Monthly Archives: June 2014

My Top Twenty Fantasia Segments

You might wonder how I intend to do a top twenty of Fantasia segments when there are only 15 overall in Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. For this list I’ll also consider the “Forgotten Segments”, meaning every segment every created for a Fantasia movie, weather it actually became part of it or not. That includes the segments which were made for the abandoned Fantasia 2006 project (if you have never seen them, I created a playlist with all the segments which are not part of either “Fantasia” or “Fantasia 2000”. You can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLeLGHZL8PZ5QUzWqZZnxXuI8Rmq8KYsZj) . And if you count those, then you’ll end up exactly with twenty existing segments overall.

Feel free to share your own favourites and discuss the segments, but keep in mind this is only my personal opinion.


20. “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”

This is the only Fantasia segment I actively dislike, and not just because I consider the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major-I. Allegro by Dmitri Shostakovich a bad pick. It’s not exactly one of the most memorable music pieces out there, but above all it doesn’t fit the story by Hans Christian Andersen at all. If Disney had cared to understand what the story is actually about. The inclusion of a villain, the happy ending, all this is very Disney, but it destroys the very core and meaning of the story without offering anything more than a run-of-the-mill plot as replacement. I also dislike the animation, not because of the use of CGI, but because everything looks a little bit too much like plastic.


19. “Pines of Rome”

Okay, I admit it, I have in general a problem with the use of CGI animation for Fantasia segments, mostly because of two reasons: One, CGI ages way faster than traditional animation and two, it has the tendency to limit the creativity of animators. Fantasia is an opportunity to go crazy with colours and shapes, to do something different, something which would have no or only little room in a standard movie. In this case the creativity stops with taking Ottorino Respighi’s music and pair it with a bunch of flying whales.


18. “Rite of Spring”

I know, I know, many people call this their favourite Fantasia segment, especially fans of dinosaurs. I think this is the kind of piece you either really like – or not. I lean towards the latter for various reasons. The most obvious one: The segment is way too long. Most Fantasia segments have a length of something around ten minutes, fifteen minutes top. The “Rite of Spring” has 25 minutes and lacks the kind of variations in the visuals the longer pieces tend to have.
But above all I consider this a very poor interpretation of what I consider Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece. There are ballets which you can take apart and rearrange without any problems and sometimes even a better end-result. This is not one of them. The way the music crescents to a riveting staccato has purpose which is lost by Disney throwing the different music pieces of the ballet wherever they needed them, and the high point of the ballet was even cut out. It just doesn’t do the source material any justice at all.


17. “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”

Of all the segments from the original Fantasia, this is the one which aged the worst. The abstract patterns and shapes used to interpret the music by Johann Sebastian Bach were kind of revolutionary back in 1940, now the audience is so used to the computer generating similar compositions that it loses a lot of its impact. Not that a computer can create something as creative and perfect as this, but there are other segments which stand out way more.


16. “Symphony No. 5 in C minor-I. Allegro con brio”

There reasons for this placement are more or less the same I citied above. It was kind of a toss-up which segment would get the higher placement, and if I had judged them in the context of their respective movie, this one would have lost on the grounds of it not really fulfilling the task of not telling a story and just allow the music by Ludwig van Beethoven to be, but instead kind of telling a story about butterflies being chased by dark bats. Isolated though it is visually slightly more interesting so it got the higher placement this time around.


15. “The Pastoral Symphony”

There was a time when this was one of my favourite Fantasia segments. But I think my love for it steamed mostly from the music by Ludwig van Beethoven. But while I like the mystical setting, the segment is kind of pedestrian compared to other pieces. This is Olympus, why not going all out instead of sticking mostly to prancing centaurs? Plus, I have to take the original version of the segment into account. There is really no excuse for adding racist images into the setting. If Disney hadn’t fixed that for later releases, the segment would have been at the very bottom of this list. As it is, I go for the bottom half.


14. “One by One”

This short moved up and down this list multiple times. Intended to be one of the segments for the proposed but never completed Fantasia 2006 it is set to the song written and performed by Lebo M. Originally part of The Lion King, the song was cut from the movie but became later part of the musical. Now I have two reasons for the placement, and at least the first one is not a particularly good one: I resent the idea to use a song for a Fantasia segment which is already closely connected to another and very famous Disney movie.
But mostly I have trouble to really get into the story, because I feel that its message lacks substance. Now, I am all for Disney’s message of hope and believing in a better time. But to have an impact, it should be connected to a good story with levity. In this case though, I don’t feel the impact. It feels more like someone uses a big brush of colour to hide a dire situation. Speaking of colours: They are the best part of the short. They are so vibrant that they sometimes overwhelm the shapes, but in a deliberate and intriguing way.


13. “Firebird Suite”

To be precise the 1919 Version by Igor Stravinsky. This visually stunning segments expertly creates a contrast between destruction and rebirth. It would be close on the top of this list if not for the fact that it is in its core the climax of “Fantasia” all over again. I can never watch it without comparing, and this segments always comes short. If you redo a concept, you should do it either different enough that it doesn’t matter, or you should do it better.


12. “Lorenzo”

This segment is hard to judge, because I only saw it once entirely, and I can’t even remember when. Of all the segments, it is the only one I couldn’t examine again. But it kind of sticks out, partly due to its unusual animation style, but mostly because of its dark humour. To be honest, the conclusion of the story about a cat whose tail has developed a personality of its own is a little bit too dark for my taste. But I love the use of tango, the Tango Bordoneo y 900 von Osvaldo Ruggiero to be precise, for this artistic masterpiece.


11. “Clair de Lune”

This segment is just beautiful. It was originally part of Fantasia but cut for time before the original release. To the music of Debussy two egrets are flying through a swamp in the shine of the moon. It perfectly blends a realistic scene with more abstract patterns created by water and light, loses some points though for being a little bit obvious. Everything involving the moon would have been.


10. “The Flamingo with the Yo-Yo”

The title is usually given as “The Carnival of the Animals”, Finale by Camille Saint-Saëns, but let’s face it, everyone remembers this as the answer of the question: “What would happen if you gave a yo-yo to a flock of flamingos?” It is the shortest Fantasia segment to date, and often criticised for its comedic tone. I think it is hilarious. But that is not the reason I put it so high. The reason is the way the short plays with shapes, colours, light and shadow. It might be comical, but that doesn’t make it any less artistic.


9. “Intermission/Meet the Soundtrack”

I pondered long if I should count this as segment, and to be honest, I mostly did because “Top 20” sounds better than “Top 19”. The next problem was the placement. The jam session is nice, but nothing to write home about. But I love the concept of turning the soundtrack in a character, a straight line which changes shapes based on the sound it makes. So much creativity deserves a place in the top ten.


8. “Pomp and Circumstance”

There are often complains that the piece reminds the audience to much of a graduation ceremony. Perhaps that is true. Not being American I never attended one which used this particular melody. But to be honest, I wasn’t even aware that there is more to this piece by Edward Elgar than the bit which is sometimes shown in TV Shows or Movies. Hearing Marches 1, 2, 3 and 4 gave me a new appreciation for this piece. Normally I would take points for not being particularly artsy, but the animation meshes so perfectly with the music that it kind of makes up for it. While the story is predictable, it does manage to tap into my emotions.


7. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

To be honest, I think this segment is kind of overrated. It might be the most iconic of all the original Fantasia segments, but I think this is less a matter of it being the most memorable, and more a matter of Disney constantly using scenes from it to advertise both for the movie itself and for Mickey Mouse. In this segment based on Goethe’s 1797 poem “Der Zauberlehrling” and accompanied by Paul Dukas musical version of it, Mickey Mouse plays the role of the young apprentice who attempts some of his master’s magic tricks but doesn’t know how to control them.
Part of me thinks that it is kind of crime to rip the poetry from the story, because Goethe manages to play so masterfully with words and special sounds, that one can practically hear the water waging (notice what I did there?). Disney kind of makes up to it with going all out in Mickey’s power fantasies. Still, I might have put it one place lower if not for the artistically merit of the animation. The play with shadows and perspective, the way the brooms become more and more threatening (they are freaking brooms!!!!!!) make this segment special in its own right.


6. “Dance of the Hours”

I guess it is mostly my German humour which makes me love this one so much. Yes, contrary to popular believe Germans have humour. They even have different kinds of humour. The kind which speaks to me the most is taking a normal situation and then adding one element to it which pushes the situation to comical. Like taking a standard ballet and adding some unusual dancers. I doubt that Amilcare Ponchielli ever considered the possibility that one day ostriches, hippos, elephants and crocodiles would perform on his music, but the result is hilarious. I especially love the way the animators considered the way those animals can move before turning them into dancers. But one shouldn’t overlook how carefully every detail is arranged, either. Especially the night segments is just unforgettable, with the way black and red is used there to create a threatening atmosphere.


5. “The Little Matchgirl”

This segment is what “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” should have been. This time Disney captured the spirit of the famous Hans Christian Andersen story perfectly. Set to the third movement of Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major by Alexander Borodin, it has all the sadness but also the spark of hope of the original tale, while not disguising the tragic of a little girl dying during the bustle of Christmas preparation. Remember what I wrote above about levity? This is exactly what I meant. No matter how many matches this little girl lights, it will still die in the end if nobody helps her. There might be hope in this world but it doesn’t come from nowhere, it comes from humans who open their hearts to other humans.
The art style is kind of anime-inspired, with an emphasis on the expressive face of the little girl and softened in a way that it fits perfectly into the Russian setting Disney picked. The setting and time are, btw, the only changes to the original story, which is set at a non-specific place (but most likely middle-Europe considering the origin of the author) and during New Year’s Eve, not Christmas.


4. “The Nutcracker Suite”

I adore Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, especially his ballets. And I admit, for this reason alone I am inclined to give this segment a high rating. The other reason is that there are still many elements from the original ballet in the animation, even though Disney changed the story of the Nutcracker a fairy dance of the seasons. Especially recognisable are pieces like the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, the “Chinese Dance”, the “Dance of the Flutes”, the “Arabian Dance”, the “Russian Dance” and the “Waltz of the Flowers” (it is kind of fun that Disney took that literally) which are presented with fairies, fish, flowers, mushrooms, and leaves. More than any other segment this is animation dancing over the screen, and hence one of my favourite pieces.


3. “Destino”

Remember Bette Midler mentioning in Fantasia 2000 a Salvador Dalí based “idea that featured baseball as a metaphor for life”? That project, on which Walt Disney was originally working with Spanish Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí in 1945, was picked up again by Roy Disney for Fantasia 2006 and the result is stunning. Featuring music written by Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez and performed by Dora Luz it is one of the few segments which are paired with a song instead of an instrumental. The short takes full advantage of animation as medium, plays with forms and perspectives and the result is (not surprisingly) surreal. I would never dare to even try to interpret it apart from it having something to do with time, love and destiny, but it is a fascinating watch which will stay with you for a long, long time. An animated piece of art.


2. “Rhapsody in Blue”

Combining George Gershwin with the art style of Al Hirschfeld to capture the spirit of New York City in the 1930s was a stroke of genius of Disney. This is one of the true stand-out segments, in which every elements fits together perfectly. Depicting a day in the lives of four people within the Depression-era bustling metropolis, the segment perfectly captures the mood during the time, the big gap between rich and poor, the underlying sadness while at the same time the city is growing into the sky.


1. “Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria”

I hate being predictable, but this is one of Disney’s most daring pieces. Chernabog is one of the most memorable figures of Fantasia, and the dance of the spirits is always fascinating to watch. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more dynamic performance of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”, and the spirit in this piece just underlines the uplifting calmness of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria”.


Overall I like most Fantasia segments. but especially those which take advantage of the subject matter and for which the animators thought out of the box.  And looking at what was planed for “Fantasia 2006”, I am very disappointed that the project was cancelled. It had the potential to be better than both “Fantasia” and “Fantasia 2000”. A part of me is still hoping that one day they will pick it up again…if with or without the finished segments (I hope with – I really want to see “Destino” on the big screen), “Fantasia” should never truly end.


The History of Western Animation in Film

I have decided to broaden the subject of this blog a little bit. Yes, I know, I have barely started with my lyrics analysis, but I already realized that I feel a little bit limited when it comes to talking about animation. So instead of starting yet another blog (I am barely able to do regular updates for the ones I already have), I have decided to use this one for some serious basic discussions about animated movies – and start with the basics.

When people talk about the History of Animation, most of the time they really talk about the History of American Animation. And if the topic is theatrical movies and not animation in general, that is for once fairly legitimate. Like it or not, but when it comes to animated movies, the US is dominating not only the home but also the European market.

I guess this is the moment I should talk about animes. They naturally have their own history and influences. Let’s concentrate on one side of the earth for now. I intend to illustrate something by doing a small overview over the most important development in animation.

The first theatrical animated movie in the world was – no, not “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” – an Argentinean movie with the title “El Apóstol”. Released in 1917 it utilized cutout animation (basically a special form of stop-motion). The movie is lost, but based on what I read about it, it was a satire which was certainly not geared towards a young audience.

The oldest still surviving animated movie is – no, still not “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” – Lotte Reiniger’s “The Adventure of Prince Achmet”. Released in 1926 in Germany, it is the third animated movie ever made and the first which used the little bit more sophisticated silhouette animation. In fact, Lotte Reiniger was the one who invented this technic. It works similar to shadow puppets, but they are not moved and filmed live, but painstakingly arranged. And let me tell you, the level of detail Lotte Reiniger archived this way in breathtaking. A photo can’t really convey it, but the result looks like this:

31994

The feathers and leaves are already impressive, but it is even more impressive if you see it in motion. As you can see, the movie is tinted. It also has its own “soundtrack”, composed specifically for it. The movie has been restored in 1999. It is now available on DVD and has even shown with life-orchestra from time to time. If you get the chance to see it life – do! It’s a once in a lifetime experience, for multiple reasons.

The first stop-motion movie using puppets is either of Ladislas Starevich’s “The Tale of the Fox” or the Russian movie “The New Gulliver”, depending on if you base it on the end of the production or release date. “The Tale of the Fox” was finished in 1930 in France but released in April 1937. “The New Gulliver” was finished and released in 1935.

The first animated sound film was – nope! Still not “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” – but another lost Argentinian movie, “Peludópolis”, released in 1931. The claim which “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” has to fame is that was it was the first full-length cell-animated feature filmed in three-strip Technicolor, and begin of the rise what we call nowadays traditional animation. Released in 1937, it was the seventh animated movie ever made.

From that point onwards, you can just as well call it the history of Disney. First stereophonic sound? Fantasia (1940). First widescreen format? Lady and the Tramp (1955). First movie using the xerography process? 101 Dalmatians (1961). From 1937 onwards Disney was dominating the market – and then became complacent. Between Walt Disney losing interest in the Animation Studios and the general lack of a proper rival, Disney stopped being the pioneer in animation.

I think Disney left gladly the crown for the first “adult animation” to Ralph Bakshi’s “Fritz the Cat” (1972), but the studio also got beat concerning the first animated feature in Dolby Sound by “Watership Down” in 1978, the honour of being the first animated feature using computer images went to “Rock and Rule” in 1983, and the first feature length clay animation movie was “The Adventures of Mark Twain” in 1985.

Then Disney woke up again, setting a new milestone with “Who framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) and then proceeded to perfect the CAP system. “Rescuers Down Under” (1990) was the first movie produced without a camera and with only digital ink and paint. In 1995 Pixar happened. Toy Story was the first fully computer animated feature film and Toy Story 3 (2010) was the first feature film released theatrically in 7.1 surround sound. Meanwhile there was development in stop-motion, too. Coraline (2009) was the first stop-motion movie which used rapid prototyping.

There are two point I want to illustrate with this: Disney didn’t invent animation (not by far), but it was over long periods the forerunner in traditional animation. Also, the world of movie animation is all in all pretty small.

The most notable Animation companies (read: companies which produced more than two or three animated movies and left their mark on the industry) and figures are:

  1. The Disney Animation Studios – naturally. Forerunner in traditional animation and currently on the top of their game in CGI, too. Also the first animation studio which started making animated movies on this list active since 1937.
  2. Pixar – Forerunner in CGI animation, now naturally part of the Disney Company, but still an independent subsidiary. Active since 1995.
  3. DreamWorks – mostly notable in being currently the biggest rival of the two studios above.
  4. Don Bluth – His movies are a little bit hard to pin down to one studio, because he went bankrupt multiple times. At one point he was working with Steven Spielberg, later Fox Animation (which is nowadays Blue Skies). So, technically not a studio, but a notable body of work, and a player on the field from 1982 to 2000.
  5. Jiří Trnka – A pioneer in stop motion animation. Between 1947 and 1959 he made six critical highly acclaimed movies. The Czechoslovakian was considered by many the “Walt Disney of Eastern Europe” even though his style was very different.
  6. Aardman Animations – specialised on stop-motion and therefore in a niche market the US companies mostly ignored for a long time, this British Studio has been around since the 1970s. Its activity in movie making started in 2000.
  7. Blue Sky Studios – owned by 20th Century Fox this studio pushed into the market in 2002 with Ice Age.
  8. Robert L. Zemeckis – he worked on different projects on different companies, but is mostly notable for being the expert in motion capture, especially since the release of “The Polar Express” in 2004. If this is proper animation or not is disputable, but it certainly goes hand in hand with animation.
  9. Laika Entertainment – founded in 2005 this studio has still a fairly small line-up, but with releases like “Coraline” and “Paranormal”, as well contract work for “Corpse Bride” under its belt, it certainly left its mark already.
  10. Steven Spielberg – It is easy to overlook since he is not an animator, but he has been involved as executive producer to some of the most noteworthy animated movies made since the 1980s (and one or two really forgettable ones). This list includes “An American Tail”, “The Land before time” and “Who framed Roger Rabbit”, though he is currently mostly dabbling in motion capture.
  11. Warner Brothers Animation – despite the “big name” overall fairly unimportant in terms of movie making, since the company mostly concentrates on shorts and Television Series. But it is the only animation studio which has been around just as long as the Disney studios. Since 1993 the studio has been dabbling in movie making, too, and while the Lego Movie is the first one, which has been a true box office success, it does have a few other critical acclaimed pieces in its line-up, including “The Iron Giant”.
  12. Ralph Bakshi – His movies are a little bit out of the realm of the other studios, since he has a different target group at all. Since 1972 he is creating movies with the intent to address the adult audience – with varying success. To be honest, I think if any of the other studios had a true interest to outshine him, they would do so quite easily, there is just nobody else truly interested in doing animation which is exclusively geared towards adults if they can do a way bigger cash grab with movies made for all age groups.

 

 

Roughly, I would sort the phases of Movie Animation in the following eras:

1917 – 1930 : The Silent Age

The early beginning of movie animation. At this point the movie makers from all over the world experimented with different variants of stop-motion. But with only three animated theatrical features overall, animation didn’t really take off in movies – yet.

1931 – 1959: The Golden Age

Even before the rise of Disney, the concept of animated movies notably took off. Aside from the ones I already mentioned above, there were additional movie projects which never got finished and are considered lost. The Golden Age also saw not only the rise of Disney, but above all the rise of traditional animation. Stop motion still continued to thrive in Europe and especially Czechoslovakia, but in the US it was mostly used for shorts, TV shows and above all, special effects in live in live action movies.

1960 – 1981: The Dark Age

A dark time indeed. Disney is more or less the only company out there which is still regularly producing animated movies. There are some smaller projects, some of them certainly remarkable, but overall, the animation landscape has become empty, and Disney is doing just enough to not totally embarrass the studio. This only changes in the 1980s, when Don Bluth starts to challenge the status quo. But not only this. Computer technology changes animation forever.

1982 – current: The Multi Age

Multi, because this is the most diverse era for in animated movies so far. Traditional Animation raised to new heights, stop-motion managed to push its way back on the map, CGI movies stormed the market and motion capture became a thing. And if you look at the list above, most animation companies listed there are active in movie making since the 1990th or 2000th. For the first time ever there is proper competition for Disney.

At this point the Multi Age might have been over already, since CGI keeps pushing other methods, especially traditional animation, out of the picture. We’ll see in a couple of years.

And this concludes my first overview. The history of the most important animation studios is another theme though, which I will discuss separately.


The Introduction Song

To put it blunt, an Introduction song is used to set the mood for the movie and, if necessary, to give the audience important background information. It is often (but not always) the first piece of music we hear in a movie.

Like the “Villain Song”, this is a concept which developed over time, mostly because movies used to be structured differently than they nowadays. In the past a lot of movies had opening credits, since it was not common to list all the cast members and whoever else was involved in the production. This changed around the 1970s (more or less…fun fact: Disney’s Fantasia (1940) was the first sound film which started without any opening credits), when it became more common to acknowledge the staff. Soon movies had extensive end credits and only mentioned the most important persons during the opening…if at all.

When opening credits were still common, title melodies or songs were too. And they were often used as mood setter, already, so the movie maker had to find a balance. Often this was done by starting the movie with a narrator. For example Cinderella’s title song is beautiful, but not particularly informative, so the narrator takes care of providing the background information needed. Peter Pan on the other hand has a title song which immediately informs the audience about Neverland, so the narrator only has to introduce the Darlings. In “Sword in the Stone” on the other hand the title melody bridges to an introduction song, telling the story of the death king and then a narrator takes over – kind of overkill, if you think about it.

Getting rid of the opening credits “freed” the introduction song. There was no longer the need to balance it out with opening credits, instead the animators could go all out – and they did very impressively with movies like “Lion King”, which has one of the best known opening in movie history. But I think the song which shows the best what a good introduction song can do, is “Belles of Notre Dame”.

Clopin:
Morning in Paris,
the city awakes
to the bells of Notre Dame
The fisherman fishes
The bakerman bakes
to the bells of Notre Dame

To the big bells as loud as the thunder
To the little bells soft as a psalm
And some say the soul of
the city’s the toll the bells
the bells of Notre Dame

This part of the song is a mood setter. We get a feeling for Paris, and for the giant clock tower (which is btw not THAT big in real life…the animators went a little bit overboard with the scales, but then, that was kind of the point, I guess) with it’s bells. It follows a sequence of kind of narration which leads to the next part of the song (I cut out the text from the scenes so that we can concentrate on the part which is sung).

Dark was the night when our tale was begun
On the docks near Notre Dame

Four frightened gypsies slid silently under
the docks near Notre Dame

But a trap had been laid for the gypsies
And they gazed up in fear and alarm
At a figure who’s clutches
Were iron as much as the bells….
The bells of Notre Dame

Choir:
Kyrie Eleison (translation: Lord Have Mercy)

Clopin:
Judge Claude Frollo longed to purge the world
Of vice and sin
And he saw corruption every where
Except within

We know get a lot of background story, and our first glimpse of the villain of the movie – who is immediately sketched out in four lines. We know what he wants and we know around which trait (hypocrisy) his character is built.  In the following sequence the change between showing what happened in the past and the song is so fluid that they nearly become one. This is underlined by the fact that not only the actual narrator is singing, the Arch Deacon does too. Past and present melt into each other for a moment.

Clopin:
She ran.

Choir:
Dies irae, dies illa (Day of wrath, that day)
Solvet saeclum in favilla (Shall consume the world in ashes)
Teste David cum sibylla (As prophesied by David and the sibyl)
Quantus tremor est futurus (What trembling is to be)
Quando Judex est venturus (When the Judge is come)

Gypsie Mother:
Sanctuary!
Please give us sanctuary!

Frollo:
A baby…
A monster!

Arch Deacon:
Stop!

Clopin:
Cried the Arch Deacon.

Frollo:
This is an unholy demon
I’m sending it back to hell
Where it belongs

Arch Deacon:
See there the innocent blood you have spilt
On the steps of Notre Dame

Frollo:
I am guiltless
She ran,
I pursued

Arch Deacon:
Now you would add this child’s blood to your guilt
On the steps of Notre Dame

Frollo:
My concience is clear!

Arch Deacon:
You can lie to yourself and your minions
You can claim that you haven’t a qualm
But you never can run from nor hide what you’ve done
From the eyes
The very eyes of Notre Dame

Choir:
Kyrie Eleison

Clopin:
And for one time in his life
Of power and control

Choir:
Kyrie Eleison

Clopin:
Frollo felt a twinge of fear
For his immortal soul

Frollo:
What must do?

Arch Deacon:
Care for the child
And raise it as your own

Frollo:
What?
I am to be saddled with this misshapen…
Very well,
But let him live with you in your church

Arch Deacon:
Live here?
But Where?

Frollo:
Anywhere

Just so he’s kept locked away where no one else can see

The bell tower perhaps
And who knows?
Our Lord works in mysterious ways

Even this foul creature may yet prove one day to be
Of use to me

Clopin:
And Frollo gave the child a cruel name
A name that means “half-formed”
Quasimodo

At this point, the audience is pulled back in the present.

“Now here is a riddle to guess if you can,”
Sing the bells of Notre Dame
“Who is the monster and who is the man?”
Sing the bells, bells, bells, bells
Bells, bells, bells, bells
Bells of Notre Dame

To round up a perfect introduction song,  the audience even learns the core question of the movie – though it is a rhetorical one. At this point, it is  already primed to like Quasimodo, no matter how he looks.

The Belles of Notre Dame is a great song with it’s cacophony of bells, and the way the music swells, nearly pressing you in the seat if you watch the movie in a well equipped theatre with a good sound system. But it is also great because it does everything an introduction song can do: Setting the mood, providing important information and pointing out the core theme of the movie.


The Montage Song

So far, I have talked mostly about the kind of songs, which are character related. But there are also songs which mostly work as a narrating device. They are often (but not always) sung from the off and can roughly fulfil three different functions: World building, emotional insight and  compressing time. Today, I want to write about the last variant: The montage song.

A montage is a very handy device whenever a movie wants to show development over a longer time-span in a short time. Usually a montage is paired with music and/or narration, but there is also the option to take it on the next level and use a song. This has the advantage that the song (unlike the narration) doesn’t have to describe directly what happens on screen or voice the opinion of the narrator. Instead it can serve as some sort of comment.

The most well-known montage song in Disney canon has to be “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”. But to understand this song on all levels, one has to see it in connection with the other songs from the movie, so let’s talk toady about one, which often gets overlooked: Treasure Planet’s “I’m still here”. It is the only song of the movie, and played during one of it’s stand-out moments. The montage in this case has three purposes: Giving the audience the sense of a long travel, showing how the relationship of Silver and Jim develops and giving a glimpse in Jim’s soul by showing his traumatic memories of the days his father left him. The song mostly connects to the last aspect, expressing Jim’s inner turmoil.

I am a question to the world
Not an answer to be heard
Or a moment that’s held in your arms

And what do you think you’d ever say
I won’t listen anyway
You don’t know me
And I’ll never be what you want
Me to be

All of Jim’s defiance is in those lines. He doesn’t want to listen because he feels that the people judge him without really knowing him.  He wants to be his own person instead of trying to fit in.

And what
Do you think you’d understand
I’m boy, no, I’m a man
You can’t take me
And throw me away

And how
Can you learn what’s never shown
Yeah, you stand here on your own
They don’t know me
‘Cause I’m not here

In those lines are all the sense of abandonment. Jim, now in the difficult age between boy and man, has been left behind too often. He is feeling alone, but he is also not ready to trust anyone at this point. And why should he, more or less everyone is basically telling him that he is a looser.

And I want a moment to be real
Want to touch things I don’t feel
Wanna hold on and feel I belong

And how can the world want me to change
They’re the ones that stay the same
They don’t know me
‘Cause I’m not here

Fittingly, the montage shows at this point Jim watching the crew in a gathering, while he is sequestered away in a corner. He is still an outside, but the wish to belong is growing in him. But he is not reaching out because he is well aware of his status as an outsider.

And you see the things they never see
All you wanted – I could be
Now you know me
And I’m not afraid

And I want to tell you who I am
Can you help me be a man
They can’t break me
As long as I know who I am

This is the sequence which shows how Silver slowly develops a true interest in Jim, and Jim slowly starting to trust him. The lyric expresses Jim growing self-confidence. At this point, it doesn’t matter if others think that he is a looser, because he knows that he isn’t one. And as long as he has this knowledge, he won’t be one.

They can’t tell me who to be
‘Cause I’m not what they see
Yeah, the world is still sleepin’ while I keep on dreaming for me
And their words are just whispers and lies that I’ll never believe

Jim’s father leaving is here shown as the reason for his deep-seated distrust in other people.

And I want a moment to be real
Want to touch things I don’t feel
Wanna hold on and feel I belong

And how can you say I’ll never change
They’re the ones that stay the same
I’m the one now
‘Cause I’m still here

I’m the one
‘Cause I’m still here
I’m still here
I’m still here
I’m still here

Even the lyrics express the change in Jim’s psyche during the travel. At the beginning, it was “They don’t know me,  ‘Cause I’m not here”, now it is “I’m the one, ‘Cause I’m still here”. Jim has grown up, developed a sense for himself, and he is ready to take on the world, no matter what people are thinking about him.

All in all, this is one of the most complex constructs for a montage song I know, and it works on every level. The visuals go perfectly with the lyrics, and together they allow a deep understanding for Jim and his relationship to Silver, and that without having to spell it out for the audience. Even if you don’t like the movie as a whole, this sequence is certainly worth to pay attention to.