Tag Archives: Disney

Disney and Fox: What’s the Deal Part 2

So, it has been a while since I wrote my first article about the Disney/Fox deal. Partly because those last six months really kept me from writing all that much for the blog at all, I couldn’t even use the Christmas break for writing since I hurt my hand shortly beforehand. Though originally I waited so long to continue this because of Comcast’s bid. Less because I though that they would succeed in stopping the deal altogether, but I knew that it might influence how it would look like in the end. And they did, not just in terms of cost. But that is a topic for another article, in which I will take a closer look at the international assets Disney now acquired. Today I want to talk about the TV assets specifically regarding the US markets and the various TV shows which now fall under Disney’s umbrella.

But first a little update. It seems like I have been pretty close with my predictions regarding the Fox movie studios so far. Bob Iger has already confirmed that they will leave Searchlight untouched, so I was right that they would stick to the usual MO to not change a working system. Searchlight’s academy award track record is just too good for Disney to do a big overhaul.

The take-over of 20th Century Fox on the other hand ended up being quite a blood-bath, the biggest surprise being the decision to dissolve the Fox 2000 brand. Well, it was mostly a surprise because there was no noise about this possibly happening beforehand. But, let’s be honest here, Fox 2000 doesn’t have the same level of brand awareness Searchlight has, so little, that I didn’t even address it separately in my last article but just lumped it in with 20th Century Fox proper. And the kind of movies they produce – middle budget book adaptations – is nothing Disney Picture can’t cover, too. Not that Disney Picture couldn’t use some creative talent to give it a few impulses, but that is another story.

20th Century Fox is currently undergoing a lot of changes. In: every project will be examined and judged. Disney has said that the movies which have started filming would be released, but there are still a lot of projects which haven’t made it to this stage yet. One project which has already been cancelled is an adaptation of Mouse Guard , a comic which is apparently Game of Thrones but with mice. Haha, some of you might think, naturally Disney wouldn’t allow anything Game of Thrones like to go through. Well, not quite. There were a lot of reasons why Disney decided to stop the project (though they’ll allow the creators to shop it around), one of it allegedly being the overblown budget for an unknown property. But apparently one reason was that Disney wants Fox to focus more on PG-13 and R-rated properties, and lower budget family friendly movies. Which, frankly, makes a lot of sense. Now, I am not quite sure why an adaptation of Mouse Guard would be considered as skewing too young – meaning, I am not sure if Fox originally pushed the concept in this direction or if Disney erroneously thought that a story involving mice had to be cutesy – but the reasoning given shows that the fears Disney might turn Fox into a clone of itself were completely unfounded.

Another thing which is now know about the future of Fox are some details regarding the future leadership. Vice chair Emma Watts is the senior most member of 20th Century Fox who will make the transition to Disney. Emma Watts is a seasoned production executive known for having a great relationship with a lot of strong talents and might be the perfect choice to take the various Fox franchises in hand.

On April 3 she joined Alan Horn during a representation at CinemaCon, and everything which has been said so far sounds like Disney intends to run 20th Century Fox like another of their brands. Give it a few years and what comes out of 20th Century Fox might be quite distinctive in their own right, mostly offering a mix of r-rated movies, horror franchises and edgy movies with franchise potential.

You might remember that I was unsure about the fate of Blue Sky and it turns out if there might be a place for it at Disney after all. At least for now Disney has put the studio on its website, alongside with Disney Pictures, Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox and Searchlight. Those seem to be the future pillars of Disney’s movie business.

While I originally wondered why Disney should need a third animation studio (not counting the entities responsible for their TV shows) when it already owns the two most successful ones out there, there is a future use I can imagine for Blue Sky.

Above all, doing movies which fit neither into the Disney Animation Studios nor the Pixar brand. To clarify, Disney is known for making family friendly movies based on fairy tales or well known childhood classics. They have dabbled in original movies once a while, and more recently with a lot of success, but taking pre-existing properties and disneyfying them is their bread and butter. Pixar on the other hand is mostly known for original, off-the-wall ideas which they develop in successful movies and then into franchises.

Those two approaches cover a lot of possibilities for animation, but there are some things which won’t fit either Disney Animation or Pixar. For example Comic book adaptations. Yes, I know, both of them have dabbled in superheroes, but there is a difference between disneyfying an extremely obscure property or doing an original take on Superhero tropes and actually adapting a comic book. Or a comic strip. Remember, Blue Sky was also the studio which successfully adapted The Peanuts and it is currently working on Nimona. Now that Into the Spiderverse has been highly successful, Disney might want to get in on the action, and Blue Skye would be way more suited to tackle a project like this than the Disney Animation Studios or Pixar are. They know how to respect an art-style and how to capture the core of an IP.

They are also more suited to movies which are more, well, contemporary. Both Disney and Pixar prefer a time-less style, which is part of the reason why their movies tent to be pretty much classics the moment they are created. Blue Sky is more connected to pop culture, which is one of the reasons why their movies often veer into “disposable” territory, but, well, there is a market for those middle-tier movies which don’t shoot for the stars. Plus, while Blue Sky has so far mostly targeted a demographic which is roughly in Disney’s wheelhouse, they are not above to do something which is clearly addressing a younger audience – see Ferdinand – or to target nostalgic about a specific period of time more so than specifically families. And since Blue Sky’s target demographic isn’t quite as defined as Disney’s, they can easily do something specifically aimed at teenagers if they wanted to.

Plus, Disney will need a lot of content for its streaming service, including animated content. Not that I think that any of the movie studios will start to produce exclusively for streaming service, at least not as long cinemas are still a profitable revenue stream. Alan Horn said as much at CinemaCon.

“The theatre is and will always be in our minds. It is the cornerstone of the theatrical business, period. It is really where it all started…it’s where Disney and Fox will continue to move forward as one united company.”

Thus said, Disney’s strategy seems to be clear. They seem to be focussed on blockbusters and popular franchises, the kind of movies which makes people feel that they really should see them in theatres because they belong on a big screen, or which make for a good outing. The smaller production seem to fall by the wayside, with the exception of Searchlight’s output, since the only kind of smaller movies which do well on the big screen tend to be the ones which get award buzz.

In the long run this means that the low to middle budget dramas will most likely be squeezed out of the market and only turn up on streaming, but I admit, I am not sure if I am too bummed about that. Mostly because I myself feel that they don’t really utilize the big screen anyway, so why not making them for streaming from the get go?

Well, so much about the movie studios. Let’s move to the television studios. Here is what Disney has acquired and will keep (there are a few assets they need to sell to avoid anti-trust issues and naturally Fox didn’t sell it’s broadcast network):

  • Fox Television Group
    • 20th Century Fox Television
    • Fox 21 Television Studios
    • FX Networks
    • FX Productions
    • National Geographic Partners (73%)
  • Fox Networks Group International
    • Fox Networks Group Asia
    • Fox Networks Group Europe
    • Fox Networks Group Latin America

There is also the Endemol Shine Group (50%), Hulu (30% which raises Disney’s share to 60%), Star India and Tata Sky (30%), but I’ll address those properties when I cover the international future of Disney as well as their plans for the streaming market. Though I need to point out that with the Endemol Shine Group (which is seated in the Netherlands) Disney also gets its hand on a couple of very interesting international IPs, including Big Brother, MasterChef, Peaky Blinders and Black Mirror.

Now Disney made an announcement regarding the future leadership and structure of the Networks on October 8, 2018. Now, this was a few months ago, and it is possible that there haven been or will be changes, but back then, it was supposed to look like this:

  • Peter Rice – Chairman, Walt Disney Television and Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks
    • Dana Walden – Chairman, Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment
      • Channing Dungey, President, ABC Entertainment
      • Patrick Moran, President, ABC Studios
      • Jonathan Davis and Howard Kurtzman, Presidents of Twentieth Century Fox Television
      • Bert Salke, President, Fox 21 Television Studios
      • Tom Ascheim, President, Freeform
      • Wendy McMahon, President, ABC Owned Television Stations Group
    • Gary E. Knell, Chairman of National Geographic Partners
    • John Landgraf, Chairman of FX Networks and FX Productions
    • Gary Marsh, President and Chief Creative Officer, Disney Channels Worldwide
    • James Goldston, President, ABC News

Notable about this structure is that for now mostly that Disney has apparently no intention whatsoever to disrupt the work of FX. Not only will it stay under the same leadership, it will report directly to Peter Rice. Also notable is the fact that Disney plans to keep ABC Studios and Fox Television Studios as separate entities for now. It doesn’t really look like there will be much of a change for any of the entities other than maybe in terms of programming. We will know more about than on May 14. For this day ABC’s upfront presentation is scheduled, and this year it is expanding to include it’s new corporate siblings. Not that I expect huge changes.

In a way it might make more sense to wait until this date to write this article, but let’s talk about the IP’s Disney acquired. Small disclaimer here: Television rights are waaaaay more complicated than movie rights. With movies, you have a production company and a distributor, which often belongs to the same entity as the production company. With TV shows, you have a production company, a network which buys and airs the show, someone who buys the syndication rights – and all of those can belong to a different company.  Basically, even if you know who originally produced a show that doesn’t necessarily mean that said entity has currently the control over said show. It all depends on the contracts.

Thus said, this deal is actually streamlining some of the rights, since Fox produced a lot of shows which aired of ABC – a kind of famous example is the Adam West Batman show which is now owned by Disney. And once you put all this together, well the Library is huge.

But on top of all the IPs which are owned/have been produced by either ABC or Fox, there are also a long list of IPs by now defunct production companies Fox bought at one point (or which were operating under the Fox umbrella until Fox decided to stop production). So, before I get to 20th Century Fox Television and FX, I’ll briefly cover some of the other production studios.

Regency Television seems to have been mostly active between 1999 and 2008. It’s most notable shows included Roswell and Malcom in the Middle. Foxstar Productions had a lot of success with Biography and some with Alien Nation, but otherwise there is nothing really remarkable in its small line-up. Genesis Entertainment was active in the 1980s and early 1990s and is responsible for hit shows like Highway to Heaven and Tales from the Crypt. Then there is Blair Entertainment and Storer Broadcasting, whose TV-show line-up is so small, it is barely worth mentioning. Four Star has a little bit more to offer, but since that studio was active from roughly the 1950s to the 1980s, with most of their titles being from the first two decades, a lot of those shows are a little bit dated. A lot of westerns and shows which stars celebrity X overall. Speaking of which, the list of defunct studios also includes MTM Enterprises – Mary Tyler More Enterprises – which naturally includes the Mary Tyler Moore Show but also a few other classics, like Remington Steele. And New World Television, whose most relevant programming included a bunch of Marvel based shows, including The Incredible Hulk. And Sledge Hammer.

I think the most valuable of those acquisitions is the Metromedia Producers Corporation., which has produced a number of quite interesting IPs,  including Charlie’s Angels, Hart to Hart, Starsky and Hutch and a number of other shows which can be called “classics”.

And finally there is Stephen J. Cannell Productions. Now apparently in this case the library is owned by Cannell’s family, but Fox still retains a few rights. Like the right to do remakes. We are talking here about shows like The A-Team, Hardcastle and McCormick, Hunter, Riptide, Stingray and 21 Jump Street.  Though for Disney those rights aren’t that interesting. Nice to have, but what they really want are IPs to put on their streaming service.

Which is a little bit a problem with FX. Oh, there is certainly a place for FX in the company, but I think it is save to say that if Disney decides to stream certain FX shows, it will happen via Hulu, and not Disney+.  Between shows like JustifiedNip/Tuck, Rescue Me, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Sons of Anarchy, The Shield, Archer, American Horror Story, Anger Management, The Americans, Better Things, Louie, You’re the Worst, Fargo, American Crime Story, Legion, and Atlanta there aren’t really many who would tonally fit the tone subscriber would expect from Disney.

There is one sub-division which is currently active nobody talks about, but which might not have much of a future under Disney: Animation Domination High-Def. They have produced animated shows since 2013, but frankly, there is nothing in their line-up which I actually know except for Neo Yokio, which is a hot contender for the most tone-deaf series I have encountered in the last years. Any, I am mostly putting a question mark beside this particular studio due to its animation veering more to an older audience, and Disney will be automatically more interested into shows which fit Disney+ one way or another.

But let’s talk about the big one, the long list of shows Fox produced and aired in the last decades. Those shows include M*A*S*H, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, Bones, Empire, Family Guy, 24, Modern Family, This Is Us, American Dad!, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Futurama, New Girl,  The X-Files and, maybe the biggest property, The Simpsons.

Or let’s just talk about The Simpsons, because apparently The Simpsons is seen by some people as some sort of litmus test. I am not quite sure why, though. I mean, realistically speaking The Simpsons has been a zombie show for at least a decade. Those who still watch it seem to do it more out of some sort of habit than out of true excitement. There have been videos about when exactly the downfall of The Simpsons began and what was the cause of it for years. So…what exactly can Disney do to “ruin” The Simpsons?

From my point of view, if Disney had decided to cancel The Simpsons it would be totally understandable. Yes, the ratings for the show have been relatively stable for a long, long time, but sometimes it might be a good idea to stop beating a dead horse. At the same time, I never expected them to actually do it either. Because The Simpsons are still a reliable cash cow and it would have been stupid for Disney to not milk it. And that is exactly what they did.

So, for those who don’t know already, The Simpsons was renewed for a thirty-first and thirty-second season on February 6, 2019. The latter season will contain the 700th episode. In addition, Disney is moving the first thirty seasons of the show to their streaming service, so that they will be Disney+ exclusives. Well played, Disney, well played.

But I am slipping into discussing the streaming service, so let’s close this for now with a pretty obvious observation: Regarding the merger the different Fox channels will most likely be fine for now. Some shows will be renewed, others won’t, and overall it will be business as usual. For the broadcaster the rise of streaming is the far bigger threat. They will never be completely replaced, because there will always been events which are more fun to watch live, there will always be the news segment, there will always be shows and there will always be people who prefer to flip through their channels in order to eventually settle something which happens to be on instead of having to search through some sort of catalogue. But especially the cable channels will come more and more under pressure in the future. And this might lead to Disney shutting down specific channels, both on the ABC and the Fox side of things. But if that happens, it will be more about the overall shift to streaming. It is on the various channels to keep the audience interested in their programming.

Meanwhile Disney has acquired a ton of content. Now, I don’t expect them to put all of this on their streaming platform, and not just because a lot of them are still tied up in a deal or another. But this is a lot with which they can do whatever they want. And that includes creating remakes or making movies out of them. The possibilities are kind of endless there.

And that’s for now. Next time I will examine the streaming plans of Disney in more detail – both nationally and internationally, the latter maybe being the more interesting topic.

 

 

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Disney Tarot: The Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune might present the very core of Tarot. The depiction of the wheel itself varies greatly, but when it has inscriptions, it usually displays the letters T-A-R-O which can naturally be read like a constant circle of Tarot, but also as rota, which is the Latin word for “wheel”. I left those out, but I found the perfect “wheel” to symbolize the notion of fate in a Disney Princess movies:

10-Wheel-of-Fortune
Since Aurora’s fate literally hinges on a (spinning) wheel, there was no doubt what the motive of this card would be from the get go. This card is a little bit unusual, since it is more unpredictable than most. Sometimes it is read upright as good luck and in reverse as bad luck, but that is a little bit too simplistic for my taste. To me it symbolizes karma, life cycles and destiny in its upright position. And that can be as well as the good karma to be gifted with beauty as well as the bad karma of being fated to die. In reverse though, it can show a resistance to change, but also a breaking of the cycle. Because at the end of the day, we do have a degree of control over our own fortune. When the three fairies break the curse on Aurora, they not just rescue her, she is also finally free of the restricting fate which up to this point has controlled her whole life. She is still restricted due to being a princess, but she now has a future which will be shaped by her, not by decisions the three fairies make to protect her.

And those are my (admittingly very surface) thoughts about The Wheel of Fortune. Frankly, this is a card you always have to read in context, but I am very happy with my interpretation of it. The next card will be Justice, though I can’t promise that the article will be up next week. The busy time of the year starts, and I haven’t even decided yet if I will manage to do a fairy tale month this time around. But I promise, I’ll try.

 


Disney Tarot: The Hermit

This is one of the cards where I went a little bit more creative. It might be a little bit of a leap to get from an old man with a lantern to a young woman with a book, but I still felt that this picture was perfect to capture the spirit of The Hermit:

09-The-Hermit

This is one of those cards which is often renamed: The Monk, Time or The Sage are all possible alternative names. I considered going for The Reader, but then I felt that keeping the title would be more specific.

Usually The Hermit holds a lantern which guides his path, but only lights the next steps and not the whole journey. He needs to take steps forward in order to see where to go next because knowledge won’t be revealed to him all at once. Reading a book is similar, you have to take it page by page and even when you have finished it, there is still the next book to add to your knowledge.

The Hermit stands for soul-searching, introspection and inner guidance, but also for being alone. Belle trusts her own moral compass and the knowledge she gains through reading, but she is also utterly disconnected from the village due to walking her own path. Consequently she is also experiencing the reverse meaning of the card: Isolation, loneliness and withdrawal from the world.

So, hopefully that helped to explain why I made this leap. My pick for the next card will be a little bit more obvious, though. See you next week.

 

 


Disney Tarot: The Strength

Historically The Strength was the card number XI in the deck, but I went with the now popularized Raider Waite Tarot numbering and put it on number VIII. And I have to admit: This might have been the easiest card of all of them, at least in terms of concept. Just looking at the usual arrangement of this card, I was immediately reminded of this scene:

08-The-Strength

Everything about this moment embodies strength. Walking away peaceful from an alteration is strength. Convincing someone to do so just with a kind word is strength. The Card stands for courage, persuasion, influence and compassion, and there is no story and no character which embodies all those ideas better than Cinderella. To quote from Wikipedia:

“The Strength card was originally named Fortitude, and accompanies two of the other cardinal virtues in the Major Arcana: Temperance and Justice. The meaning of Fortitude was different from the interpretation of the card: it meant moderation in attitudes toward pain and danger, with neither being avoided at all costs, nor actively wanted.”

That is exactly what Cinderella does. She picks her battles. I put the bells in the background of the card as a reminder of the pressure she is under in this scene. She knows that if Bruno actually hurts Lucifer badly, she would no longer be able to protect him. So she let’s Lucifer “win” in this particular situation, but she also rescues Gus from him just a few scenes later. Cinderella’s interaction with her family is similar. Most of the time she is following orders but if an opportunity presents itself to her – be it an excuse to interrupt “music” lessons or to go on a ball – she will take it. That is in a lot of ways true strength, the ability to endure while keeping an eye out for opportunities.

The low point of Cinderella, when her dress gets destroyed, is a cumulation of everything the card stands for in reverse: Self-doubt, lack of energy and raw emotion.

The Strength is usually my favourite card in every Tarot deck, because there is something dignified and powerful about it. Next week we will discuss the maybe most introspective card of them all: The Hermit.

 

 


Disney Tarot: The Traveller

Sorry for the delay. I had to deal with some very stressful RL issues which simply didn’t put me in the right mind-set to delve into Tarot of all things. But hopefully the situation has evened out enough to that I’ll now be able to go back on schedule.

Anyway, the card I’ll discuss today is The Chariot which I renamed The Traveller. Mostly because there is no picture of John Smith riding a chariot and I feel that the ship is a better fit for him anyway. So the card ended up looking like this:

07-The-Traveller

A few elements of the card are missing. There are no sphinxes, but then, a ship doesn’t need to be pulled by anything. Though I did add the shadow of an eagle on John Smith’s armour (btw, what is the deal with it, it is as if the animators couldn’t decide if it was an armour or a shirt). The cards also has usually a canopy of stars above the charioteer’s head, indicating celestial influences, but I felt that there is enough sky in my take on it to replace it, even if is is stormy sky.

What was really important for me was to find a picture of John Smith which both indicates his status as a Traveller, someone who is constantly on the move, but also expresses control, willpower, success and determination. Him as captain at he helm of his own ship was perfect for what I had in mind.

In reverse the card usually stands for opposition and lack of direction – which actually works better with a ship than a chariot, because a ship can literally be “adrift” while a chariot can’t. But I would add another reverse meaning to this version of this card: harmful overconfidence. Not harmful to yourself, but to others, people whose life you impact without truly thinking about what you are doing.

And that is all for today. I should be back on schedule now. So, until next week.

.

 


The top ten worst Disney Songs

I am usually not prone to negativity. I tend to prefer writing positive articles in order to praise movies, even though tearing something down usually gets you more clicks. That doesn’t mean that I don’t indulge once a while in a little bit of venting, too, but as a general rule, I consider it more helpful to point out why something works than why something doesn’t work, even though it is way harder to articulate the former.

But when I started to think about doing something along the line of a best Disney songs list, I soon started to realize that this would be an impossible task. Disney has created so many outstanding songs, even doing a ten best soundtrack list would be difficult, never mind doing one praising the best songs. Even if you keep it to the animated canon, there should be something between 300 and 400 songs.

In the end I decided to do something which might be even more challenging: Finding the ten worst Disney Songs. Usually you can trust that any song which turns up in a Disney movie is at the very least decent. So I had to dig really deep to even find ten I felt I could put on a “worst” list without feeling too bad about it. What made my search especially difficult, though, was that I completely limited myself to Disney Animation Studios movies. For two reasons: Had I included the cheapquels, this would have been too easy. Bad music in a direct-to-video production is kind of a given, even when Disney is producing it. And while I could have included Pixar, their movies use music in a very different way than the standard Disney movie does.

For the same reason I made my live even more difficult by excluding the package movies, too, even though there was a lot of dated and boring music I could have mined out of them. I can hardly complain a song not adding anything to the story if there isn’t really a story to be told after all. I also excluded end-credit songs and songs not created by Disney for this specific movie (which only applies to Chicken Little and Lilo and Stitch anyway).


Which brings me to the criteria under which I will judge the songs:

1. How much do I like the song?

This should be a given. Any song which has a catchy tune and a great text had a good chance to not make the list, unless it failed the other two categories.

2. How well does it fit the scene and the movie?

This is the big one. There are a number of songs which failed the first category, but didn’t end up on the list because they did exactly what they were supposed to. So I won’t ding the “Canine Crunchies” song for being a relentless annoying jingle, because that is exactly what it is supposed to be. And I won’t complain about “Scales and Arpeggios” for having the most simplistic melody possible, because the song is supposed to present something a child might learn during the first piano lessons. On the flip-side, there are also a few songs which more or less passed the first category, but failed to elevate the movie in question. And yes, one or two of them made the list.

3. How much does its quality impact the movie in general?

Basically the more the song ruined the mood of the movie and the more annoying it was, the higher it ended up on the list. So, to explain my elimination process, here a few songs which I seriously considered, but which didn’t make the list in the end.


One of the first things I did when I decided to make this list was taking a close look at Home on the Range again. Because I just couldn’t remember any songs from the movie except the villain song. But after listening to all of them, I just couldn’t bring myself to hate any of them. They are a little bit forgettable, but none of them are outright bad, and they fit the movie pretty well overall. I ended up really liking “Will the Sun ever Shine again”, the ballade had so much feeling behind it. To be frank, I just wasn’t sure if it is really the fault of the songs that I couldn’t remember most of them, or if it was simply a combination of the movie itself being such a disappointment and me not being into this style of music. In the end the fact that none of the songs impacted the quality of the movie itself in any way lead me to leaving them all off the list. At least this soundtrack fits the movie, and they add to the story.

The same can’t be said for the Soundtrack of The Princess and the Frog. This movie has a serious issue with having songs which are just re-establishing what the audience already knows instead of moving the story forward. Especially “When we’re human” is guilty of this. And there is also a lot to be said about the notion of two frogs dancing under the light of a butt, while the owner of said butt is singing about his love towards the star. But in the end, the quality of the songs themselves just kept them off the list. “Ma Belle Evangeline” is such a nice tune,  and while I do think that the songs of the movies overall are a little bit less catchy than the truly great Disney soundtracks, the style is a perfect fit for New Orleans.

Brother Bear was taken into close consideration because in this case, the songs don’t fit the setting at all, and the way they are used are sometimes downright distracting. But this was another case in which the quality of the songs just kept it off the list. To be completely clear here, I have no issue whatsoever with Phil Collin’s music. I like the songs he did for Brother Bear, and just don’t think that they were a good choice for this particular movie and I really, really enjoy his work for Tarzan. The only song from Tarzan which I even considered for this list was “Trashing the Camp”, but I felt while the execution is lacking, the conception was strong enough to warrant some leeway.

And finally there was “Bluddle-Uddle-Um-Dun”. I tend to be a little bit more forgiving towards Snow White and the Seven Dwarves regarding its various filler songs, mostly because the whole movie was exploring new ground. But a four minute song about washing for dinner is a little bit much. When I watched the scene again, though, I realized that the song itself isn’t really four minutes long, for most its running time it is pure score while the dwarves perform physical humour. It kind of felt wrong to ding the song for it, because the issue here is the overlong washing scene in itself and the song makes it at least somewhat bearable.


So, if anyone is still reading this after the overlong explanation, here are my top ten worst Disney Songs to date.

10. Wine/The Drinking Song

Sleeping Beauty has one of my favourite soundtracks. I have said it before, but the score was quite an unique challenge because it was based on pre-existing music which then had to be rearranged painstakingly to fit the movie and the style. And I guess the most difficult part was to turn music which was written for a ballet into song. In some instances, the result is just beautiful. I mean, who doesn’t like “Once Upon a Dream”? But “The Drinking Song” is where the movie truly stumbles. It is barely a song at all, and the parts of it which are kind of like singing, well, it is just obvious that the melody was never meant to be part of a song.

9. The Gospel Truth

Yeah, speaking of ill-fitting soundtracks, Hercules might take the cake there. I mean, how the hell does one start with Greek mythology, and then ends up with Gospel? Those two things aren’t even remotely related to each other. I guess you can do an overly complicated explanation that Gospel can by considered the modern take of a hymn, except that they are a modern take on Christian music, and we are talking here about Greek mythology. Which, I guess, one could argue is a religion too, but, well, would you want to see a story about Jesus being represented by Native American chants? Or Hindu prayers? Yeah, exactly.

On top of this, the soundtrack doesn’t even stick to the style. If you put “The Gospel Truth” beside “I’ll go the Distance” and “Can’t tell I’m in love” without knowing anything about them, would you think that they all belong to the same movie?  And, to add insult to injury, it is basically taking the role of a villain song. Don’t tell me that you wouldn’t have loved to see Hades going all evil in verse?

In the end the only good thing I can say about “The Gospel Truth” is that I don’t necessarily dislike the song in itself and it has a purpose in the story. That wasn’t enough to keep it off this list, though.

8. In Summer

Speaking of purpose, “In Summer” has none. I actually had quite a number of songs from Frozen up for this list.  No, “Let it Go” wasn’t one of them. The song is overplayed by now, but it is overplayed for a reason. In general, though, should I ever decide to write an article about how good songs can be used to the detriment of a movie, Frozen would be the example to use. “In Summer” makes the list because it is utterly pointless. It feels as if the directors suddenly realized “oh, we have crammed all our songs in the first quarter of our movie, what should we do now?” and then threw in the most boring of all side-kick songs. It doesn’t tell us anything new about the character, it doesn’t move the story forward, the joke that Olaf wants exactly what will destroy him is not as funny as the song writers apparently thought and it really, really overstays its welcome. Which runs out after the first verse.

7. We’ll Smoke the Blighter out

Speaking of cramming in songs, Alice in Wonderland takes the cake. There are 19 songs in the movie and the only reason this kind of works is because most of them are only a few lines long. That’s true for “We’ll Smoke the Blighter out”, too, it is so short and unassuming is that I nearly gave it a pass. Until I remembered that it an upbeat tune about burning the lead character alive. Alice in Wonderland has a few songs which are way too cheerful about terrible events – I am looking at you, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” – but only this one manages to confuse me. It is like the movie itself can’t decide if it should be dramatic or play the danger of the scene in question down. The result is kind of uncomfortable to watch, even if it lasts barely a minute.

6. Perfect World

Oh, I know I will get flak for this one.  A lot of people are into the bolt choice  The Emperor’s New Groove made with its music. And yes, if they had stuck to the original concept of the movie, it might have worked. But once the movie became more and more a Buddy comedy spiked with jokes about Disney tropes, it is kind of unforgivable to have a music number which is not in one way or another a commentary about Disney’s typical musicals. It also kind of feels misplaced. Not because it is modern, but because it it doesn’t really seem to relate to, well, anything in this movie. Though I admit, I also simply don’t like the song itself. It doesn’t do anything for me and, even worse, I am unable to see what other people might enjoy about it.

5. Lack of Education

Frankly, this talk-singing barely counts as a song. But that is not the reason why it made the list. The Fox and the Hound uses this style a few times, but this is the one scene in which it bothers me, because of what the scene is about. Big Mama explains to Tod that his best friend might kill him one day – in an upbeat rhyme. Again, this is about explaining a little fox what hunting dogs do to him and his family, and they decided to use an upbeat rhyme for the scene. What, did they think that they had to soften the blow for the younger audience this way? Wouldn’t be surprised if that was the reason, in any case though, this big nothing of a song is completely ill-fitting.

4. Perfect isn’t Easy

Has there ever been a more prophetic title? So far I have talked about songs which ruin the mood for one reason or another. But, for all the criticism I piled on the songs so far, I can’t bring myself to really dislike them. Being slightly annoyed by them, yes, feeling resentment towards them, yes, being bored by them, yes, but not true dislike. But I admit, I really, rally don’t care for the soundtrack of Oliver and Company. It just oozes the 1980s, making the whole movie incredible dated. But at least most songs have a catchy tune and actually add to the story, which rescued them from turning up on this list. “Perfect isn’t easy” though is just another case of a time filler with very little in substance. Which would be okay if the song were at least fun to watch. Considering the talent involved, I really, really tried to like it, but no, I can’t. There is something about Bette Middler’s performance which just hurts my ears.
What put this one so high on the list, though, is the content of the song. There is something really screwed up about the character of Georgette for the whole movie, and this song is just one example of it. It basically praises the virtue of confidence and spending a lot of time in improving your appearance. Which is really not a message I would want to send my child. Granted, Georgette is an antagonist for most of the movie but the song itself still plays it pretty straight – Georgette gets the attention she wants – and at no point her self-obsessed ways are portrayed as problematic. She is perfectly happy with being the object of desire for many. But I am not happy with hearing her screech about it.

3. A guy like you

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is infamous for its switching moods and ill-advised use of the Gargoyles as comic relief. But that’s not what landed this song so high on the list. It’s it relentless undercutting of the theme of the movie. I get the intention: The idea is that Quasimodo’s look is unique and therefore should be appreciated. But that is not really what the song brings across. It looks more like the Gargoyles are lying to Quasimodo to make him feel better about being “shaped like a croissant”. And isn’t the point of the movie that yes, Quasimodo is misshaped, but that this doesn’t mean that he should be closed off from society? That there is a need to look behind his, well, ugliness? Plus, the pedestrian nature of the song itself really doesn’t match the epic tunes of the “Belles of Notre Dome” or “God save the outcasts”. It sounds like it wandered in from one of the better Disney cheapquels.

2. Good Company

This song is so bad makes me think that the 1980s style music they used for the rest of Oliver and Company is actually a blessing. Remember what I said about “Scales and Arpeggios” being completely appropriate for the scene it was used for in Aristocats? Yeah, “Good Company” goes for the same vibe of the kind of music a child would play on the piano, but it is too simplistic even for this setting. The kicker is the text, though. It’s basically “You and me will be together in good company” put in verses and then repeated with slight variations three times. That’s it. No wonder they needed the help of Howard Ashman to finish the soundtrack of the movie if THAT is the kind of texts they had to deal with up to this point. There is charmingly understated and insultingly simplistic. This is clearly the latter.

1. Fixer Upper

Well, this might not be a surprised for those who know me a little bit. I have ranted about how much I hate, hate, hate “Fixer Upper” multiple times. It scores high (or low) on every single criterium. The soundtrack of Frozen in general sounds like it is from at least three different movies, but “Fixer Upper” sounds like it is not from a movie at all, but from a particularly grating school performance. If you listen to the song out of context (just the idea of having to do that lead to me nearly scrapping the article), the idea that you can shape a man to the ideal partner just by investing enough time in “fixing” him is just misguided. I know that the song is based on the personal experience of the song writers, but while being in love and saying to your friends “yeah, he is my fixer upper” is still kind of cute, telling someone else that you can improve a man by just investing enough time into him is just not a good message.  And yes, I know that what is meant in the song is most likely that ideally we improve each other while being in a relationship, but that is not what comes across.

So, the song is annoying, the text not half as clever as the song writer apparently thinks (which seems to be a pattern with Frozen songs), the message poisonous – this song is already a strong contender for this list before I even get to its placement in the movie. So, Anna is in the process of dying, Kristof has brought her to the Trolls in order to get help and in that situation they start to sing about her starting a relationship with Kristof? And if all this isn’t bad enough already, when they learn that Anna is already engaged, they basically ignore it and then try to forcible marrying those two. Just…what were the directors thinking?

Yes, Hans turns out to be the villain of the movie eventually, but the Trolls can’t know that. Even the audience isn’t supposed to know that at this point. But in any case, the Trolls just ignore any notion of consent, going so far to nearly forcible marry Anna and Kristof. In the end, a song which is already terrible in itself ticks off all boxes and actively makes the movie even worse. It makes the Trolls unlikable, breaks the tension of the moment, and even manages to undermine the themes of the movie. Remember, the whole “you shouldn’t marry a guy you just meet” thing? That is exactly what the Trolls are advocating here, robbing Anna of any agency whatsoever (not that she had much to begin with, but that is a rant for another day).


And those are my least favourite Disney songs. Sorry for not including any samples, but I kind of don’t want to advertise any of those songs further. And sorry for the little bit of ranting in the end. To be honest, for all the complaining I did, my search for the worst Disney songs made me appreciate Disney even more. One would think that after so many movies, most of which being musicals, it would be pretty easy to find a couple of duds, but nope, Disney’s musical output is just as strong as its animation. More often than not it pushes a scene and the animation in it to an even higher level. Animation and music tend to compliment and elevate each other, and I guess Walt Disney recognized this early on. Remember what the first sound Mickey uttered in Steamboat Willie is? Whistling. And this moment is still one of the most iconic ones in Disney and animation history. Now, decades later, it’s still often musical numbers which provide the most memorable scenes. May this never change.


Disney Tarot: The Lovers

Well, there was certainly no shortage of candidates to represent the card of The Lovers. But I actually settled pretty early on having Snow White and her Prince in the role. Hence the card ended up looking like this:

06-The-Lovers

Well, it is not perfect, because the original card is very intricate and I left out most of the symbols. For starters, there are three figures in it instead of just two, and there are other elements like a flaming tree, which is considered the tree of live in some readings, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

I admit, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the initial reason why my mind jumped to Snow White pretty much immediately. After all, her mistake was to take a bite of an apple, too. But there was more to it, than that. To me, the card of The Lovers is about love in its most innocent form, and who is more innocent than Snow White?

Upright the card can stand for true love, but also for an union or for a good choice. In reverse, it stands logically for bad choices, eventually made out of passion ( it can stand for infidelity) as well as attraction which is purely physical and doesn’t go past the surface. But I chose to believe that Snow White and her Prince lived happily ever after anyway.

Next in line is another card I renamed. The Traveller will take the place of The Chariot in my Tarot. So, until next week.

 


Disney Tarot: The Hierarchy

Or, to be a little bit more precise, the higher power. Yes, I renamed The Hierophant, too. To be frank, there was no card of the Major Arkana I had as much trouble with as with The Hierophant. In a way it would have been logical to put a character related to Pocahontas on it, since I picked her to symbolize the High Priestess/The Spirits, but I felt that John Smith is a terrible fit for this particular card. I considered the Shaman for a moment, since he is some kind of religious leader, too, but I didn’t think that he would represent the rigidity of the card. Finally, I ended up with this:

05-The-Power

See, I really wanted to transport the hierarchical aspect of the card.  In the Raider Waite Tarot three levels of power are displayed. The clergy, in itself a powerful body when the card was designed, is kneeling in front of the pope who in is supposed to represent the highest power of all, god, indicated by the way one of his hands points towards heaven. In the end, I recreated a similar situation from Cinderella: The Step Sisters, who have the absolute power over Cinderella bow in front of Prince Charming, who himself has to obey a higher power, his father.

When the card is upright, is is supposed to represent commitment, the continuation of tradition, conformity, the identification of a group with one principle, but also loving intentions. I think you can find all this in the situation at hand. The general acceptance of the authority of the royal family, the desire of the king to have grandchildren, and Prince Charming standing between those fractions, fulfilling his commitment, while also representing a power on his own. His father can force him to participate in the ball, he can’t force him to fall in love. He himself has a standing above the guests at the ball, who want his favour, and yet he also owes them to fulfil his role.

This plays also in the reverse reading of the card. Then it stands for restrictions, a commitment the reader doesn’t want, for outdated traditions someone needs to break out. We all know that next Prince Charming will break away from protocol in order to walk towards Cinderella. So if you get this card in reverse, it might be time for the reader to walk away from something, too.

Next week The Lovers are up. Three guesses which Disney Princess pair I picked for this particular card.

 


Disney Tarot: The Emperor

As much as The Empress is in a lot of ways a maternal authority figure, The Emperor is supposed to symbolize a patriarchal authority. Now, there are many fathers in Disney Canon, but only one case in which the relationship between father and daughter as a major plot point. Hence my take on The Emperor ended up looking like this:

04-The-Emperor

I felt that Triton was perfect to represent a strict but well-meaning ruler, whose beard hints at live experience and wisdom. I picked in this case a promo picture instead of one from the movie, because Triton’s gesture shows exactly the kind of strict but paternal authority I was going for. The swirls on top of the throne are reminiscent to the rams which adore the one in the original card.

I added the trident to replace the Ank and the orb as an ancient symbol of power and I kept the background empty, because in the original card, there are only barren mountains, and I felt an empty sea would work just as well. I think the end result expresses exactly powerful but reliable influence the card stands for. This is also Triton’s role in the movie itself, someone who will jump in for his daughter to protect from the consequences of her actions no matter what she has done.

But the reverse meaning of the card is also reflected Triton’s character arc. Depending on position and reading, the card can stand for a controlling influence becoming too restricting – like Triton does by trying to keep Ariel under the sea at all cost – but also for a lack of a stabilizing influence. It might sound strange to say that Triton is both too restrictive and too absent, but if you think about it, if he had supported Ariel, she would have never gone to Ursula in the first place.

Well, this card was actually pretty easy to put together for me. I had a clear picture of it in my mind from day one. The next one was more difficult, as you will see in one week.


Disney Tarot: The Empress

I admit, the main reason why I decided to add Brave to the Deck after all was this card. Because, who could be a better figure to represent The Empress than Queen Elinor? In her you have the connection between the power and the motherly aspect of the card. I made a few adjustments, though, partly due to the pictures I could choose from, partly because I wasn’t satisfied with having just a picture of Elinor sitting on her throne. So in the end I picked a picture which featured a throne-like stool in which Elinor sits and her crown to symbolize her high status, but which is a little bit less stiff than the pictures in which she sits in her actual throne.

 

03-The-Empress

Usually, there is a strong emphasis on nature and grown in The Empress card. Though the productive aspect is still there in the waved basked and the hand-made blanket, my take on the card focusses more on the notion of motherhood and history.

One aspect I was originally not quite happy about is that the card is supposed to be connected to water, but this one is illuminated by the shine of the fire. Water stands for feelings in the Tarot language, while fire is usually connected with the action someone takes. But then I felt that the feeling aspect is already shown in the way Elinor holds Merida. Combined with the warm shine of the fire it gives the picture a sense of protective motherhood, meaning action taken out of feelings, which makes the card a little bit more dynamic by suggesting more agency for The Empress.

Another detail I like is that Elinor and Merida are both literally covered in the history of their ancestors, symbolizing the family line and the stories which shaped their view on the world. But if you read the card in reverse this history is a burden. It shows someone being so dedicated to the expectations placed on her (or him, but since we are talking about Elinor, let’s stick with “her”) that she effectively trapped herself. It’s an indicator to think about your own desires for once and to reconsider if there might be responsibilities one can let go of.

I think after this it is easy to figure out who I picked for The Emperor. But feel free to guess.  Until next week.