Posts tagged #Disney

My Favorite Under-Appreciated Songs from Disney Animated Feature-Length Films By Decade (Part 3)

1990s: "I2I" from A Goofy Movie (1995)
Patrick DeRemer & Roy Freeland; Performed by Tevin Campbell


OK, for those of us who grew up watching A Goofy Movie, the immediate reaction might be "Under-appreciated?! I LOVE that song!" But have you ever met someone who's never seen A Goofy Movie, let alone seen it a thousand times? They just don't get it. But here's why I think it's so great. Not only is the song emblematic of mid-90s pop music with some amazing animated dance moves, it also serves as the climax of the film. Without giving away too many spoilers (because I know y'all wanna see it!), by the time this song occurs in the film, every plot point has been resolved except for one - one that gets addressed quite awesomely through the course of this number. And even though the song occurs diegetically, its lyrics accentuate the core relationship between Max and Goofy:

If we listen to each other's heart
We'll find we're never too far apart
And maybe love is the reason why
For the first time ever we're seein' it

Runner-up: "If I Never Knew You" from Pocahontas (1995)

2000s: "Little Patch of Heaven" from Home on the Range (2004)
Alan Menken & Glenn Slater; Performed by k.d. lang

A movie about cows voiced by Rosanne Barr, Jennifer Tilly, and DAME JUDI DENCH? Plus Cuba Gooding Jr., Steve Buscemi, and a yodeling Randy Quaid? How could it bomb? Oh-ho... did it ever. To the point where Home on the Range signaled the death knells for Disney's 2-D animation (save for the unsuccessful attempt to revive the practice with Princess and the Frog). I have to confess - I kinda like this film. It's so quirky and wacky, if you don't expect too much from it, it can actually be fun! But whatever your feelings about the film, it at least birthed this lovely gem of a country song performed by k.d. lang. I dare you to listen to this song and not smile or tap your toes. Glenn Slater's lyrics are so quaint yet visually evocative, aptly suited to Menken's playful melody:

Hummin' birds flutter
In utter contentment
Every darn daisy
Feels lazy, you bet
Even the skeeters an' the fleas
Say "May I," "Thanks" and "Please"
Why, it's just as close to perfect
As you can get

If you're ever in need of a song to lift your spirits, turn this sweet little ditty on!

Runner-up: "Great Spirits" from Brother Bear (2003)

2010s: "When Can I See You Again?" from Wreck-It-Ralph (2012)
Adam Young, Matt Thiessen, Brian Lee; Performed by Owl City

"Huh?" you ask. "There was a song in Wreck-It-Ralph?" You may have actually heard this end-credits song if you were able to catch the "Paint the Night" Parade during Disneyland's 60th anniversary celebration two years ago. With some minor lyrical changes and infused with the original Electrical Parade anthem, it served as the base music for that parade. I gotta admit, there's no strong dramaturgical reason why I like this song. I just think it's infectious and fun and always makes me want to move (it's in my Spotify workout playlist). The lyrics are a little nonsensical (or poetic?), but Owl City's electronic bubbly scoring is a great choice for a pop song from this film. Of course, the decade's not over, so who knows what's coming with the upcoming sequels to Wreck-It-Ralph and Frozen?

Runner-up: "Logo Te Pate" from Moana (2016)

Well, that was fun! Now it's time for me to head into rehearsals for Four Immigrants. But I'll keep thinking of more silly-fun blog ideas for the future.

My Favorite Under-Appreciated Songs from Disney Animated Feature-Length Films By Decade (Part 2)

1960s: "Sister Suffragette" from Mary Poppins (1964)
Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman; Performed by Glynis Johns

I had to stray from the animated films because the '60s brought us only three animated Disney films, none of the songs from which I felt were truly under-appreciated gems. So, I'll hop on over to the very slightly animated Mary Poppins. No one can deny that Mary Poppins is "practically perfect in every way" precisely because of its star Julie Andrews. However, we often forget that the charismatic Glynis Johns was also in the film. Her character unfortunately takes a backseat to David Tomlinson's Mr. Banks. In the film's first minutes, though, we are treated to a rousing call-to-arms for a woman's right to vote by the fervidly political Mrs. Banks. It's the only song that really delves into any sort of historical context for the film, and it does provide a reason for why Mrs. Banks is so preoccupied that she needs a nanny in the first place. I find the song stirring and Johns' performance so charismatic, it makes me want to be clapped in irons right alongside Mrs. Pankhurst!

Runner-up: "That's What Friends Are For" from The Jungle Book (1967)

1970s: "Someone's Waiting For You" from The Rescuers (1977)
Sammy Fain, Carol Connors & Ayn Robbins; Performed by Shelby Flint

Sadly the only entry in this list to feature female songwriters, this heart-breaking song occurs right when all hope seems lost for little Penny. It's an unassuming '70s pop ballad that simultaneously evokes faith and hopelessness. The encouraging lyrics are in direct contrast with Penny's dire on-screen situation:

Be brave little one
Make a wish for each sad little tear
Hold your head up though no one is near
Someone's waiting for you

The thing is, Penny is an orphan. So, there isn't anyone waiting for her. So, the song really drives home just how alone Penny is in the world. Also, cool cameo of Bambi and Bambi's mom during the sequence. Of course, those memories don't necessarily evoke happy thoughts either. Damn, this song is sad!

Runner-up: "Little Black Rain Cloud" from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

1980s: "Why Should I Worry?" from Oliver & Company (1988)
Dan Hartman & Charlie Midnight; Performed by Billy Joel

Before the so-called "Disney Renaissance" took off with The Little Mermaid in 1989, the oft-forgotten Oliver & Company was released. In this loose adaptation of Dickens' Oliver Twist, a Jack Russell terrier named Dodger (as in, "The Artful") takes over the screen with this infectious pop-rock New York-loving anthem. Who else to sing this song than Billy Joel? Through the song's lyrics, we understand Dodger's outlook on life (a precursor to the more popular "Hakuna Matata"); through the song's music, we understand that Dodger is just so cool! He even literally stops traffic by rallying all the dogs of New York to strut with him!

Runner-up: The rest of the soundtrack from Oliver & Company
I think Oliver & Company actually features some great songwriting. It's just a shame that the story itself isn't quite so compelling. But with moments like Better Midler's "Perfect Isn't Easy," or the touching tune of friendship "Good Company," the song list for the film is fun, varied, and contemporary.

Let me know your picks for under-appreciated Disney songs from the '60s, '70s, and '80s! My choices for the most recent decades will be revealed next week!

Zootopia and Research

A fascinating look at the research that went into Zootopia. I'm inspired to continue my research for Story Explorers and Calafía, remembering that so much of writing actually happens before writing!

Posted on May 26, 2016 and filed under Research.

Cookie of Creativity

Thich Nhat Hanh shares in his book Peace Is Every Step about a memory from his childhood when his mother would bring him a cookie, and he would eat it with joy and in peace. "I did not think of the future, I did not regret the past," he writes. Eating the cookie was a truly serene moment for Hanh, and one he channels now as an adult when he eats.

After reading this, I've tried to think about an equivalent memory from childhood when I was so attuned to the present moment; a time when I so enjoyed what I was doing that I was freed up from worry. I realized that for me, these were moments of creative work.

Once, in high school, over a three-day weekend, I created a stop-motion animation film set to the song "Zero to Hero" from the Disney movie Hercules. No one told me to do it. There was no deadline I was trying to reach. I simply conjured the idea up in my head, set up the camera and figurines, and did it! This happened a lot when I was a kid, whether it was making comic books or the guide map to my made-up waterslide park or recording songs I had written. I would have surges of creativity initiated from within, when I just needed to make something and my mind would enter a sort of zen-zone, flowing and engrossed in the project.

The heretofore mentioned stop-motion animated film.

As an adult, I often find it hard to enter into that zone. There are a lot more "grown-up" things like logic, deadlines and social obligations that need tending to. But remembering my childhood bursts of creativity helps me feel more motivated to get going on my projects. Hopefully, when I'm in the midst of a rewrite or drowning in books for research, I can channel the "cookie of my childhood" and find that place of joy and freedom once more.

Posted on April 27, 2016 and filed under Creative, Influences, Thought.

Influence: Alan Menken, King of Melodies

In 1991, I got the soundtrack for Disney's Beauty & the Beast on cassette tape before I had even seen the movie. What I heard on that tape was epic. The opening number "Belle" in particular blew my mind completely with its layered vocals and bright melody. When I finally saw the movie at the theater, I remember getting so excited that "Belle" was beginning that I shouted out "Bonjour! Bonjour!" right along with the 2-D French people on the screen. My mom and sisters had to shush me and tell me that it was not polite to blurt out the words. My love for this film was further solidified when the VHS came out on October 30th the following year, and I opted to skip trick-or-treating just so I could watch Belle, Beast, Gaston, et al three times in a row on Halloween.

I couldn't have told you then what it was about the score for Beauty & the Beast  that I was so taken by. I know now, though, that it was a combination of lyricist Howard Ashman's fantastic use of the English language, and composer Alan Menken's uncanny ability to make melodies that whisk you away into the story. Ashman, unfortunately, was taken from the world way too soon. But Menken continued on to create the memorable scores for Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hercules. Each new Menken-Disney project offered musical compositions that were unique from those of previous films (compare Pocahontas  to Hercules , for example). And yet, they all brought the storytelling power that came to be expected of 90's Disney films. This is why, even as a kid, I was sorely disappointed with the music in The Lion King.  This is not to harp on Elton John's amazing pop sensibilities. But there's just something about a Menken melody that grabs you and says "Listen! Something very important to the story is being sung here!"

Why do Menken's melodies work so well? Two answers. First, I think it's because he knows when to surprise us. Take my favorite Menken tune "Out There" from Hunchback.  The structure is pretty standard for an "I want..." ballad. There isn't anything particularly tricky about the meter or structure or form. But the main melody of the chorus starts off with a descending minor 7th. For those who are less musically inclined, all you need to know is that a descending minor 7th is very rare in songs. Menken harmonizes it so well that you don't realize it's so different, but the subconscious impact remains. This big jump in the melody sounds fresh and expansive, and gives the song its particular character.

Second, Menken's not afraid to keep things simple. The song "Beauty & the Beast" is essentially a series of varying five-note patterns, some of which are overtly scales going up or down (think "Barely even friends / Then somebody bends"). But he chooses his five notes carefully each time, and the little surprises that arise give the song its emotion (think of the difference between "Tale as old as time" and "Song as old as rhyme." Rhyme is the surprise note.) What I also think is so compelling about the song, is that it never overstates itself. Even the climax happens right in the middle, rather than towards the end, where many Broadway numbers like to build. The music stays simple, and doesn't let itself get in its own way. It allows the audience to just take in what's happening - Belle and Beast are falling in love.

While I am forever indebted to Mr. Menken for his musical influence in my life, I will probably never be able to capture the exact quality of a Menken melody. I'll be happy if my songs have a sort of "Min-ken" quality about them. And maybe someday, a parent will have to shush their kid in the audience of one of my shows because the little one just couldn't help but sing along.

Posted on November 3, 2013 and filed under Creative, Composition, Influences.