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Disney Animated Films and their Music

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From Under the Sea to the stirring opening bars of the Lion King or Elsa’s lament to just Let it  Go, is it even real Disney if you don’t leave the theater (or your living room) with an earworm you just can’t shake? Even though the toddler demanding it on repeat 20 times in a row may have something to do with that, it’s not just them- it’s the cornerstone of the Disney experience!

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A Unique Philosophy

Disney’s plan to uniquely weave dialogue and song in their works dates from Snow White and the 1930s. They wanted to better weave the music into the storyline, avoiding the theatrical trope of people just bursting into song willy-nilly. Needless to say, the concept was a massive hit, and Snow White was a triumph with critics and viewers alike.

Next time you’re watching a Disney animation, whether you or your little ones are the fans in question, you might want to pay a little attention to how artfully it’s done, too. While many studios will use royalty-free music for videos, Disney typically brings its music team on board during the storyboard and animation phase. You’ll notice they use set structures and formulas, rich in refrains and title hooks instead of the standard chorus we see in pop music, to open up the scope of the lyrics, enhance storytelling, and draw the viewer in. Most Disney songs also leverage key changes and chords to better increase the ‘catchiness’ and memorability of their lyrics. This careful match of song to action is even smartly used to help pep up slow-moving parts of the movie- think how boring Simba’s musing on being a king would be without the perfect I Just Can’t Wait to be King running behind it all.

The Villain Song

Of course, it’s not just the good guys and the overall plot that gets some musical love. Many an iconic Disney Villain (think Ursula and Mother Gothel) get to put their side on record with their character developing musical refrains. From building anticipation for their upcoming deathly deeds, to giving us a glimpse into the thoughts powering their villainous actions, their songs get as much careful attention to detail as the heroes do.

Disney music also helps keep the thematic integrity of the piece flowing. Think how Mulan’s Reflections shows her struggle to hide herself just to fit in, vs True to your Heart’s bold declaration of owning your truth without shame. Without beating us around the head with the point of the story arc, we’re offered musical cues ot help facilitate storytelling and bring the audience even closer to the film.

Disney has been touching the hearts of those who love their films for generations, and the musical numbers they build into their films have an iconic part to play in that journey. There’s a reason, after all, that the soundtracks to their blockbusters often garner at least as much attention as the movie itself! While we only scratched the surface of how the House of Mouse uses music to inspire and immerse the viewer, you can try David Tietyen’s ‘The Musical World of Walt Disney’ for a more in-depth look at the magic of Disney music.

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