ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.8 - NOVEMBER 1999

Songs In Animated Features
(continued from page 2)

Two of the most poignant ballads from animated musicals are "Part Of That World" from The Little Mermaid and "The Colors Of The Wind" from Pocahontas. These are quintessential "`I Want' Songs." In "Part of That World" Ariel is fascinated with worldly articles. Howard Ashman's genius was to use examining a fork and other wordly possessions as a metaphor for wanting something more...

"I've got gadgets and gizmos aplenty
I've got oozits and thatsits galore
You want thingamabobs
I got twenty
But who cares no big deal
I want more"

In "The Colors Of The Wind" from Pocahontas, Stephen Schwartz has written a beautifully poetic lyric. © The Walt Disney Company.

In "The Colors Of The Wind" from Pocahontas Stephen Schwartz has written a beautifully poetic lyric which deals with prejudice and intolerance and the lead character's desire to see it end. According to Pocahontas, every living thing is special...every "rock, tree and creature has a life, a spirit and a name."

"Sing with all the voices of the mountain
Paint with all the colors of the wind"

Mrs. Potts (off-screen) sings "Beauty and the Beast" as Belle and the Beast dance together.
© The Walt Disney Company.

Whose heart doesn't totally melt during Mrs. Potts' singing of "Beauty and the Beast" as Belle and the beast gloriously dance together in the ballroom with lines like, "both a little scared, neither one prepared, beauty and the beast" or "tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme"....

Equally compelling and moving ballads are "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, "You'll Be In My Heart" from Tarzan and "When You Believe" from The Prince of Egypt. It is not surprising that many of these songs are heard again over credits, sung by major pop artists with a different arrangement. These ballads represent the creative heart and soul of each of these stories.

"A Whole New World" from Aladdin.
© The Walt Disney Company.

Comedy and Production Numbers
Secondary sidekick characters appear in just about every animated musical in the last decade. Typically they sing the comedy number or lead the big production number. In some cases their songs feel forced, only there for comic relief. It seems to be an obsession that comic characters must exist to sing a funny song or be front and center in a spectacular production number. Certainly this has a lot of entertainment value, but does it have story/character value? Not always. It's a paradox of sorts in that the creators want to be true to the story and yet also want to have lighter, entertaining moments, too. Sometimes these two desires are in conflict.

I contend that comic characters and songs must still somehow be in service of story/character or theme, even if it is oblique. In "Under The Sea" from The Little Mermaid which is incredibly entertaining, Sebastian advises Ariel against going up. He counsels Ariel to `enjoy what you have.' Not only is it amazing to watch all the underwater creatures singing and dancing in this production number, but it serves a purpose as well, directly relating to the theme of the movie and the main character's conflict.

In the big production number "Under The Sea" from The Little Mermaid, Sebastian advises Ariel against going up top. © The Walt Disney Company.
Lumiere's "Be Our Guest" from Beauty And The Beast is truly one of the greatest production numbers.
© The Walt Disney Company.

Lumiere's "Be Our Guest" from Beauty And The Beast is truly one of the greatest production numbers where all the inanimate objects come to life, conspiring to feed Belle, violating their master's wishes. With the dishes, glasses, candles, forks and chandelier joining in, it's thrilling. Does the song actually further story/character? I think the answer is yes in that it bonds Belle with Lumiere and the others, cementing their relationships, guaranteeing they will somehow successfully get through this together.

Some argue that the single comedy musical number in Tarzan brings the story to a halt.
© The Walt Disney Company.

Similarly, in The Lion King Timon and Pumbaa's singing of "Hakuna Matata" primarily bonds the characters with Simba, along with providing a philosophy of life that Simba adopts and later employs. So yes, there is a function here. The key is that comic and/or production numbers should relate in some fashion, even if it is just to reinforce the theme or conflict.

Villain Songs
Every successful animated musical has a major song for the villain because it is necessary to the storytelling. The threat to the main characters must be clearly established. Otherwise, the conflict is not clear and the tension is dissipated. The jeopardy and what is at stake is vital in an animated musical. I know of no better way to accomplish this than through a song that makes the audience squirm in their seats. In most of these songs the music is threatening, sometimes scary, telling us something is awry.

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