ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.8 - NOVEMBER 1999
Songs In Animated Features
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If Ursula inThe Little Mermaid realizes the plan she sings about in "Poor Unfortunate Souls," she will own Ariel's voice and soul forever.
© The Walt Disney Company.
If Ursula (The Little Mermaid) realizes her wicked plan in "Poor Unfortunate Souls," she will own Ariel's voice and soul forever. If Gaston and the villagers (Beauty and the Beast) actually "Kill The Beast," Belle's dreams will never come true and she will end up leading a pedestrian life, probably with Gaston. When Scar sings "Be Prepared" from The Lion King, it sends a shiver up my spine. By pulling off his plan to become king, the entire kingdom will be irrevocably altered. All of these songs brilliantly accomplish their goal by presenting the villain, his malicious plan and the primary conflict of the movie. If the villain succeeds, the consequences will be dire for the characters we've come to know, love and root for. Villains come painstakingly close to realizing their evil ends, ultimately failing, getting their comeuppance.
Reprises can be very effective because the audience is already familiar with the melody and the emotion of the song. Only now, the character has traveled somewhere in their growth, reflected in the lyric and/or arrangement. When Ariel sings a reprise of "Part Of That World" after seeing Eric, she alters one word and it becomes "Part Of His World," taking on a whole new emotional context and meaning.
The predominant style of music over the last decade would fall into what I call theater/pop where the music has a contemporary sound to it but also sounds like it might be heard in a theater. Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz and Elton John's work would be excellent examples.
Phil Collins' songs in Tarzan represent a new sound and direction with its pulsating rhythms and percussion.
© The Walt Disney Company.
Phil Collins' songs in Tarzan represent a new sound and direction with its pulsating rhythms and percussion. Currently, Sting is writing songs for Kingdom in the Sun at Disney. Both are marvelous songwriters and storytellers with unique styles, bringing fresh sounds to animation.
When music is heard apart from lyrics, it absolutely evokes a visceral, emotional response from the listener. The music may connote love, fear, danger, excitement. When words are added, the music typically mirrors what the lyric is saying. Occasionally, though, the words can say one thing while the music may transmit a contradictory feeling. When this happens, it is a clue that something unsettling is going on for the character...something they don't want to face, a lie, an inner conflict. (For example a woman might sing in a very high-spirited number about how much she cannot stand the company of her male counterpart...fully knowing that deep down she has fallen in love with him, but doesn't want to admit it.)
There is room for all kinds of music in animation, depending on the nature of the story and the look of the animation. I am a strong proponent of melody and believe that great melody will stand the test of time. Phenomenal production and arrangements are fantastic, but not to mask a weak melody. If you play it with one finger on the piano along with the harmony and it entices the listener before all the trappings of production, then there's something special going on.
There are some basic tenets of lyric writing to which I subscribe. A lyricist should never repeat in lyrics what has already been stated in dialogue. It doesn't accomplish anything other than being redundant. Some emotions expressed in dialogue might be clumsy and onerous, and can actually be handled better in lyrics. "Love Songs" and "`I Want' Songs" would be good examples. Good songwriting can help lighten the storytelling experience. Can you imagine Pocahontas stating in dialogue the wonderfully crafted and sensitive lyrics to "The Colors Of The Wind?" It would be heavy-handed and ineffective. Something transcendent happens when such emotions are expressed in a terrific lyric sitting on a gorgeous tune. What might be sentimental or saccharine in dialogue can become airborne in song.
When creating lyrics for animated musicals, one can be very literate and intelligent, basically writing for adults. What is vital is that everyone from age four to eighty-four fully comprehend the overall theme and intent of the song. If a child doesn't understand every reference, that's okay as long as they get the essence, the big picture.
Due to time constrictions, many characters in animated musicals are instantly identifiable by necessity. They represent particular archetypes...the girl longing for something more, the villain, the comic characters, the traditional group, the impossible love couple who will miraculously work it out. Great lyric writing taps into this kind of universality. It's a type of collective unconscious that's primal, allowing the audience to empathize and hook in immediately.
The late Howard Ashman was absolutely one of the best lyricist in the history of theatre and animated musicals. Instinctively and intellectually he understood songs, their role in storytelling and the need to be entertaining. His work is compelling, passionate and humorous. If there was an interesting way of saying something, he would find it. Inventive lyric writing is hard to come by. His work is filled with wit, intelligence and double entendre. He wrote on two levels, one for adults and one for children.
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