Friday, August 30, 2013

BEST DISNEY SONGS! Wrap-up part one

Over the past 20 months, I’ve seen a lot of movies, and heard a lot of music in those movies, so to start off these supplemental posts, it seems only fitting to honor that music. So here’s the first of my seven top 13 lists, celebrating my favorite Disney songs. The next two lists will cover the worst songs, and then a special one for the top 13 villain songs, because let’s be honest, the villains always get the best songs, and it wouldn’t be fair to put them on this list. Why top 13? Because narrowing it down to 10 was too hard and 13 is ¼ of 52. But before we look at the top quartile, a word on my process.

Miss me?

The first thing I did was look through every Disney movie soundtrack on Wikipedia to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything, and writing down every song that I thought might qualify for the list. I wasn’t very discriminating this time around, just pretty much every song that I particularly liked. This left me with about 80 songs. Then, to maintain fairness, I narrowed it down to one song per movie. This was much more difficult, and based on the quality of the music and lyrics, the song’s catchiness and enjoyableness, and the function of the song to the movie’s plot or tone. Then, using the same criteria, I whittled the list down further until I had my top 13. Random trivia: Three movies, The Great Mouse Detective, Beauty and the Beast, and Winnie-the-Pooh, had their entire soundtracks nominated, but none of them got on the Best Songs List proper. Funny, that.

Anyway, without further ado, here it is, the top 13 Disney songs! Click the titles for a link to a YouTube video!

Music by Leigh Harline, Lyrics by Ned Washington
Performed by Christian Rub as Gepetto
Little Wooden-Head go play your part
Bring a little joy to every heart
Little do you know and yet it’s true
That I’m mighty proud of you

This one, while very short (the snippet I posted there includes over half of the lyrics), represents something major for Disney. Snow White had a few good tunes, but it was all very presentational, very “HERE IS A SONG NOW OKAY”. But Pinocchio opened up with this utterly charming number that set the tone of the story, established the character of Gepetto, and gave us some funny visuals to boot. (Okay, technically Pinocchio opened with “When You Wish Upon a Star”, but I hate that freaking song.)

Music by Manuel Esperon, Lyrics by Ray Gilbert
Performed by Clarence Nash, Jose Oliveira, and Joaquin Garay as Donald, Jose, and Panchito
We sing and we samba!
We shout “Ay Caramba!”
What means “Ay Caramba?”
Oh yes - I don’t know.

I can’t get this song out of my head. Seriously, even after more than a year since I’ve seen the movie, I find myself humming it constantly. I’m not surprised the movie was so successful in its goal of enhancing public opinion of the US in Latin America, as the title song is just about what good friends America, Mexico, and Brazil are. Also, contains the phrase “Three happy chappies, with snappy serapes”.

Music and Lyrics by Mack David, Jerry Livingston, and Al Hoffman
Performed by Jimmy MacDonald, Helen Siebert, and June Sullivan as the Mice. Probably some other people, too. They weren’t great at crediting actors back then. Maybe June Foray?
She go around in circles
‘Til she very very dizzy
Still they holler “Keep a-busy, Cinderelly!”

This song is composed of two segments, the first involves the mice singing a song about how poorly Cinderella is treated, and the second is a reprise of Cinderella’s odious song “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” that is a billion times better than the original, partially because of the mice’s squeaky voices, but mostly for reasons I’ll get into on the Worst Song list.

Music and Lyrics by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke
Performed by George Givot as Tony

This song is representative of a kind of song that was quite common in Disney’s heyday, where the first verse is sung by a character, and then an unseen chorus takes over, often just repeating the initial verse.  “Once Upon a Dream” from Sleeping Beauty is the ur-example, and it was used most recently with “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” I have to say, I normally hate these, as the chorus parts are irksome and unneeded. And while that’s still true here, I just love those two goofy Italian stereotypes that get us started. They’re so into it! So dang catchy! And at least you get a little Thurl Ravenscroft in the studio chorus.

Music and Lyrics by the Sherman Brothers
Performed by Louis Prima as King Louie with Phil Harris as Baloo
[intense scatting]

As I mentioned in the review, the Jungle Book was the first Disney to fully come together as a musical, with songs, plot, and character fully meshing with one another to create a fully-formed experience. While the soundtrack has a lot of strong contenders, and “The Bare Necessities” allllllmost made it, this one’s got Phil Harris and Louis Prima scatting at each other. And you can’t beat that.

Written by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight
Performed by Billy Joel as Dodger
The rhythm of the city
Once you get it down
You can own this town
You can wear the crown!

First of all, “Charlie Midnight”? How awesome is that? Second of all, this song, as performed by the always likeable William Joel, is unquestionably the highlight of this movie. If I were awarding these movies stars, this song would be a half star on its own. It’s fun, it’s catchy, and it’s so Noo Yawk in da ‘80s it hurts. And that’s why I love it, even if it does contain the word “bebopulation”.

Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Performed by Samuel Wright as Sebastian
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 it sad?
Ain’t it a shame? Too bad
He gonna miss the girl.

It’s no secret that The Little Mermaid is the movie where the Disney Musical really coalesced, and this song’s smooth blend of romance, comedy, and energy make it the standout among standouts, clicking with the story in a way the love songs usually don’t.

Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Performed by Robin Williams as The Genie
Yes sir, we pride ourselves on service
You’re the boss, the king, the shah!
Say what you wish
It’s yours, true dish
How ‘bout a little more baklava?

While I may have joked about Robin Williams and Disney’s legal conflict in the Aladdin article, Williams really was perfect for this role. He clicked perfectly into a role that almost any other actor would have made obscenely irritating (consider that a plug for my upcoming Quest for Camelot review), and this song couples his performance with Ashman’s finest lyrics for a top-notch musical number.

Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Steven Schwartz
Performed by Paul Kandel as Clopin, with David Ogden Stiers and Tony Jay as The Archbishop and Frollo
From the big bells as loud as the thunder
To the little bells soft as a psalm
And some say the soul of
The city’s the toll of
The bells of Notre Dame

Songs that move the plot along don’t always get a lot of love on ‘best song’ lists, because the plot mechanics, dialogue breaks, and occasionally awkward shifts can make for rough listening on the ol’ soundtrack album. For that reason, I had “Topsy Turvy” in this spot for some time. But the excellent lyrics, powerful music, and looming presence over the rest of the movie won this song its spot. The cathedral is as important as any character, and this song keeps it in our mind, even with rushed exposition and overuse of Jim Cummings.

Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by David Zippel
Performed by LaChanze, Lilias White, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freeman, and Vanéese Y. Thomas as the Muses
From appearance fees and royalties
Our Herc had cash to burn
Now nouveau-riche and famous
He could tell you what’s a Grecian earn

Speaking of songs moving the plot along, there is an easier way for them to do that - MONTAGE! And boy, if there was ever a movie made for montages, this is it. And this one, accompanying Herc’s rise to glory. And not only does a montage allow the rapid movement of plot, it also allows the densest possible concentration of sight gags, puns, and clever rhymes, with some of the best animation Disney's ever done. So it’s a win-win. Win. 

Music by Matthew Wilder, Lyrics by David Zippel
Performed by Donny Osmond as Li Shang
LET’S get down to BUIS-NESS
To de-FEAT

I’m willing to make the statement that this is the most popular song in any Disney film, because about 80% of the time when I mention Mulan to someone, they start singing this right away. And well they should. This is possibly the greatest training montage song of all time, and Donny Osmond is a surprisingly capable vocal double for BD Wong.

Music, Lyrics, and Performance by Phil Collins
I can see there's so much to learn
It's all so close and yet so far
I see myself as people see me
I just know there's something bigger out there

I loved the unique conceit of the Tarzan soundtrack, with one guy not only writing all the music, but performing it as well. This song, performed in the authorial voice of Tarzan as he starts learning about all the human world can offer him, is a real delight. It captures the wonder and excitement of gaining knowledge and the vine-swinging scene with him and Jane is very sweet.

Music by Who Else But Alan Menken, Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Performed by Brad Garrett, Jeffrey Tambor, Zachary Levi, and Mandy Moore as Hook-handed Thug, Ugly Thug, Flynn Rider, and Rapunzel.
I've got scars and lumps and bruises
Plus something here that oozes
And let's not even mention my complexion
But despite my extra toes
And my goiter, and my nose
I really want to make a love connection

While “These tough fellows are secretly creative and sensitive” is a fairly obvious place to go, this song gets that plot point out with such boisterous good fun that it seems new and fresh. The performances are full of character, and very well-sung, considering that with the exception of Moore, you wouldn’t peg any of these folks for a singer. Most of all, with all the dreams these Disney characters have, it's nice to hear some that are clearly laid out.


Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez
Performed by Craig Ferguson as Owl, with Tom Kenny, Jim Cummings, Travis Oates, Kristin Anderson-Lopez, Bud Luckey, and Wyatt Hall as Rabbit, Pooh and Tigger, Piglet, Kanga, Eeyore, and Roo.
They made me catch the cold I caught.
They made me lose my train of thought
They swipe your stripes
They clog your pipes
They dig up your garden
They don’t beg your pardon

I wasn’t sure whether to put this as a villain song or a regular song, since the villain they’re singing about exists only in their imaginations, so here it is as a special Judge’s Award. Whatever. I'm allowed. The rhymes are clever, the actors are PERFECT, and the unique animation style is just plain delightful.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you included "The Bells of Notre Dame." One of my favorites, and that crazy high note at the end always gives me chills.