Everything has been done before, and that’s okay.
The featured image for this article is of Will Smith’s portrayal of Genie from the 2019 Aladdin live-action movie. There’s a reason for that.
I heard a lot of criticism and bad press around this movie leading up to its release and being one who is a little suspicious of Disney’s unrelenting cash grabs as they happen year in and year out, I usually would have been one of those people.
The problem is that I love strange things for reasons I can’t really explain.
The moment I saw Will Smith in the first trailer for this film, I knew that I would be willing to pay money to see this movie just to see Will Smith be the Genie. This is what the business world calls marketing.
I went to see this movie with my wife. She had a more genuine interest in the film (which I applaud in her) and we both had a pretty darn good time watching this movie.
We had a discussion in the car afterward about how the discussions could have gone in the ivory towers of the Magic Kingdom, and while we both knew that money was at play, a different answer occurred to us as we were chatting.
“What if we tried telling this story with the resources we had now rather than the ones we had back then?”
This is an okay question to ask sometimes.
More than once when I’ve listened to the seanwes podcast, Sean McCabe quotes someone as saying “there’s someone born every minute who doesn’t know about the Flintstones”, or something to that effect.
What this means is that you as an artist aren’t under an obligation to come up with something people have never seen before. You don’t have to be afraid of not being completely original.
Bear in mind, this is not the same thing as plagiarism. Don’t steal things. That’s extremely bad.
What I mean is that it’s okay to create in mind of things that people do hold in the collective unconscious. Things a hero’s journey, tales of romance, slices of life, these are all things that we gather around and enjoy. We gather around people with interesting stories, even if those stories exist at the same time as a similar story that’s happened somewhere else in the world.
Going back to the example of Disney, think about the fact that in crafting this story the company would have selected a team of experts. Experts in storytelling, experts in acting, experts in designing clothes, environments, experts in the way the scenery should look in mind of the time the story exists in.
And Disney, having at least half a lick of sense, gives these experts the tools and the freedom they need to execute on their collective vision and the vision of the company to breathe new life into a story beloved by the company’s audience.
Even as sour as we can imagine Disney’s motivations to be, the people actually making the movie are there because they love creating movies, love telling moving stories, and love helping each other bring those stories to life. And, at the end of it all, people still payed money for it. And we’re still paying money for all of the “old” Aladdin merch and media.
Because the story still resonates with the people who watched it. People still love Aladdin, even if it’s not the same Aladdin you were introduced to in the 90’s.
There’s value in this for you as a creator.
People will still love your work regardless of its seeming similarity to something else in the world.
Now go make something people will love. And make sure that you love it first.