I’m just gonna go ahead and begin this column with a bold statement, one I expect most people will agree with:
Disney movies are fantastic.
They’re brilliant. They appealed to me when I was five, they appeal to me now as a 21-year-old and I can guarantee they will still appeal to me when I watch them with my kids in 15 years.
But how do they do it? How does Disney manage to produce classic after classic? Yes, it may be due to their simple, yet symbolic storylines. It also may be magic (I mean, it IS Disney after all). However, there’s one specific aspect of Disney movies truly separates them from other animation. It’s the part of the movies that leaves you humming for days after watching.
I’m talking about Disney’s amazing music. The catchy melodies of the songs, the accessibility of the lyrics and the distinguishable voices of the singers make these songs unique and unparalleled. Not to mention the variety in the songs of every musical Disney movie; soundtracks that throw you through an emotional journey.
Take Beauty and the Beast, for example. The movie opens with the song “Belle (Little Town),” a peppy tune that begins the movie on a cheerful note. The music in the background is comparable to what one might hear at an orchestra show, light-as-air stringed instruments that intertwine smoothly with cello and light percussion.
It’s incredible how Disney musical directors are able to compose such legitimate classical-sounding music. Belle’s flawless voice comes in, accompanied by Gaston’s rough one, to complete the song in a traditional Disney fashion.
The applicability of the song is noteworthy too. Hidden behind the scene’s characters is the message, “I want more out of life than I am currently getting.” It’s a message that anyone can relate to — you don’t even have to like the movie to appreciate it.
However, the beauty (no pun intended) in Disney’s genius is their ability to write songs of all types. The ballad “Beauty and the Beast (Tale as Old as Time)” is personally one of my favorite songs of all time, and even won the academy award for Best Original Song.
Its simple piano arrangements are accompanied by beautiful, orchestrated strings and Mrs. Pott’s granny-sounding voice. Why this song gets me every time, though, is its emotional weight. But to say the melody is emotional would be an understatement; this song goes straight to my heart. Mrs. Potts sings of two lovers who overcome their differences and find common ground. It’s a beautiful song, and in combination with the movie’s plotline, creates an indescribable emotional experience.
Disney has mastered the art of writing songs addressing almost any mood. Inspired, lonely, in-love — Disney soundtracks feature the full spectrum. But Disney’s musical genius is capable of even more breadth than a single soundtrack demonstrates. To realize Disney’s full spectrum of musical ability, we must compare songs from multiple movies.
Compare the songs in Beauty and the Beast to those in The Little Mermaid, for example. In the former, we see how Disney is able utilize the piano and stringed instruments to create an orchestral, formal sound.
But in The Little Mermaid, Disney employs a new group of instruments to create an entirely alternative sound. Mallets, steel drums, keyboard and brass instruments place the listener in the middle of the Caribbean Sea rather than dancing in a ballroom. The relaxed, tropical vibe of songs like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” flow seamlessly with the movie’s underwater animation, and do so without compromising the emotionality we have come to expect from Disney.
The variety among songs from movies like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Tarzan demonstrates how truly amazing Disney is. Without fail, their musical studio is able to create songs that address the full array of emotions, while intertwining these songs with the plot — an impressive feat. But when you consider that these movies require songs fitting an underwater, or jungle, or African Savannah-type atmosphere, it increases the impressiveness exponentially.
Disney’s magic takes place in many different settings. Next time you find yourself experiencing this magic for yourself, consider just how well the music not only fits the setting, but generates the magic.