Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Grump's Opinion: Musicals = Disney Movie Gold?

As part of my wife's master plan to push me down the path of becoming a full-fledged, card carrying Disney Geek, she made me sit down and watch:  The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Beauty & the Beast, and Aladdin.

With the exception of Pocahontas, I had seen these movies before.  These are all movies, in addition to The Lion King, that many consider are staples of the new Golden Age of Disney Animation and for the most part they were all stunning successes (or at least I remember them being so). 

Now, I have watched many of the newer Disney movies and I don't think any of them are of the caliber to be lumped with these movies.  I know movies such as Finding Nemo and Toy Story have made mucho dolares for The Mouse and it's evident in the prevalence of the characters showing up in the parks.  But, as an adult I'm not possessed with a strong urge to watch these movies over and over again.  There is nothing about these movies that strikes an emotional chord with me like the movies of the 90's.

One might make the argument that my attachment is due to my age at the time, but I was in my 20's when I saw all of them.  In fact, I remember seeing Aladdin 4 times during the Thanksgiving weekend the year it came out in the theaters. 

It wasn't until I watched these 4 movies in one week that I started to perceive a common element that may have played a major role in their success.....music!  More specifically the fact that these movies were Musicals.

All these movies had the characters breaking into song as if that was a normal thing in day-to-day life just like the famous live action musicals.  Who can forget the dramatic musical numbers like Be our Guest from Beauty and the Beast or Friend like Me in Aladdin

In addition to these big musical numbers there were many other songs and most of which were infectious.  I don't think there is a single song from any of those movies that my wife doesn't have memorized.  If you happen to catch her when she's not aware of your presence, you have a good chance of hearing her singing these songs.

My wife isn't the only person like this.  I remember my suite-mate in my college dorm who would drag the soundtrack to the Little Mermaid into the bathroom so he could belt out the lyrics while he showered.  In fact, this was my first exposure to The Little Mermaid.  I saw the movie much later after it had been released on VHS. 

Tarzan is the first movie I can think of that doesn't quite get the privilege of being ranked amongst movies such as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.  I don't think it would be hard to find people who agreed that Phil Collins provided many great songs for the movie's soundtrack.  But Tarzan wasn't a Musical in the sense of it's older siblings.  I think they tried to throw the big musical number in there when the Apes invaded the camp, but that is about it. 

As time went on, the movies seemed to be more focused on soundtracks that were in the background and in the case of Cars they even went as far as getting popular recording artists like Sheryl Crow to record music for the soundtracks. 

I think there is something magical about musicals.  It just isn't normal for people to just break into song and I think that is a big part of it. 

To put a little more fuel to my argument, In 2006, Disney went as far to release a live-action DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie) that you many or may not have heard of that did pretty well for itself. 

Many kids think that it's the Start of Something New, but I think Disney is starting to get Get their head in the Game and figured out what I Have Been Looking For (by I, I mean those of us who like Disney produced content).  Therefore, this little movie was able to Bop to the Top.  It worked because We're All in This Together and it takes more than a few fans to make a hit that changes the Disneyscape.

It was such a success that the executive asked themselves What Time is It and the answer was "Sequel Time" and they decided to Bet on It.  As we have heard, it broke all kinds of records.  Do you really think the wholesome family-friendly story is the sole reason for this record breaking success.  I don't think so.  America loves it's Musicals as long as it doesn't involve cops that rock.

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm referring to those two little movies High School Musical and High School Musical 2 (I know I just lost 2 bicep points for bringing that into this post).

I do realize that story plays a big, big, big role in a movie's success.  That is why I think Pocahontas wasn't as big of a monster success that the executives at Disney hoped it would be (according to the IMDB database entry for this movie, Jeffrey Katzenberg was sure Pocahontas would get a "Best Picture" Nod). 

I am in a way hoping that Disney goes back to this Animated Musical format for the Frog Princess (or whatever more politically correct name they have changed it to).  I think we may be surprised that it will succeed.

Keep in grumptastic folks and remember that "Music makes the people come together"

9 comments:

Andrew said...

The team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman did the songs for The Little Mermaid. Katzenberg brought them over from writing the musical Little Shop of Horrors and they teamed again on Beauty and the Beast shortly before Ashman died of AIDS in 1991. He won (posthumously) the Oscar for Best Original Song a year later for the title song and also wrote Friend Like Me for Aladdin before his passing.
I truly believe these films would not have saved Disney animation without Ashman and Menkin's continuous push to score them like Broadway musicals.
If you don't believe me, watch the opening of Beauty and the Beast and pay close attention to the song Belle.
Absolute genius.

Biblioadonis aka George said...

My favorite Disney music (pre-Little Mermaid) were the songs from Johnny Appleseed from Melody Time and Mickey and the Beanstalk from Fun and Fancy Free.

I had the story records growing up and I listened to them over and over again.

If I had to pick a favorite today, it would be a battle royale between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Although I think Beauty would win.

My favorite single song? Probably I Won't Say from Hercules.

I still think the songs by Phil Collins for Tarzan were well done and very pop-oriented.

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

George,

I agree that the songs that Phil Collins did for Tarzan were very well done and pop-oriented and a few of them I really liked. I just don't think they added the same element to the movies as the songs from the Menken & Ashman scored musicals.

I also would have to say that there would be a battle between The Little Mermaid and Beauty & the Beast for determining my favorite.

Jeff Pepper said...

While there is absolutely no denying the success of the Broadway musical style as it applied to the Disney animation renaissance of the early nineties, I do feel it was ultimately overused and the format was beginning to tire by the time the likes of Hunchback and Mulan rolled around.

I partly believe that is why Pixar proved especially unique and successful in that they provided a distinct alternative to Disney's steady stream of films with the same repetitive musical structure.
But, at the same time providing great music that really complimented the story.

An excellent example is
Toy Story 2 with "Woody's Roundup" and the incredibly powerful "When She Loved Me." That particular sequence is as memorable as any Mencken/Ashman endeavor.

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

Jeff,

This is one of the areas that I feel I disagree with many people with. I do love many of the Pixar movies, but they aren't just memorable for me.

In fact, the example you have from Toy Story 2 is not even registering in my memory banks, but the many big numbers from the older Ashman & Mencken produced numbers still are etched in my brain even after 10 or more years have gone by.

Until I watched those moves this past week, I hadn't watched them since the 90's but many of their musical numbers were very fresh in my memory.

I've never been a big fan of long musical interludes that really don't seem to be part of the story but just enhance the story. To use a non-Disney example, the musical montage at the beginning of Shrek 2 (yeah, blasphemous)

Andrew said...

If I had to choose, I would take the Toy Story songs over the Beauty and the Beast songs. Its personally more my style, however, I can see the genius at the time the Little Mermaid and BATB came out moving towards musical. Broadway style opening songs that runs for 8-9 minutes (Belle) usually don't fly well in the short attention span world of children. Those songs appealed to me at a time when I was listening to Metal and Rap. Very powerful and deeply connective.

Biblioadonis aka George said...

What?

Who're we talking about?

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

Andy,

I hear you about the short attention span of the american youth, but if that was the case, why are High School Musical and it's sequel such big hits.

My wife just told me that our niece (her sister's kid) has become obsessed with the second movie and made her daddy buy the soundtrack and is singing to it all the time.

RC said...

You're right about the musical element, i think this is something that makes disney unique.

even out of the animated realm...say with things like Mary Poppings.

There's something magical about disney's musicals.

in fact today i ranked my top 5 animated films, i'd love your input...it could prepare you for your disney trip.