appreciate the technicality that went into the creation of the song; because of that, I judge it as one of the finest songs Disney has ever created. But my personal connection to the song really propelled it from a “Disney anthem” to my own “personal anthem.”
This realization would continue to gain strength, reaching its height in 2012, when I finally realized a lifelong dream by making my first visit to the Walt Disney World Resort. After months of planning and saving, I flew to the resort for my thirtieth birthday. Not only did I get to visit this amazing place, I also met new friends who joined me on this new life journey. And the following year, not only did I make a return trip filled with Star Wars Weekends, new friends and old, but my friends and I experienced a once-in-a-lifetime Adventures by Disney trip to various Disney-related locales in southern California, concluding with a visit to the one that started it all: Disneyland.
Every single trip I have done, every friend I had ever met, every experience I make, all those contribute to my true understanding of “A Whole New World.” I connect with the song through my own dreams of discovering new experiences. Notably, I’ve related greatly to Jasmine’s lyric of “I’m like a shooting star / I’ve come so far / I can’t go back to where I used to be.” After these trips, these new states of mind, I can no longer go back to being that bullied, emotionally scarred mountain boy who only wished of seeing these new, wild places. Disney no longer was just an escape, it was a reality. For many years, I used to think that the safe life was the best life: go to college, get a degree, get a job. I expected to spend the rest of my life in my provincial town, not wishing of anything else. But after everything I have gone through, that is not me. Rather, I’m like Princess Jasmine and Aladdin; my eyes have been opened to a world of possibilities and excitement beyond my safe confinements.
Of course, this doesn’t yet get to my emotional core of the song, my favorite lyric in the entire song, “Every moment red-letter!” Again, upon first listening, I didn’t get it. As a child, it sounded an awful lot like “every moment gets better,” with some composition mistake that never saw correction. Eventually, I learned that the song references the idea of “red-letter day,” a rare day in the calendar that gets marked special for good reason. Now, I understood what Jasmine was talking about; every moment became special during her journey. But then I got it… I GOT IT. “Every moment-red letter” meant that every moment in our lives has the capacity to be special, significant, and meaningful. It doesn’t always have to be a grand occasion, sometimes it can be just sitting and talking to a friend. These moments weave themselves into our narrative that is life. And that’s what makes them special. Once I understood that, I finally was able to determine why “A Whole New World” served as my theme song. My life has become a whole new world filled with red-letter moments. I can’t go back to just being a simple-minded mountain boy; I have been to places that have blown my mind. One of my best friends is an Italian-American voice actor hopeful. I am doing commentaries and podcasts with two equally passionate friends. I have seen films that have utterly gobsmacked me due to how good they are. I’ve read books that moved me deeply time and again. I have held George Bruns’ (musical composer for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and many other films) Disney Legends award in my hands! And the best thing of all? A whole new world is still out there, waiting for me to discover it time and time again, gaining even more new friends in the process. “A Whole New World” will keep playing as the journey continues.
Sometimes, we just have to trust our gut instincts, our Aladdins so to speak. We have to try and go beyond our walls, whether they’d be literal or not. We are indeed living in uncertain times, but there is still a lot of beauty to behold, people to meet, and cultures to live. “A Whole New World,” as well as the majority of Disney, celebrates that notion of the world beyond our own, of the the spiritual growth we can experience if we just take that first step. Thanks to my own first step, my life has changed for the better.