Tag Archives: Howard Ashman

Beauty and the Beast: Ashmann at his Best

Well, a long, long time ago I promised that I would take a closer look at the soundtrack of Beauty and the Beast. It took way longer than expected, partly because of other projects, partly because this turned into a monster of an article.

After all, I mentioned multiple times during my December reviews how well-done the music in it is. I consider it the best of all Disney movie soundtracks, and not just because every piece of music in it is a potential ear-worm. No, I mainly think that way because every single song adds to the story of the movie. So, let’s go through this movie step by step.

We start out with the prologue, which pretty much replaces the Introduction-Song.  The text is narrated over a score piece which from this moment onward stands for “the Beast’s Castle”. This is a very economic way to start the movie because now we know the basics – and we already know what the role of Belle will be in this story. The moment the narrator asks who would be able to love a Beast, the camera pans to Belle. Well, question answered. If it ever was a question in the first place. This movie doesn’t even pretend as if there is much of a doubt what the story will be about, but that is not really what makes the movie work, is it? It is more about the journey than the outcome.

But first we have to get to know the protagonist of the story. I already mentioned the song “Belle” when I talked about “I want”-Songs. Thus said, the “I want”-message is actually just one aspect of the song, which also accomplishes to introduce all the important villagers and the Setting along with Belle. But let’s examine the song step by step this time around.

Belle
Little town, it’s a quiet village

Every day like the one before
Little town, full of little people
Waking up to say

Townfolks
Bonjour! (5x)

“Little” is a word which is in itself a neutral observation. Depending on the perspective, it can be a good or a bad thing. But here the “little town” and “quiet village” is also described like a place, where nothing changes. And as soon as “little” is used in connection with “people”, there is no doubt any longer. “Little people” suggests narrow-minded people, set in their own ways. Something which is underlined even further in the next lines:

Belle
There goes the baker with his tray, like always
The same old bread and rolls to sell
Every morning just the same
Since the morning that we came
To this poor provincial town

In the last two lines are two important information. For one, Belle’s family is not from this town. And two, despite smiling and making the best of the situation, she does not like living in it. The following exchange shows why:

(Speaking segment)
Baker: Good Morning, Belle!
Belle: Good morning, Monsieur.
Baker: And where are you off to?
Belle: The bookshop. I just finished the most wonderful story. About a beanstalk and an ogre and a –
Baker: That’s nice. Marie! The baguettes! Hurry up!
(End speaking segment)

So, what just happened here? Well, here is Belle trying to find a common level with the Baker. She wants to have a conversation with him, but the only reason he talked to her at all is out of politeness. The baker doesn’t really care what Belle does, and she takes it with a shrug which shows that she is used to it.

Townsfolk
Look there she goes, that girl is strange, no question
Dazed and distracted, can’t you tell?
Woman: Never part of any crowd
Man: Cause her head’s up on some cloud
Townsfolk: No denying she’s a funny girl that Belle

We now get the counterpoint to Belle’s point of view. While she sees the townspeople as narrow-minded, they see her as strange because she just doesn’t behave the way they expect her to behave.

Man: Bonjour!
Woman: Good day!
Man: How is your fam’ly?
Woman 2: Bonjour!
Man 2 : Good day!
Woman 2 : How is your wife?
Woman 3 : I need six eggs!
Man 3: That’s too expensive!
Belle: There must be more than this provincial life!

There is it again, the little word which pretty much defines the early 1990s princesses, “more”. Ariel famously wanted more than just having a number of trinkets, Belle wants more than spending her life in this boring little town where she can’t talk to anyone. Well, with one exception.

(Speaking segment)
Bookstore owner: Ah! Belle!
Belle: Good morning, I’ve come to return the book I borrowed.
Bookstore owner: Finished already?
Belle: Oh, I couldn’t put it down! Have you got anything new?
Bookstore owner: Not since yesterday.
Belle: That’s alright. I’ll borrow… this one.
Bookstore owner: That one? But you’ve read it twice!
Belle: It’s my favorite. Far-off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise…
Bookstore owner: If you like it all that much, it’s yours.
Belle: But sir…
Bookstore owner: I insist.
Belle: Well, thank you! Thank you very much!
(End speaking segment)

This dialogue is a stark contrast to her talk with the baker. Without it, Belle could easily come off as arrogant, but here it is shown that a lot of the rift between her and the townsfolk is simply caused by two different world views. Once Belle encounters someone who doesn’t treat her thirst for reading with disregard, the result is a friendly conversation (and notably, the book shop owner doesn’t turn up again, suggesting that he is just as much the odd one out as Belle is). It also tells us a lot about Belle’s preferences. She obviously reads everything she gets her hands on, but for repeated reading she likes fairy tales.

Townsfolk
Look there she goes, that girl is so peculiar
I wonder if she’s feeling well
With a dreamy, far-off look
And her nose stuck in a book
What a puzzle to the rest of us is Belle

This part more or less confirms Belle’s opinion of the town people. For them, everything which is different is not something new to experience, it is something they don’t understand and don’t want to understand either. Instead Belle’s behaviour is treated like an illness. Belle might have trouble to relate to the villagers, but she is content with letting them be. The villagers on the other hand want Belle to be “normal” – whatever that means.

Belle
Oh, isn’t this amazing?
It’s my favorite part because you’ll see
Here’s where she meets Prince Charming
But she won’t discover that it’s him ’til chapter three!

Romance isn’t a strong aspect in Belle’s desires. In fact, she barely talks about it at all. But here she reveals that for all her talk about seeing the world, she also dreams of finding love on a certain level. This becomes important later on when she encounters Gaston, because the audience knows that Belle is not against the notion of romance in itself, but simply not interested in Gaston in particular.

Woman
Now it’s no wonder that her name means “Beauty”
Her looks have got no parallel

Shopkeeper
But behind that fair façade
I’m afraid she’s rather odd
Very diff’rent from the rest of us

Townsfolk
She’s nothing like the rest of us
Yes, diff’rent from the rest of us is Belle!

And there it is, the whole point of everything the townspeople said beforehand. Belle is different than they are, so she is effectively not someone who fits into their circle. With this notion, the song taps into a feeling nearly each of us has experienced at one point, the feeling of not fitting in, being shunned by a group of people on the grounds of being (supposedly) different. This is the reason why Belle is so relatable from the get go. Even if we are not book fanatics, the feeling to be an outsider is familiar to most of us. And for most woman, the experience of being judged based on our looks instead of our brains is just as common.

(Speaking segment)
LeFou: Wow! You didn’t miss a shot, Gaston!
You’re the greatest hunter in the whole world!
Gaston: I know.
LeFou: No beast alive stands a chance against you – And no girl, for that matter
Gaston: It’s true, LeFou. And I’ve got my sight set on that one.
LeFou: The inventor’s daughter?
Gaston: She’s the one, the lucky girl
I’m going to marry.
LeFou: But she –
Gaston: The most beautiful girl in town.
LeFou: I know, but –
Gaston: That makes her the best. And don’t I deserve the best?
LeFou: But of course! I mean, you do! But I –
(End speaking segment)

And here is the villain of the movie. And there is no doubt that he will be that from the get go. The first thing we learn about Gaston is that he is a passionate hunter of the sort who hunts more out of sport than out of need, the second that he is a womanizer. But he has already decided who he wants to marry: Belle. Not because he likes her, but because she is considered the most beautiful girl in town.

Gaston
Right from the moment when I met her, saw her
I said she’s gorgeous and I fell
Here in town there’s only she
Who is beautiful as me
So I’m making plans to woo and marry Belle

It is kind of interesting how this movie undermines the concept of love on first sight. Neither the Beast nor Belle fall in love with each other immediately. But Gaston claims that he did. And yet it is immediately clear that the only person he is really in love with is himself – underlined by the way he looks into every reflecting surface he encounters, even while singing about Belle.

Bimbettes :
Look there he goes
Isn’t he dreamy?
Monsieur Gaston
Oh he’s so cute!
Be still my heart
I’m hardly breathing
He’s such a tall, dark, strong and handsome brute!

Here is a question: Why is Belle considered the most beautiful girl in town? The Bimbettes are everything we usually would consider desirable, blond, curvy and ready to do everything for Gaston. But they are also portrayed from the get go as interchangeable. Unlike Belle, they don’t have character. At the same time it shows how meaningless the concept of beauty actually is. Belle is apparently considered beautiful but while the villagers think that she is a beauty despite her being different, the movie suggests that it is exactly her being different which is the source of her perceived beauty.

Woman 1: Bonjour!
Gaston: Pardon
Belle: Good day
Woman 2: Mais oui!
Woman 3: You call this bacon?
Woman 4: What lovely grapes!
Man 1: Some cheese
Woman 5: Ten yards!
Man 1: ‘one pound
Gaston: Excuse me! Please let me through!
Cheese merchant: I’ll get the knife
Woman 6: This bread –
Woman 7: Those fish –
Woman 6: it’s stale!
Woman 7: they smell!
Men: Madame’s mistaken.
Women: Well, maybe so
Townsfolk: Good morning! Oh, good morning!

Belle: There must be more than this provincial life!

Gaston: Just watch, I’m going to make Belle my wife!

Notice how the desires of the characters run across each others? There are the townspeople, who are focussed on their everyday tasks and don’t want any change from the status quo, then there is Belle, who wants to leave the village and finally Gaston who wants to marry Belle. Everything is laid out for the future conflict, before the townspeople summon up one last time Belle as a character – or should I say, as an outsider:

 

Townsfolk
Look there she goes
The girl is strange, but special
A most peculiar mad’moiselle!

Women: It’s a pity and a sin
Men: She doesn’t quite fit in

Townsfolk
Cause she really is a funny girl
A beauty but a funny girl
She really is a funny girl
That Belle!

Bonjour! (5x)

Man
Bonjour

Remember, after the prologue, this is the first song in the movie, played during the first sequences. Which makes the Bonjour an implicit invitation to the audience. As I mentioned before, this song is more than just an “I want-song”, way more. It introduces the heroine, the villains (yes, plural, I will explain that one later), the central conflict and it welcomes the audience into the story. One really can’t overstate how important the song is for the narrative of the movie. It is a little bit less powerful during the reprise:

Belle: Is he gone? Can you imagine? He asked me to marry him! Me, the wife of that boorish, brainless …

Madame Gaston,
Can’t you just see it?
Madame Gaston,
His little wife.

No, sir!
Not me!
I guarantee it,
I want much more than this provincial life!

I want adventure in the great wide somewhere,
I want it more than I can tell!
And for once it might be grand,
To have someone understand.
I want so much more than they’ve got planned…

It’s not a problem, but as far as reprises go, this one is mostly a repeat of what the audience already knows, except for one line in which Belle adds that she wants someone who understands her. It is this one line which justifies the reprise, because it reveals a disconnect between what Belle thinks she wants and what actually hides behind her wants. For all her talk about going somewhere else and experiencing adventures, what Belle is really looking for is a place to fit in. Similar Gaston’s song explores his motivations even further, but also reveals a lot about the villagers.

Le Fou: Gosh it disturbs me to see you, Gaston
Looking so down in the dumps
Every guy here’d love to be you, Gaston
Even when taking your lumps
There’s no man in town as admired as you
You’re everyone’s favorite guy
Everyone’s awed and inspired by you
And it’s not very hard to see why!

As much as Belle’s song explores her relationship to the villagers, Gaston’s song explores his relationship with them. It is mostly a continuation of what the audience has already seen until that point, but the song emphasis now that Gaston isn’t just popular, he is pretty much the unofficial leader of the town, admired mostly for his masculinity.

No one’s slick as Gaston
No one’s quick as Gaston
No one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Gaston’s
For there’s no man in town half as manly!
Perfect, a pure paragon!
You can ask any Tom, Dick or Stanley
And they’ll tell you whose team they prefer to be on!

As much as Belle is seen as an outsider for not following gender roles by reading and having an opinion, Gaston is cheered on for following the gender roles. He is big, he is brutish, he is what every male wants to be.

LeFou and Chorus: No one’s been like Gaston
A king pin like Gaston
LeFou: No one’s got a swell cleft in his chin like Gaston
Gaston: As a specimen, yes, I’m intimidating!
LeFou and Chorus: My what a guy, that Gaston!
Give five “hurrahs!” Give twelve “hip-hips!”
LeFou: Gaston is the best and the rest is all drips!

Chorus: No one fights like Gaston
Douses lights like Gaston
In a wrestling match nobody bites like Gaston!
Bimbettes: For there’s no one as burly and brawny
Gaston: As you see, I’ve got biceps to spare
LeFou: Not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny.
Gaston: That’s right!
And every last inch of me’s covered with hair!

Notable none of the “virtues” the villagers list have anything to do with Gaston’s character, they are all about his strength, his good looks, his supposedly manly behaviour. In a way the villagers treat him exactly like Belle, by judging him by his looks alone, except that Gaston bask in it and in his own perceived importance while Belle doesn’t care.

Chorus: No one hits like Gaston
Matches wits like Gaston
LeFou: In a spitting match nobody spits like Gaston
Gaston: I’m especially good at expectorating! Ptoooie!
Chorus: Ten points for Gaston!

The line about Gaston being witty is in this case not meant to be taken seriously. This is the only time during the song that Gaston is not able to demonstrate to be able to do what the villagers are singing about. But when he is supposed to match his wits, he is loosing in checkers and reacting like a little child by throwing the game pieces through the room, demonstrating that the villagers don’t care if something doesn’t fit in the picture they have of him.

Gaston: When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs
Ev’ry morning to help me get large
And now that I’m grown I eat five dozen eggs
So I’m roughly the size of a barge!

Chorus: No one shoots like Gaston
Makes those beauts like Gaston
LeFou: Then goes tromping around
Wearing boots like Gaston!
Gaston: I use antlers in all of my decorating!
Chorus: My what a guy!
GASTON!

The soundtrack version is a few lines longer, but in the movie the song ends on a last reminder of Gaston’s willingness to kill and the admiration he gets for this from the villagers.

Gaston: LeFou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking
LeFou: A dangerous pastime
Gaston: I know,
But that wacky old cod is Belle’s father
And his sanity’s only so-so
Now the wheels in my head have been turning
Since I looked at that loony old man
See, I promised myself I’d be married to Belle
And right now I’m evolving a plan!
(speaking) If I… *whispering*
LeFou: Yes?
Gaston: Then we… *whispering*
LeFou: No, would she?
Gaston: *whispering* Guess!
LeFou: Now I get it!
Gaston and LeFou: Let’s go!
No one plots like Gaston
Gaston: Takes cheap shots like Gaston
LeFou: Plans to persecute harmless crackpots like Gaston!
Chorus: So his marriage we soon will be celebrating
My what a guy
Gaston!

What is really notable is how anti-intellectual those lines are. Gaston is a braggart but the notion that he might not be a big thinker doesn’t bother him at all. In fact, he seems to be proud of it.

But naturally the function of the song is also to create suspense. Up to this point Gaston has been annoying and intrusive, but he hasn’t done anything visible harmful either. This is the point in which he slips from being a brute to becoming a criminal. The audience doesn’t know yet what he has planned exactly, but just the knowledge that he intends to pressure Belle into marrying him pushes him firmly over the line on which he danced up to this point.

Up to this point, all of the songs in Beauty and the Beast have been quite dense with information. The characters, the environment, important plot points, they all have more than one function. “Be our Guest” is a little bit different, struggling the line between a side-kick song and pure filler. I won’t analyse every single line for this one, because most of the text just serves as a backdrop for a Disney Acid sentences. The visuals, and not the words are supposed to be in the foreground. But there is one sequence in which visuals take a small pause, so to speak, giving Lumière the centre stage: 

Lumière:
Life is so unnerving
For a servant who’s not serving
He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon
Ah, those good old days when we were useful
Suddenly those good old days are gone

Ten years we’ve been rusting
Needing so much more than dusting
Needing exercise, a chance to use our skills!
Most days we just lay around the castle
Flabby, fat and lazy
You walked in, and oops-a-daisy!

 

There isn’t really that much focus in the movie on what the curse means for the servant. If “Human Again” had made it into the original cut they would have had their own song about their plight, but honestly, I don’t think that it is needed. It is not really their story after all, and there are just enough moments of them looking sad about their fate or excited about the prospect of Belle lifting the curse for the audience to be aware that this isn’t just about the Beast. It is still good that Ashmann uses a moment in “Be our Guest” to shine a light on how trapped the servants are in the castle.

Not so good is the line “Ten years we’ve been rusting”, because if you do the maths, the Beast was eleven when he got cursed. Not only is that a horrifying thought, the picture the Beast destroys shows a young adult, not a child. This could have been easily be solved with a more vague “for years we’ve been rusting”.

Speaking of the timeline, this is one of the weaknesses of Beauty and the Beast. The movie starts with sunny days and reasonable green trees and then, within a few scenes, it is suddenly winter. Watching the movie it feels as if Belle and the Beast spend a lot of time with each other when, if you really think about it, it can’t be more than roughly three days. But the reason why it feels this way is “Something there”, a song, which is half a love song and plays half like a montage song, even if there isn’t much of a time jump happening during it:

Belle:
There’s something sweet
And almost kind
But he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined
But now he’s dear, and so unsure
I wonder why I didn’t see it there before

Beast:
She glanced this way
I thought I saw
And when we touched she didn’t shudder at my paw
No it can’t be, I’ll just ignore
But then she’s never looked at me that way before

 

Listening to this song it suggests a slow change in the relationship between Belle and the Beast, when in reality, he just rescued her from the wolves one day before. What we actually see is a major development, with Belle suddenly seeing a more likable side to the Beast, while the Beast is starting to hope that she might, just might, be able to look past his monstrous looks.

Belle:
New and a bit alarming
Who’d have ever thought that this could be?
True that he’s no Prince Charming
But there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see

I have to compliment this song for being pretty short overall. There isn’t much more which needs to be said about the change in the relationship between Belle and the Beast. Most of it is instead shown, in Belle and the Beast finding a middle ground during breakfast, in the Beast acting gentle and polite and Belle reacting positive to the change in him. Again, this is an important point in this movie: Belle does not go and try to change the Beast, but once the Beast changes on its own, Belle reacts positively to the change. And the song finds a perfect balance between bringing across the point while avoiding overexplaining it. Instead it relies on the images in a perfect example of show, don’t tell.

Lumière:
Well, who’d have thought?
Mrs. Potts:
Well, bless my soul
Cogsworth:
Well, who’d have known?
Mrs. Potts:
Well, who indeed?
Lumière:
And who’d have guessed they’d come together on their own?
Mrs. Potts:
It’s so peculiar.
Lumière, Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth:
We’ll wait and see, a few days more
There may be something there that wasn’t there before
Cogsworth:
Perhaps there’s something there
That wasn’t there before
Mrs. Potts:
There may be something there that wasn’t there before

This is another of those moments in which the audience is subtly reminded what is at stake here, not just the Beast but the fate of everyone living in the castle. This is put across again when the Beast prepares himself for the evening with Belle and everyone does his best to prepare him. The ballroom scene is easily the most remembered moment of the movie. Partly because of the way it was animated, taking full advantage of CAPS. But the song is also basically a summary of what the whole movie is about.

Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
Unexpectedly

Well, Ashman is fibbing a little bit here, because Belle and the Beast hardly started out as friends. But the song is not necessarily just about this particular romance, it is about romance in general, describing the moment when two people realize that they actually might have feelings for each other.

Just a little change
Small to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared
Beauty and the Beast

Again, Ashman conjures a whole scenario with just a few words. Two people, overly nervous, but subtly shifting towards each other. It doesn’t have to be what the audience sees on screen, those lines might tap into a personal memory exactly because they are focussing on feelings and not on a specific scenario.

Ever just the same
Ever a surprise
Ever as before
Ever just as sure
As the sun will rise

The constant repeat of “ever” is quite brilliant. It underlines subtly that it is a “tale of old as time” which will play out again and again in different variations.

Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong

The use of the words “tune” and “song” and later on “rhyme” is quite brilliant. It doesn’t just suggests that the story is as old as time, the song itself is expressing feelings which have been uttered by singers and poets in countless variations. But it also points to the one truths most of those songs would just skip: Relationships change you and in order for them to work, well, you sometimes have to take a good look at yourself.

Certain as the sun
Rising in the East
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the Beast

Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the Beast

This is the part of the song which is song again, this time by a chorus, at the end of the movie. That is pretty much a stable of Menken, he likes to go back to either the “I want”-song or the love song at the end of the movie as a kind of bookend – but then, this is a long-standing Disney tradition, too.  It is a good way to remind the audience that the dreams of the protagonists are now fulfilled one way or another.

But there is one song in-between I kind of skipped. The second Villain song of the movie, or the “Mob Song”.

Gaston: The Beast will make off with your children! He’ll come after them in the night!
Belle: No!
Gaston: We’re not safe ’til his head is mounted on my wall! I say we kill the Beast!
Mob: Kill him!

A reminder: Up to this point neither Gaston nor the villagers have even believed that the Beast existed. Meaning the villagers know perfectly well that Gaston knows as much about the Beast as they do, and that is nothing. And yet instead of listening to Belle, who describes the Beast as friendly, they jump immediately on Gaston’s claim that the Beast might kill their children. Never mind that none of their children have been attacked at all at this point and that there is no sign of an actual danger.

Man 1: We’re not safe until he’s dead
Man 2: He’ll come stalking us at night
Woman: Set to sacrifice our children to his monstrous appetite!
Man 3: He’ll wreak havoc on our village if we let him wander free
Gaston: So it’s time to take some action, boys
It’s time to follow me!

Not only do they readily believe Gaston’s words, they are adding their own fears to them. Again, fears which are completely overblown. And it begs the question: Who is actually the villain here.
Yes, I know, Gaston is the obvious answer. But remember, originally he was just some brute who was happy to be adored. Now he is ready to use his influence over the villagers to get rid of what he perceives as a rival (and a good trophy). But, and it bears repeating here, he doesn’t really trick the villagers in the common sense of the word. The villagers want to be tricked, and they want to be tricked by a person whose personality they helped to shape. They were the one who gave Gaston their adoration, and they were the one who encouraged him when he tried to spring a wedding on Belle (honestly, in what universe is that not an incredible intrusive idea?) and now they are egging him to go after the beast. That is why this movie has two villain songs: One for Gaston and one for the Mob.

Through the mist, through the woods
Through the darkness and the shadows
It’s a nightmare, but it’s one exciting ride
Say a prayer, then we’re there
At the drawbridge of a castle
And there’s something truly terrible inside
It’s a beast!
He’s got fangs, razor sharp ones!
Massive paws, killer claws for the feast
Hear him roar! See him foam!
But we’re not coming home ’til he’s dead
Good and dead! Kill the Beast!

Two lines are pretty notable here: For one that the whole mission they are now on is “one exciting ride”. That is not the point of view of someone who goes into war, afraid of maybe dying. That’s what you might say after watching a horror movie or on a roller coaster. It clarifies that for all the colourful descriptions the villagers have for the Beast, they are actually not afraid of dying. They see this as a save little adventure – even if they do say a prayer beforehand. This is the second notable line, the subtly reminder that those are supposedly good god-fearing people. And yet they are now ready to murder someone basically because they don’t like the way he looks.

[Speech]
Belle: No! I won’t let you do this!
Gaston: If you’re not with us, you’re against us. Bring the old man!
Maurice: Get your hands off me!
Gaston: We can’t have them running off to warn the creature!
Belle: Let us out!
Gaston: We’ll rid the village of this Beast! Who’s with me?
Male Mob Member #1: I am!
Male Mob Member #2: I am!
Male Mob Member #3: I am!

“If you are not with us, you’re against us.” is maybe the most polarizing statement in politics. Mussolini pretty much said exactly that phrase, but he is hardly the only one who used it. From Cicero over Bush up to Erdogan, variations of it are pretty common, though the phrase is particularly popular with dictators and during war time. It’s a phrase designed to shut down every possible opposition. The use here is pretty callous, but exactly that makes it so chilling.

Mob: Light your torch!
Mount your horse!
Gaston: Screw your courage to the sticking place!
Mob: We’re counting on Gaston to lead the way!
Through a mist, through a wood
Where within a haunted castle
Something’s lurking that you don’t see ev’ry day!
It’s a beast!
One as tall as a mountain
We won’t rest ’til he’s good and deceased
Sally forth!
Tally ho!
Grab your sword!
Grab your bow!
Praise the Lord and here we go!
Gaston: We’ll lay siege to the castle and bring back his head!

“Screw your courage to the sticking place” is actually a quote from McBeth. And no, I have no idea what the sticking place actually is, even Shakespeare scholars are not sure about it. The point is that there is no room for fear or hesitation in this battle. And the villagers are completely satisfied with the notion, though naturally Gaston has to lead the way because, let’s be blunt here, they are cowards and want him to do the dirty work while they can later on bask in the glory of his actions. Oh, and there is a second reference to religion, just in case the first one was too subtle.

[Speech]
Belle: I have to warn the Beast. Oh, this is all my fault. Oh, Papa, what are we going to do?
Maurice: Now, now, we’ll think of something.

Mob: We don’t like
What we don’t understand
In fact it scares us
And this monster is mysterious at least
Bring your guns!
Bring your knives!
Save your children and your wives
We’ll save our village and our lives
We’ll kill the Beast!

Notice something? In “Belle” or “Gaston” everyone was singing to the same tune, so to speak, even if they were presenting opposite points of view. But here the lines are clearly drawn: Only the villagers and Gaston sing. Belle and her father, they only have speaking parts in the song. Because they are distinctively not in tune with people who would kill out of wilful ignorance. The villagers don’t understand the Beast but just like they didn’t want to connect with Belle, they don’t want to solve the mystery of the Beast either. They just want to get rid of it.

[Speech]
(Cut to Beast’s castle)
Cogsworth: I knew it. I knew it was foolish to get our hopes up.
Lumiere: Maybe it would have been better if she had never come at all.
(Sultan barking)
Lumiere: Could it be?
Mrs. Potts: Is it she?
Lumiere: Sacre Bleu! Invaders!
Cogsworth: Encroachers!
Mrs. Potts: And they have the mirror!
Cogsworth: Warn the master. If it’s a fight they want, we’ll be ready for them. Who’s with me? (Door slams) Hey!
(Outside)
Gaston: Take whatever booty you can find. But remember, the Beast is mine!

And another hint that the outrage of the villagers has nothing to do with heroics and only a little with genuine fear. I mean, why even be there, if Gaston wants to kill the Beast on his own anyway? Oh, yeah, to witness it and fill your own pockets while you are at it. After all hating someone doesn’t mean that you can’t profiteer of him, right?

Castleware: Hearts ablaze
Banners high
We go marching into battle
Unafraid although the danger just increased
Mob: Raise your flag!
Sing the song!
Here we come, we’re fifty strong
And fifty Frenchmen can’t be wrong
Let’s kill the Beast!

Now the inhabitants of the castle are starting to match the tone of the villagers, which indicates the upcoming escalation of the conflict. Their perspective is very different, though. While the villagers sing about them being strong in numbers, they sing about danger they have to face.

[Speech]
Mrs. Potts: Pardon me, master.
Beast: Leave me in peace.
Mrs. Potts: But sir, the castle is under attack!

Mob: Kill the Beast!
Kill the Beast!

[Speech]
Lumiere: This isn’t working!
Fifi: Oh, Lumiere. We must do something.
Lumiere: Wait, I Know!

Mob: Kill the Beast!
Kill the Beast!

[Speech]
Mrs. Potts: What shall we do, master?
Beast: It doesn’t matter now. Just let them come.

Mob: Kill the Beast!
Kill the Beast!
Kill the Beast!

Note how the song ends in a screaming of a slogan. It ramps the emotions up for the big finale fight. But, even more important, during the song everything has been set up for it. It establishes where every relevant person in the movie is and what he or she will most do during the climax. Just in terms of function and meaning, the “Mob song” might actually be the best one in the movie, only rivalled by “Belle” in how much it pushes the plot forward while also carrying a message which goes past the love story.

So far I have only alluded to it, but what the movie actually portrays is the sources and the effect hateful propaganda. Replace the Beast with “Mexican Rapist” and you have exactly the same dynamic portrayed in the movie. It is the same kind of fear mongering and the same kind of hatred people indulge in without having to actually confront the so called danger themselves. And is there really much of a difference between “Kill the Beast” and “Lock her up”? Simple phrases to create an “us vs them” feeling.

And it shows how much the environment impacts the individual. The prince was uncaring because he got spoiled by servants unable to stand up to him and so he finally became on the outside the Beast he was at the inside. Meanwhile Gaston got more and more beastly because he grew up in a society in which his toxic behaviour was encouraged. Towards the end of the movie the Beast no longer looks threatening since he found his humanity in his feelings for Belle. But Gaston looks more and more beastly since he lost his humanity in his obsession for Belle.

There are a lot of things which make Beauty and the Beast special. The ground-breaking animation, the catchy soundtrack, the artistic elements, all this plays into it. But what really makes it stand out are the different layers it has, most of which are baked right in the song texts. You can watch it as a simple fairy tale, but once you really consider the juxtaposition between Gaston and the Beast and the role the villagers play in the movie, there is something topical about it which sadly is always relevant. It’s a tale as old as time in more than one sense.

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The Swanpride Award: 1991-1992

 

Taken into consideration:

An American Tail: Feivel goes West (1991), Amblin, Traditional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

Only Yesterday (1991), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

Aladdin (1992), Disney, Traditional

Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992), Kroyer/Fox, Traditional

Well, this is fairly easy. An American Tail: Feivel goes West is better than one would expect from a sequel but it is more serviceable than good. And while Ferngully: The Last Rainforest is not the worst movie I have ever seen and it does have its fanbase, but, yeah, I wouldn’t consider it particularly good either. Which leaves three movies for the nomination list (btw, I really love the new style Disney picked for their posters in the 1990s).

Nominees-1991-and-1992

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

Only Yesterday (1991), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

Aladdin (1992), Disney, Traditional

Well, I guess we know which movie would have won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film if it hadn’t existed back then. But let’s examine the three movies nevertheless.

  • The Story: Okay, we have two fairy tale adaptations by Disney in the mix. Both allow themselves a reinterpretation of the source text. Beauty and the Beast delves really deep in the themes of outer beauty vs inner beauty, just like the original tale did, but the Disney version does manage to comment stronger on it by putting Gaston into contrast with the Beast. The initially terrifying looking Beast becomes better looking the more he acts like a human. The admired Gaston turns step by step into a monster. This structure gives the story additional depth.The “You shouldn’t lie” story in Aladdin doesn’t work quite as well, nor does the contrived plot. I will be frank: It always frustrated me that every person in Agrabah is apparently face blind. How is it possible that neither Jafar nor Jasmine recognize Aladdin immediately? And when Jasmine eventually does, why doesn’t she ask herself why Jafar lied to her about killing Aladdin? And those are only the two more obvious questionable plot points I have to overlook while watching the movie (and some more minor ones I rather don’t want to think about it…I mean, what happens to all the dancers when Genie’s spell ends? Did he create them? Do they know what they are?).  It is also less timeless than the usual Disney movie, because it is full of pop cultural references.

    Only Yesterday is a totally different movie. But also one which frustrates me. I actually like the idea to write a story about a woman travelling to the country and remembering her childhood. It’s not a terrible exiting plot, but it doesn’t have to be. I like the laid back and nostalgic feel about the set-up, I like most of the memories, even though I have the feeling that I am missing some details which would be a given for a Japanese. But whenever I become immersed in the movie, it starts to preach. Relentlessly. It is not as if I necessarily disagree about the points which are made or that I think that the problems which get addressed aren’t important. But the movie has the subtlety of a brick. I really hate it when movies talk down to the audience.

 

  • The Characters: How can you not love the characters of the Beauty and the Beast? Belle is one of the most popular princesses for a reason (and yes, one day I will write an article about her to explain in detail why this is the case) and I already pointed out how cleverly the Beast and Gaston are used. But it would be amiss not to point out the colourful side-characters. Plus, I love Angela Lansbury in every shape, even as a teapot.Aladdin…well, Aladdin has Robin Williams in one of his most famous performances. He makes the movie as popular as it is. The other characters are good, but not great, and yes, that includes the villain. I know that Jafar is very popular but to me he always looks like a less threating copy of Maleficent. The way he plays around with his staff a variation of her gestures. She turns into a dragon, he turns into a snake. The parallels are too many and too obvious for me to overlook.

    The characters in Only Yesterday are very…normal. There is no more fitting way to describe them. Those aren’t characters which go on big adventures, but the kind of people we meet in our everyday life, flawed but also were likable. The main character is perhaps a little bit too introspective for my taste. Or, to be precise, I don’t mind that she spends all he day remembering her childhood, but it is a little bit odd how she shares those stories with more or less everyone, and everyone acts as if she had just told them the most compelling story ever. It makes a little bit sense in terms of the romance, but in general, well, let’s put it this way: are you excited when someone really wants to show you his vacation pictures?

 

  • The Music: I said it before but it bears repeating: Menken’s best work are the soundtracks he created together with Howard Ashman. Who died before Beauty and the Beast was released in theatres. While he worked on Aladdin too, Beauty and the Beast has the more thought out soundtrack overall. I would even go so far to say that it might be the best soundtrack of all the musical-style movies by Disney.Only Yesterday has a nice, laid-back soundtrack which fits the movie perfectly. Nothing which really stays with you, but not every soundtrack has to be that dominant. Sometimes a movie needs music which allows the story to breath.

 

  • The Animation: In this case it is Beauty and the Beast which frustrates me. Because the movie is nearly perfect, the animation in itself was ground-breaking back then but, well, it is full of snafus. Some smaller ones, but also a lot of bigger ones, too. For example, Gaston is apparently able to shoot arrows out of his riffle. It’s not something you would necessarily notice during the first watch, but if there is one fault with Beauty and the Beast than that the movie might have needed a little bit more time to smooth is out a little bit.Aladdin is a similar mixed bag. It is one of the few Disney movies which aged terrible. Some of the flying scenes are so obviously CGI that I keep wishing that they had waited with using the technology until it was perfected. But that is thankfully not the whole movie, but isolated scenes. In general, the animation is just as good as what Beauty and the Beast has to offer.

    Only Yesterday is less ambitious, but there is nothing to complain about in terms of animation. It’s fitting and undeniable beautiful.

Well, that was a nice exercise. But I don’t think that there was ever any doubt which one should win. It is easy to forget nowadays how acclaimed Beauty and the Beast was back then, and I think it deserved every bit of praise which was ever heaped on it. It might not be the best animated movie of the 20th century – that is a question I will ponder later – but it certainly does deserve a place on the shortlist.

 


The Little Mermaid: When Disney went Broadway

This will work a little bit different from my “By the Book series”. I won’t cover the story and the main characters because I usually do this whenever I pick a Fairy Tale for my Fairy Tale month over at Honoring the Heroine. And I won’t cover the animation because I feel that the animation of those movies tends to be the best Disney has to offer and deserves more than just being one chapter in a longer article. Instead I will concentrate on the music only. This will easily fill the article, especially when it comes to this particular movie.

The Little Mermaid is in more than just a good movie, it is a milestone in the history of Disney Animation, the movie which started the Disney Renaissance and lead Disney into a new era of success. An era of success which was mostly based on the use of music, following a concept by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.

Disney movies always had a close relationship with music. But the conceptual approch to it used to be very different. If you compare the movies which were created past 1989 with the ones which were created before, you might notice that the structures of the soundtrack is very different. Or, to be precise, the relationship between music and plot is different.

If you look at the early movies like Snow White, Dumbo aso, there is the unescapable truth that there are a lot of song sequences in there which are strictly speaking unnecessary. You can remove them from the story with no one being any wiser. In the Disney Romantic the use of the songs was a little bit more purposeful, but it often seems as if someone stood in front of the storyboard and said “here, here and here we need a song to elevate the scene”. And in the Impressionist Era, there are a lot of movies which have barely any songs at all. This changed when Alan Menken and Howard Ashman came on board.

If you happen to own the Platinum Edition of The Little Mermaid (it is worth every cent I paid for it, even though I mostly bought it because it had the German dubbing of the movie release in addition to the second dubbing which Disney did later on. I wish they would release multiple-dub versions of all their movies, I would buy every single one of them), you know that Howard Ashman did a lot of lunch lectures during his time at Disney. This Blu-ray has all the video material Disney owns from those lectures, and let me tell you, they are really, really interesting. This is what I learned by watching them:

  1. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were convinced that combining their ideas with an animated movie was a way to revive the musical as a genre (spoiler alert: They were right).
  2. Howard Ashman firmly believed that every song in a musical should add something to the story as a whole.

There is naturally more, but this is the main reason why Disney movies suddenly became so successful in the early 1990s and why most of those movies got stage adaptations later on. It makes sense to put them on stage because every Disney movie Menken was working on from The Little Mermaid onwards is basically an animated musical.

Let’s take a look at the various songs, starting with Fathoms below.

I’ll tell you a tale of the bottomless blue
And it’s hey to the starboard, heave ho
Look out, lad, a mermaid be waiting for you
In mysterious fathoms below

This is a pure Introduction Song and does exactly what such a song is supposed to do, setting the mood for the movie. The shanty-style melody immediately establishes a sense of the open sea, something which is underlined further in the dialogue. Interestingly this song is actually justified to a certain degree, though I guess usually the crew of a ship would leave the singing to their downtimes instead of wasting their energy during work. The song is also very economic. In just four lines it hints that the story will play under der sea and that a mermaid will star in it. And then it proceeds to mention Triton and the merpeople in general.

From whence wayward Westerlies blow
Where Triton is king and his merpeople sing
In mysterious fathoms below

Heave ho
Heave ho

Heave ho
Heave ho
Heave ho
In mysterious fathoms below

Originally this song was longer, but it got cut to avoid pacing issues. A good call, imho, especially since it suggested more knowledge about the merpeople than even sailors should have. As it is, this is one of the best starting sequence Disney has ever created. It starts with the ship which suddenly breaks out of the fog, lingers just long enough on the ship to introduce the main players in the story – meaning “the mermaid”, King Triton and Prince Eric – and then follows a fish down to the previously mentioned fathoms below, where the audience lands direction in a concert, and is treated to the second justified song of the movie, Daughters of Triton:

Ah, we are the daughters of Triton
Great father who loves us and named us well
Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Atina, Adella, Allana
And then there is the youngest in her musical debut
Our seventh little sister, we’re presenting her to you
To sing a song Sebastian wrote, her voice is like a bell
She’s our sister, Ariel

Let’s be honest here the text to this song is awful! It sounds like the kind of text someone would inflict to you during a birthday celebration or similar. But every bit of it’s awfulness is deliberate. Because that’s exactly what it is, a piece of self-celebration for Triton and Sebastian. It also serves as introduction to Ariel. The song is interrupted before her sisters can mention her name. Triton is the one who does it in anger, before the movie cuts to Ariel herself. At this point we have already gotten a pretty good idea of the world she lives in, we have met her family and we also already know that she is very unreliable. Next we learn that she also has no sense for danger. In short, she is a typical teenager. And we learn even more about her when she sings her “I want”-Song.

Look at this stuff
Isn’t it neat?
Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?
Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl
The girl who has everything?
Look at this trove
Treasures untold
How many wonders can one cavern hold?
Looking around here you’d think
Sure, she’s got everything
I’ve got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty
I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore
You want thingamabobs?
I’ve got twenty!
But who cares?
No big deal

Ariel-Same-Song-2 Ariel-Same-Song-3

Nowadays the “I want more”-line has become a tired cliché, but let’s not forget that this was the first time it was used. And it immediately set Ariel apart from the princesses, which came before her. They were satisfied with the options society was offering them. But not Ariel. She wants to pick her own path.

I wanna be where the people are
I wanna see, wanna see them dancin’
Walking around on those – what do you call ’em?
Oh – feet!

Flippin’ your fins, you don’t get too far
Legs are required for jumping, dancing
Strolling along down the – what’s that word again?
Street

Up where they walk, up where they run
Up where they stay all day in the sun
Wanderin’ free – wish I could be
Part of that world

The song has been building up to this one point, Ariel’s biggest wish put in one simple sentences. She wants to be part of that word, she doesn’t know yet. The true cleverness of the song is hidden in the next part, though.

What would I give if I could live out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand?
Bet’cha on land they understand
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters
Bright young women, sick of swimmin’
Ready to stand

Did you catch that? There are three important details in this part. For one, Ariel is already suggesting that she is ready to sacrifice something to fulfil her dream. Second, it is revealed that her wish is motivated by more than just a fascination of this foreign world, she also wants to escape from the rules her father sets for her. And third, in a clever use of the double meaning of worlds, she expresses her wish to stand (on her own feet). Ariel feels that she is ready to be an adult. The song does hint that she is at least partly wrong – after all, her ideas of what it means to be on land have a lot to do with her wishes and little with reality. She has truly no idea what awaits her up there (in translation, what it means to be an adult). But right there is the theme of the whole movie, which is the conflict between a young teenager lead by the misguided belief of invincibility and a father who, instead of leading his daughter to adulthood, wants to protect her by essentially keeping her as a child. A lot of this is subtext, but if you see “Standing on my feet” as “becoming an independent adult” and “Being on land” as “not being under my fathers rule anymore”, the movie suddenly becomes a commentary on the relationship between parents and teenagers.

And ready to know what the people know
Ask ’em my questions and get some answers
What’s a fire and why does it – what’s the word?
Burn?

Here the song underlines one last time how ill-prepared Ariel truly is to leave the sea. The likelihood that she will get burned is pretty high.

When’s it my turn?
Wouldn’t I love,
love to explore that shore up above?
Out of the sea
Wish I could be
Part of that world

Notably at this point of the movie, Ariel wants to be part of “that world”. It is only after she encounters Eric that her tune changes. In the reprise, she wants to be part of “your world”.

What would I give
To live where you are?
What would I pay
To stay here beside you?
What would I do to see you
Smiling at me?

Ariel’s dream has suddenly become bigger. She went from having one day at the beach to staying with Eric permanently.

Where would we walk?
Where would we run?
If we could stay all day in the sun?
Just you and me
And I could be
Part of your world

This is echoing the words she sung before, but she went from “they”, which puts a distance between her and the world up there to “we”. In a way, Ariel has already made the first step, and not just because she swam to the beach and touched the sand there.

I don’t know when
I don’t know how
But I know something’s starting right now
Watch and you’ll see
Some day I’ll be
Part of your world

This part concludes the first act of the movie, and is underlined by one of the most iconic images in it. And it is a promise to the audience that they are about to see something special and exciting.

111907_ariel

I’ll now skip ahead to the end of there movie, since the song is picked up one last time. This time it serves as a Conclusion Song.

Chorus:
Now we can walk!
Now we can run!
Now we can stay all day in the sun!

Just you and me!
And I can be,
Part of Your World!

The text itself is simple, but the placement of the song serves as a perfect bookmark. As much as the reprise told the audience that something great is coming, this one is announcing the “Happily ever after” without outright saying it. “Part of Your World” tells Ariel’s full story, from her dream, to deciding to follow her dreams to fulfilling her dreams. But Ariel is only one side of the coin. Her counterpart is Ursula, who gets her own set of songs as counterpoint.

URSULA
My dear, sweet child. That’s what I do. It’s what I live for.
To help unfortunate merfolk like yourself.
Poor souls with no one else to turn to.

I admit that in the past I’ve been a nasty
They weren’t kidding when they called me, well, a witch
But you’ll find that nowadays
I’ve mended all my ways
Repented, seen the light, and made a switch
WRONG: To this
RIGHT: True? Yes.
And I fortunately know a little magic
It’s a talent that I always have possessed
And dear lady, please don’t laugh
I use it on behalf
Of the miserable, the lonely, and depressed (pathetic)

If there has ever been any doubt that Ursula is lying through her teeth, the “pathetic” underlines that every word which comes out of her mouth is a lie. Or, to be precise, a half-truth.

Poor unfortunate souls
In pain, in need
This one longing to be thinner
That one wants to get the girl
And do I help them?
Yes, indeed
Those poor unfortunate souls
So sad, so true
They come flocking to my cauldron
Crying, “Spells, Ursula, please!”
And I help them!
Yes I do

Note how the visuals offset what Ursula is saying. She says that she helped two people by making them beautiful. But did she? The woman who wanted to be thinner didn’t love herself, but she already was loved by the guy longing for her. If he had just talked to her, they could be happy without any spells. And without the consequences.

Now it’s happened once or twice
Someone couldn’t pay the price
And I’m afraid I had to rake ’em ‘cross the coals
Yes I’ve had the odd complaint
But on the whole I’ve been a saint
To those poor unfortunate souls

The most notable aspect of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is that it doesn’t really work as stand alone song. Instead it is interlaced with dialogue – or, depending on the perspective, the dialogue is interlaced with singing to make the information dumb more palatable. There is a clear pattern though. The basics of the deal are spoken. The singing starts whenever Ursula tries to convince Ariel to agree to it.

ARIEL
But without my voice, how can I-

URSULA
You’ll have your looks, your pretty face.
And don’t underestimate the importance of body language, ha!

The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber
They think a girl who gossips is a bore!
Yet on land it’s much prefered for ladies not to say a word
And after all dear, what is idle babble for?
Come on, they’re not all that impressed with conversation
True gentlemen avoid it when they can
But they dote and swoon and fawn
On a lady who’s withdrawn
It’s she who holds her tongue who get’s a man

Ever noticed how much Ursula is echoing sentiments which were actually taught to girls not so long ago (and are still taught in a lot of cultures)? In fact, that was from the get go the main idea behind the scene. Before “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, Ashman and Menken had written a song with the title “Silence is golden”. Needless to say that I agree with their decision to improve it. “Poor Unfortunate Soul” is catchy and way more witty. But the basic concept is the same, that that villain tells the heroine that she is better off, when she keeps her mouth shut. And since the villain of a movie should never be trusted, the actual message of the movie is to speak up and be yourself.

Another aspect which  works better in “Poor Unfortunate Soul” is that Ariel has barely an opportunity to really think about what the whole deal entails. The moment Ursula has laid down the terms she demands a decision.

Come on you poor unfortunate soul
Go ahead!
Make your choice!
I’m a very busy woman and I haven’t got all day
It won’t cost much
Just your voice!

Now Ursula is talking like a salesman who wants to sell a particular bad deal. It is an echo of all the “this is the chance of your lifetime” promises which are floating around out there.

You poor unfortunate soul
It’s sad but true
If you want to cross the bridge, my sweet
You’ve got the pay the toll
Take a gulp and take a breath
And go ahead and sign the scroll
Flotsam, Jetsam, now I’ve got her, boys
The boss is on a roll
This poor unfortunate soul

This is the high point of the song. What follows was already part of “Silence is golden”, but here it works even better, because the contrast is more pronounced.

Beluga sevruga
Come winds of the Caspian Sea
Larengix glaucitis
Et max laryngitis
La voce to me

Now, sing!

ARIEL
Aah…

Keep singing!

And the whole song ends eventually with another iconic scene from the movie, when Ariel reaches the surface.   Ariel-Hairflip-walt-disney-characters-19989170-2317-1714Like Ariel, Ursula gets an opportunity to reprise her song, in her case shortly before she reaches her goal. It’s a really short sequence and mostly serves as an information dump, but not for the audience, but for Scuttle.

What a lovely little bride I’ll make,
My dear, I’ll look divine!
Things are working out according to my ultimate design!
Soon I’ll have that little mermaid,
and the ocean will be mine!

This covers the heroine and the villainess. But there is a third party of not in this story: Sebastian. Now, Sebastian is the first of a new breed of sidekicks. Up until this movie, sidekicks were only present as comic relief, and their main motivation was always to help the heroine. Sebastian is the first who has a goal of his own: He is actually more interested in his own fame than in Ariel, and the only reason why he even gets involved in her story is because Triton ordered him to watch Ariel. He also has his own character development. In the beginning he agrees with Triton that Ariel has to be controlled. In the end, he encourages him to give her the freedom to make her own choices – and mistakes. But he also serves the counter argument to Ariel’s dreams. “Under the sea” is an unusual side-kick song, mostly because it is not really about Sebastian, it is about his perspective on Ariel’s plan.

The seaweed is always greener
In somebody else’s lake
You dream about going up ‘dere,
But ‘dat is a big mistake
Just look at ‘de world around you
Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you
What more is you lookin’ for?

Fun fact: The main reason why Sebastian is a Jamaican crab is because Ashman felt that it would make the transition to the reggae-style of the song more smooth. I actually disagree with him about the necessity. The song is not that different, I never thought that it felt grating. Either way, to summon this up, Sebastian says that Ariel already has a great live (which is true).

Under the sea
Under the sea
Darling it’s better
Down where it’s wetter,
Take it from me!

Up on the shore they work all day,
Out in the sun they slave away
While we devotin’
Full-time to floatin,’
Under the sea!

I think it is time for a reminder that “Part of your world” pretty much paralleled Ariel going to land with becoming an adult and standing on her own feet. If we keep that in mind, Sebastian’s song is less about the virtue of not leaving home, but about childhood vs adulthood. What he is basically saying “don’t hurry to grow up, enjoy your childhood. Adulthood comes with responsibilities and worries.” Though naturally Menken and Ashman use the opportunity to go all out with the horror scenarios Sebastian is talking about.

Down here all the fish is happy
As off through the waves they roll
The fish on the land ain’t happy
They sad ’cause they in their bowl

But fish in the bowl is lucky
They in for a worser fate
One day when the boss get hungry…
Guess who’s gon’ be on the plate?

Uh-oh!
Under the sea
Under the sea
Nobody beat us
Fry us and eat us
In fricassee

We what ‘de land folks loves to cook
Under the sea we off the hook
We got no troubles,
Life is the bubbles!

Again, did you notice this? “Under the sea we off the hook”. In short, under the sea (in childhood) there are no responsibilities. You are in a bubble which protects you to a certain degree.

Under the sea
(Under the sea)
Under the sea
(Under the sea)
Since life is sweet here,
We got the beat here
Naturally
Naturally-y-y-y

Even the sturgeon an’ the ray
They get the urge ‘n’ start to play
We got the spirit
You got to hear it
Under the sea!

The newt play the flute
The carp play the harp
The plaice play the bass
And they soundin’ sharp
The bass play the brass
The chub play the tub
The fluke is the duke of soul (Yeah)

The ray he can play
The lings on the strings
The trout rockin’ out
The blackfish she sings
The smelt and the sprat
They know where it’s at
An’ oh that blowfish blow!

(Instrumental bridge)

Yeah!
Under the sea
(Under the sea)
Under the sea
(Under the sea)
When the sardine
Begin the beguine,
It’s music to me
(Music is to me)

This is Howard Ashman really milking the opportunity for some quick rhymes. The important part of the song out of the way, he indulges a little bit in playing with words.

What do they got? A lot of sand
We got a hot crustacean band
Each little clam here
Know how to jam here
Under the sea!

Each little slug here
Cuttin’ a rug here
Under the sea!

Each little snail here
Know how to wail here
That’s why it’s hotter
Under the water!
Ya we in luck here
Down in the muck here
Under the sea!

Wait! “In the muck”? That actually doesn’t sound that inviting. Good thing that Ariel is already gone at this point. The audience actually sees her leaving, but between all the distracting singing and dancing this fact doesn’t really sink in before Sebastian notices her absence.

Sebastian’s second song is the Love Song of the movie. Which is kind of an odd choice, usually this kind of song is reserved for the lovers themselves. But considering that Ariel is mute and Eric is still hung up on the girl from the beach, Sebastian is the next best choice.

There you see her
Sitting there across the way
She don’t got a lot to say
But there’s something about her
And you don’t know why
But you’re dying to try
You wanna kiss the girl

I have to admit, I have some issues with the song. Because for a love song it is kind of unromantic. Sebastian is basically pushing Eric into Ariel’s arms which is understandable in the context of the movie, but the result is kind of creepy. Especially this part:

Yes, you want her
Look at her, you know you do
Possible she wants you too
There is one way to ask her
It don’t take a word
Not a single word
Go on and kiss the girl

In the context of the movie it works. But out of context…well, the rhythm is great, very unusual for a love song, but the text drags it down a little bit imho.

Sha la la la la la
My oh my
Look like the boy too shy
Ain’t gonna kiss the girl
Sha la la la la la
Ain’t that sad?
Ain’t it a shame?
Too bad, he gonna miss the girl

Is Eric really shy? Or is he unsure? He is still hung up on the girl from the beach after all. And in a way the pressure Sebastian puts on Eric is very similar to the “now or never” claim Ursula used to convince Ariel to sign the contract. Honestly, the more I pay attention to the text of the song, the happier am I that Eric didn’t kiss Ariel in this scene but made the decision later on his own accord.

Now’s your moment
Floating in a blue lagoon
Boy you better do it soon
No time will be better
She don’t say a word
And she won’t say a word
Until you kiss the girl

And here Ashman made on outright mistake. Ariel’s voice was payment. At no point Ursula said that she would get her voice back if she wins over the prince. And in fact the only reason Ariel does get her voice back is because the sea shell breaks during the fight. Her voice  would have been lost forever otherwise.

Sha la la la la la
Don’t be scared
You got the mood prepared
Go on and kiss the girl
Sha la la la la la
Don’t stop now
Don’t try to hide it how
You want to kiss the girl
Sha la la la la la
Float along
And listen to the song
The song say kiss the girl
Sha la la la la
The music play
Do what the music say
You got to kiss the girl
You’ve got to kiss the girl
You wanna kiss the girl
You’ve gotta kiss the girl
Go on and kiss the girl

There is nothing in this part of the song which isn’t visible on screen. The only information the audience kind of gets is that the cook is a French stereotype. In a way, though, I can’t really blame the song writers here. It is not just the song which is filler, the whole scene is a detour from the actual main plot. You could remove it and nobody would notice.

Les poissons, les poissons
Hee hee hee, haw haw haw
With a cleaver I hack them in two
I pull out what’s inside
And I serve it up fried
God, I love little fishes, don’t you?

In a way, it is fun though. At least if you don’t think too hard about the fact that Sebastian basically reacts the way we would react if someone did this to a human.

Here’s something for tempting the palette
Prepared in the classic technique
First you pound the fish flat with a malette
Then you slash off their skin
Give their belly a slice
Then you rub some salt in
‘Cause it makes it taste nice

This is actually the only part of the song which isn’t pointless. Not because the content is that interesting, but because at this point we don’t see what is described in the text. Instead we get to see Sebastian’s reaction to it. Which is then taken one horrifying step further.

Zut alors, I have missed one!

Sacre bleu, what is this?
How on earth could I miss
Such a sweet little succulent crab
Quel dommage, what a loss
Here we go, in the sauce
Now some flour I think just a dab
Now I stuff you with bread
Don’t worry, ’cause you’re dead!
And you’re certainly lucky you are
‘Cause it’s gonna be hot in my big silver pot!
Toodle loo mon poisson
Au revoir

And for me it is also time to say goodbye. But beforehand, some last words: “The Little Mermaid” created the template for the Disney renaissance. But I think it was about more than just adding songs in a way that they would serve the story in a meaningful way. It was about more than just about text, it was also about subtext. It is this subtext which makes the movie about more than just a romance, which took the old fairy tale and turned it into a parable about growing up, but also about the danger of listening to false promises. It is a concept Ashman and Menken took even further in the next project. But that is the topic for another article.

Ariel-2-with-Border

 And speaking of articles, I am still working on my articles for the Swanpride Award. You still have the opportunity to nominate movies. The first article will be posted on the first of December, as promised. And if you follow my other blog, Honouring the Heroine, you might have guessed already from my anniversary post that I will discuss The Little Mermaid for this years fairy tale month. Expect me to write a lengthy defence of Ariel for it.


The Top Ten Disney Composer and Songwriter

This article might be a little bit premature. Perhaps I should discuss some of the soundtracks first before making the list. On the other hand, though, it might be a good idea to introduce some of the most prolific Disney Composers and Songwriters before discussing their work.

You’ll notice that most of the composers I listed are from the 1990s onwards. That is not a slight to the musicians from the older movies, but a result of two factors:

1. If you don’t count the package movies and Fantasia (which I only took into account as secondary achievements for this list), there are only 20 movies made before the Disney Renaissance, as opposed to 30 to consider for the time after, due to the increased number of movie releases.

2. In a lot of the old productions it is a little bit sketchy which musician did what, and some stayed unaccredited for their work.

For this list, I only ranked musicians which worked on multiple projects for Disney – so as much as I dig Jerry’s Goldsmith’s work on Mulan, or Peggy Lee’s contribution to Lady and the Tramp, they were not considered. I also did the ranking based on the contribution for Disney specifically, with an emphasis on the animated features, and not based on their overall body of work. There are a lot of famous musicians who didn’t end up on the list at all or in a very low spot. There are even some Disney Legends which didn’t make the cut, either because they only worked on one single (alas remarkable) project, or because they, for some reason or another, didn’t work on that many animated movie projects.


 

10. Leigh Harline and Ned Washington

One certainly can’t make a list like this without mentioning the two minds responsible for When you wish upon a star, Disney semi-official anathema, which resulted their first academy award for best song. The only reason those two are not higher is because I am not sure how great their overall influence on the movies actually was. Ned Washington was a very talented lyricist, who was also responsible for the text of Baby Mine, but he rarely worked for Disney. And while Leigh Harline’s work on animated shorts, especially the Silly Symphonies, left quite a mark, he left the studios in 1941 after a row with Walt Disney, who allegedly didn’t like the music for “Pinocchio”. Considering that Harline did score a best film music nomination for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and won the award for “Pinocchio”, I guess it is no wonder that he didn’t see eye to eye with Disney on that matter.

Leigh Harline and Ned Washington were not a regular Song Writing team, as far as I know this was the only project they worked together on for Disney. But they were both named Disney legends in 2001, so I think it is fair to list them together nevertheless.


 

9. Randy Newman

Most of the work Randy Newman did was for Pixar and not for Disney. In fact, Pixar’s musical identity of the early days is pretty much defined by the Newman family from start to finish. Randy Newman (who worked on “A Bug’s Life”, “Monsters, Inc” and “Monsters University”, “Cars” and the “Toy Story” trilogy) and his cousin Thomas Newman (“Finding Nemo”, “Wall-E”), worked on more than half of Pixar movies which currently exist. Personally, though, I prefer the soundtracks by  Michael Giacchino (“The Incredibles”, “Ratatoille”, “Up” and “Cars II”) .

But I digress, this is supposed to be about Disney first and foremost, not Pixar. Otherwise Randy Newman, who was named Disney Legend in 2007, should be higher on the list. But for the animation studios, he only worked on “Princess and the Frog”, which has one of Disney’s weaker soundtracks.

I consider Randy Newman a decent musician but not a particularly good song writer, which makes him largely unsuited for the common Disney movie. He is a better fit for Pixar due to the lack of songs in their movies. Thus said, When she loved me happens to be one song of him I really, really like, mostly because it is one of the few cases in which his habit to simply describe what is right there on the screen works due to the song adding an emotional level. Usually his songs have the tendency to slow down a movie at the wrong place, but in Toy Story II the song slows down the plot at exactly the right place, giving the audience a moment to take in Jessie’s grief. I therefore consider this as his best work for Disney (even though it was technically done for Pixar).


 

8. Phil Collins and Marc Mancina

Phil Collins style of music is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he did work on two movie for Disney, “Tarzan” and “Brother Bear”, both times with Marc Mancina. There is not question which one is the better soundtrack. While I don’t think that the songs and score of “Brother Bear” are bad by any means – Look through my eyes and No Way Out were both turned into singles, and Welcome would later be used in the parks for “Walt Disney’s Parade of Dreams” – the music is not as well utilized as it should be. “Tarzan” on the other hand resulted in a well deserved academy award for You’ll be in my heart.

There are  three aspects which make the soundtrack stand out. One is the use of some very obscure instruments from Mancina’s personal collection. The second is the fact that this it is one of the few Disney movies in which the songs are sung from the off and not by the characters. And the third is the bilingual bonus: Phil Collins decided to personally sing the Italian, German, Spanish, and French versions, too, as a thank you to his fans.

Phil Collins was named Disney Legend in 2002. Marc Mancina is connected to the upcoming Disney Movie Moana.


 

7. Henry Pryce Jackman

It is a little bit difficult to truly judge the musician’s currently working for Disney. But it would also be wrong not to acknowledge them, especially considering the recent successes. It is hard, though, to properly rank those musicians. None of them left their mark on that many movies (yet).  Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez have worked on two movies, “Winnie the Pooh” and “Frozen”. Henry Pryce Jackman worked on “Winnie the Pooh”, “Wreck-it Ralph” and “Big Hero 6”. And I guess the first reaction of most people would be to say that the Lopezes are more deserving for recognition, because they penned Let it go.  But that is only one song, and neither soundtrack they did so far really convinced me. They have written some good songs (and yes, they won an academy award, but there are other academy award winners which I didn’t even mention because they simply didn’t work that long or that successful for Disney), but in terms how the music is utilized in the movies they worked on, there are some serious flaws which make me hesitate to give them more than a nod. Which I have now done.

Jackman is a name I have noticed for some time. Unlike the majority of people, I have the habit of always staying to the very end of the movie. And that includes the end credits. Now it would be a lie to claim that I read all of them, but there are some categories I do tend to pay attention to. Who was responsible for animation, who for the special effects, and, especially when it sounds like a composer I might know, who did the music. Jackman was an understudy of Hans Zimmer, who has a very distinctive style. Now, Hans Zimmer didn’t make the list because he is more a DreamWorks than a Disney musician, despite his involvement in project like “Lion King”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”  and “Muppets Treasure Island”. He did some really great work for the studio, but he didn’t shape the style of movies they way other people on this list did.

Jackson on the other hand pretty much set the tone for Disney’s more action oriented animated movies. He is apparently one of the guys Disney’s like to go to for a good score. So no, Suger Rush is not by him, nor is any of the other Songs in “Wreck-it Ralph”.  But the rest of the soundtrack is just as good if not better. I especially love the Wreck-it Ralph Theme which is played in the game central station scene. It sounds busy, somewhat computer-like, but also cheerful. It’s a perfect fit, and one of my favourite Disney scores.

This in mind, I listened to the soundtrack of “Big Hero 6” (which was kind of an unusual experience, I normally don’t do that before watching the movie in question). And while I can’t judge how well it fits the movie (which I can’t watch yet because Disney got the brilliant idea to delay the release in Germany until the end of January…thanks a bunch, Disney, for ruining my yearly Disney Christmas or New Year watch), it sounds amazing. Reboot immediately put a smile on my face. If Jackman were a song writer, I think he would have already gotten way more recognition for his work, and I hope he will get it one day…after even more amazing soundtracks.


 

6. James Newton Howard

Talk about a truly underappreciated musician – at least in terms of his work for Disney. James Newton Howard is nowadays widely recognized, but his contribution to Disney tends to get overlooked. He provided a number of really remarkable soundtracks, but none of them were attached to a truly successful movie. Just look at the list: “Dinosaur”, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Treasure Planet”, as well as the Disney produced movies “Gnomeo and Juliet” and “Maleficent”. His soundtrack is, Imho, the only good thing about “Maleficent” and perhaps part of the reason why so many people give the movie a pass. A good soundtrack paired with striking visuals can elevate a movie considerable (“Pocahontas” and “Hunchback of Notre-Dame” are other examples for the phenomenon), even if the actual plot is very weak. Especially the haunting version of Once upon a dream is very memorable.

But the quality or the level of success of those movie doesn’t diminish his contributions in the slightest, at least not for me. Hopefully he will be attached to other more successful Disney Projects in the future. Until then I declare “Treasure Planet” as his best work so far (even though my beloved I’m still here was not written by him but by John Rzeznik). Especially Silver Leaves is an equally thoughtful and uplifting piece.


 

5. Paul Joseph Smith and Frank Churchill

Of all the musicians which worked for Disney in the early days, those are the names which stand out the most. Both of them worked on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” (together with Leigh Harline and Larry Morey) and created some of the most memorable Disney songs and scores of the 1930s and 1940s.

Paul Joseph Smith worked for nearly his whole career for Disney, but “Cinderella” was the last movie project he did for the animation studios. After that he mainly worked on life-action movies and especially documentaries. His idea to combine wildlife scenes with classical music in a somewhat comical fashion has been criticised, but more often copied. Though my favourite work by him is with no question the soundtrack for “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”. Considering his body of work, it is no wonder that he was named Disney Legend in 1994, earlier than most of the other musicians on this list.

Frank Churchill’s live story is equally successful and tragic. In his way too short time with the Disney studios, he was one of the pillars of the musical division. Joining the studio in 1930, he worked on many of the shorts and penned Who is afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, which was a huge commercial success. After “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, he became supervisor of music at Disney. But he also fought with depression which only worsened by heavy drinking in reaction to the death of two of his friends and fellow orchestra members within a month of each other. In 1942, Frank Churchill committed suicide. Supposedly he died at his piano from a self-inflected gunshot wound. During his time with Disney, he received three academy award nominations – two of the posthumously for his work on Bambi  – and one win in the category “Scoring of a Musical Picture” for Dumbo. One of the last projects he was working on was “Peter Pan” for which he got partial song credit. And while I think that “Bambi” is his best work due to the onomatopoeia he integrated into the music, Never smile like a crocodile will always be my favourite song he co-created. He was named Disney Legend in 2001.


4. Oliver Wallace

Characteristic  for the 1950s was that Disney didn’t use one or two musicians for a movie, but a number of composers – a fact which greatly contributed to the lack of presence of them on this list. Because of this practice, there weren’t really any true stars. But there was still someone needed who ensured that the different songs would fit together for the movie, and this person was Oliver Wallace. He managed this, by integrating leitmotiv-like elements into the score (I already commented once on the role of A Dream is a Wish your Heart makes in the score when I discussed the “I want”-song).

But at this point, he was already one of the Disney veterans. Joining the studio in 1936, he had already won an academy award (together with Frank Churchill, and like him he was named Disney legend in 2001) for “Dumbo”. In addition, he was one of the oldest members of the studio age-wise. Born in 1887, he was 14 years older than Walt Disney himself – one can certainly not accuse Disney of ageism, considering that he hired a 49 year old guy, and not because he was a known expert in his field, but because he brought a unique collection of skill sets to the table which he acquired during his unusual career and unsteady life. After all, animation was a new art form back then. There was no formal education.

I had a hard time to decide if I should place him on rank four or five. I eventually gave him the edge over Smith and Churchill because while his work is slightly less prolific, his impact might be stronger because he was way longer active for the studio.  Until his death in 1963 he contributed to nearly 150 Disney productions, and shaped the package movie era as well as the 1950s with his approach. Due to the collaborative nature of those productions, it is a little bit hard to pick the stand-out soundtrack. “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” is one of the few projects on which he worked practically alone, and it certainly gave him the opportunity to shine with his uplifting music. But if I were pressed to name his best work, I would say “Alice in Wonderland”, even though the soundtrack overall is not really one of my favourites. It is nevertheless quite a remarkable feat.

For one because of the sheer number of musicians working on this movie. Not counting Wallace himself, there are no less than six song writers credited for the movie, which is even for this era an unbelievable number. Honestly, was there any musician in the Disney studios not involved in this project? Granted, the list for “Peter Pan” isn’t exactly short either, but that’s mainly because “Peter Pan” was a project which was interrupted by the war and some of the work already done in the 1940s was used ten years later for the final movie. Plans for “Alice in Wonderland” had been around even longer, since Disney was kind of obsessed with the book, but the actually production process didn’t start until after the war. It is honestly somewhat surprising that Wallace managed to create something which does sound homogeneous with so many people involved. I guess having so many songs to pick from might have helped, but he nevertheless deserves a lot of credit for balancing it out.

And two, what I consider the most memorable piece of music in this movie is not derivate of a song.  March of the Cards is certainly a stand-out score, created for a stand-out scene.


 

3. George Bruns

When I looked into George Bruns body of work, I was kind of surprised that his name is more known. After all, he was hired by Disney in 1953 as musical arranger, eventually became musical director and held the position until his retirement (during which he continued to participate in Disney projects) in 1976..

He is the writer of The Ballad of Davy Crockett, a song which was cobbled together under time pressure in order to meet the running time of 60 minutes for the episode in question. In fact, producer Billy Walsh later remarked:

“I thought it was pretty awful, but we didn’t have time for anything else.”

But this song became a big hit, and was largely responsible for the founding of the Label “Disneyland Records”. Bruns was also responsible for Yo ho (A Pirates Life for me), which he wrote together with Xavier Atencio.

I think, his work often gets overlooked because he was mainly a composer and only wrote one other (Oscar nominated) song, Love from Robin Hood, in cooperation with Floyd Huddleston. He was often overshadowed by the actual song writers of the different movies, especially a certain pair of brothers. He also didn’t really have a distinctive style. Bruns worth for Disney studios lay in his ability to immerse himself in the style of the other musicians he was working with to a degree that it is impossible to tell where their work ends and his work starts.

His Magnus Opus is definitely Sleeping Beauty, on which he worked with Tom Adair. A lot of people tend to dismiss his contributions on the grounds of the movie using Tchaikovsky’s music. But this might have been one of the most difficult tasks a musician from Disney ever got. He not only had to rearrange the music in a way which fit the movie, repurposing some pieces in the process – most famously, the puss-in-boots segment became Malificent’s Evil Spell,  and a very short segment from the introduction of the fairies was turned into Once upon a Dream – he also wrote new pieces in Tchaikovsky’s style which fit into the soundtrack so seamless that I didn’t notice it for years despite knowing the ballet very, very well. He also matched the music so well that just by hearing it, I know exactly what is happening in the movie at this point. When I hear Battle with the Forces of Evil, I know at which point Phillip uses his sword and when the yaw of the dragon snaps.

George Bruns was named Disney Legend in 2001, and I think there are few which deserve the honour as much as he did.


 

2. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman

I can’t emphasis enough how hard is was to decide between the top two spots. And who knows, if Howard Ashman hadn’t died way too early, this team might have taken the top spot by a storm. But I can only judge by what was, and not by what could have been, and I guess in the end, the team which got the number one spot contributed to way more projects than even Alan Menken did to this day.

Alan Menken and Howard Ashman deserve a lot of credit for shaping the Disney Renaissance. Their concept of an animated Broadway musical was what made this particular era so successful. Already providing an outstanding sound track for “The Little Mermaid”, they outdid themselves with their work on “Beauty and the Beast”. I personally consider it the best soundtrack of all Animated movies. Not only is the score fantastic (especially West Wing and Transformation), not only is there not one bad song, but each song serves a purpose in the story to a degree that the movie would make no sense if you remove one of them. I already raved about how perfectly utilized Belle is in an earlier article, but the other songs are no less thought-out. It was Ashman’s philosophy that a song should always contribute to the plot, and his last soundtrack truly turned out to be his best – even though he might have preferred it to be a different one.  Before getting yanked of the project because he was needed for “Beauty and the Beast”, he did work on “Aladdin”, but his song, Proud of your boy, was sadly cut when the story was changed. The movie was emptier for it, though it was added again for the Stage musical.

Alan Menken continued to work for Disney on “Aladdin”, “Pocahontas”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “Hercules”, “Home on the Range”, “Enchanted” and “Tangled”, as well as the non-animated movie musical “Newsies”.  He won two academy awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score for “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas”, which made him the most prolific Oscar winner in the music category after Alfred Newman (who won the award nine times). There is no living person who got the award as often as he did (The person which won most academy awards overall is Walt Disney himself).

Personally I think he never reached the highs he did with Ashman. While his scores are still outstanding, I think a lot of the songs just lack the wit Ashman provided – Thus said, I think the work he did with Grenn Slater on “Tangled” was promising, and I hope that they will work together on more projects in the future.

Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were both named Disney Legends in 2001. Together they shaped one of the most successful period in Disney’s history, and their influence is lingering up to this day. Their work will never be forgotten.

 


 

1. The Sherman Brothers

The list of songs which the Sherman Brothers created for Disney seems to be endless. For ten years they worked on more or less every project, starting “The Sword in the Stone” and ending with “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” (The one notable exception is “Robin Hood”), including the two live-action with animation movies “Mary Poppins” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”. They also wrote the music for most of the theme park rides which were created during this time. That’s right, you can blame them for It’s a small World, the song which might be the single most performed and most translated piece of music on Earth (and according to some people the most annoying one). All in all, it is no wonder that they were the first musicians who were named Disney Legends, a honour they received in 1990.

Sadly, the two were also a very volatile pair. Word is that they worked well together under Disney, but when he died, something was missing. They would never reached the highs they did back in those years they worked for him. Their Magnus Opus is definitely Mary Poppins. One outstanding song after another, and while everyone certainly has their favourite, Feed the Bird is somewhat special. Robert Sherman recalled later:

“We seized on one incident, in Chapter 7 of ‘Mary Poppins Comes Back’, the second book — the bird woman. And we realized that was the metaphor for why Mary came, to teach the children — and Mr. Banks — the value of charity. So we wrote the song and took it up to Walt’s office and played it and sang it for him. He leaned back in his chair, looking out the window, and he said: ‘That’s it, isn’t it? That’s what this is all about. This is the metaphor for the whole film.’ And that was the turning point in our lives.”

Feed the Birds is deceptively simple, and yet heart-warming, with all the uplifting power and spirituality of a hymn. I admit though that I like the instrumental version of it even more.  During the scene in which Mr. Banks goes to the bank, knowing that he is about to get fired, it adds so much gravity that the music seems press down on the scenery. Word is that this song was Walt Disney’s favourite.

“We were full-time staff, so we had an office at the studio, and every so often Walt would call us up to his office on a Friday afternoon. We knew what he wanted. When we got there, he would say, ‘I just wanted to know what you boys were up to these days.’ Then he would turn around in his chair and stare out the window, like the first time we played it for him, and he would say, ‘Play it.’ And we would … And you could just see Walt thinking, ‘That’s what it’s all about, everything we do at Disney.'”

When you wish upon a heart might be the heart of Disney. But Feed the Birds contains its soul. A soul that even a large cooperate construct can’t totally crush. In the end, Disney movies will always be remembered for the work of their artists, for stunning animation and unforgettable music. Even if Walt Disney is no longer around, the legacy of him and his artists prevails.