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The power of Disney animated musical movies

The breakthrough philosophy behind Disney animated musical movies

Disney’s unique philosophy to animated musical movies traced back to the 1930s with “Snow White”. Specifically, the studio wanted to create an animated movie that uniquely combines dialogue and songs. As for this approach, Walt Disney at the time said: “Really, we should set a new pattern, a new way to use music – weave it into the story so somebody doesn’t just burst into song.” Thus, music is one of Disney’s top priorities, with the musical dramatists and the songwriters being brought in by the studio first.

musical movies - The breakthrough philosophy behind Disney animated musical movies
Snow White (1937) with a unique musical approach (Source: Disney)

This musical approach was a big hit. After the critical and commercial success of “Snow White”, Disney has also created the famous tradition of incorporating songs into their films. Among these famous examples are Dumbo, Pinocchio, Bambi, and more, even until recent films like Moana or Frozen.

With this philosophy, Disney animated musicals are often structured in a particular formula to fit the movie the most. A typical Disney song uses refrains & title hooks instead of a full chorus to open up more room for song lyrics. This helps the song carry more information, which means more stories.

Similarly, Disney songs are known for a lot of chords & key changes throughout them. This matches pretty well with how things are always changing in Disney movies. For example, pumpkins turn into carriage, puppets into real boys and princesses into frogs. On average, there is 1 key change/song. Compared to the Rolling Stone top 500 songs of all time, Disney songs are 10 times more likely to contain a key change.

Disney's animated musical movies always have clear purposes

For Disney, the songs in their animated movies have always been intentional. As with other elements in its movie, the studio always milks the soundtracks in every possible way to facilitate several aspects of animation storytelling.

The songs in Disney animated films help drive plots

Disney builds its movies on a musical rhythm, a unique musical pace. Between the songs, there are few pauses, therefore, they are taking part in the story progression. With Disney’s approach, the songs are beyond an illustration. It is a partner that accompanies the fascinating stories.

For example, the music offers an entertaining way to show what could have been a slow-moving process. Lion King’s “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” explains Simba’s ignorance of his responsibilities, helps them get rid of Zazoo, and they arrive at the elephant graveyard in the end.

In addition, the synchronization of music and action in Disney animated movies is very obvious. Every note, every rhythm, every song's lyrics is made to fit the animation perfectly, and it helps peoples’ imagination soar right along with the creators’. This is evident in Bambi’s soundtrack, where the music the orchestra plays matches up exactly with the movement of nature, especially the raindrops.

Likewise, ‘Aristocats’ also showcases the precise sound and action synchronization. You can watch and hear how the different sounds are placed along with the movements and the motions line up the music, as well.

Disney animated films' music reveal characters’ personality

Similarly, Disney songs help the animators unravel a character’s personality and keep track of it throughout the story. This idea is most apparent with the villain songs. For example, both Mother Gothel and Rapunzel's characters develop in Tangled's "Mother Knows Best" and "Mother Knows Best [Reprise]." While these songs are crucial because they advance the plot by allowing the characters to evolve, there is also character development that occurs outside of the song.

Dr. Facilier in Princess and the Frog's "Friends on the Other Side," a similar strategy is used. While Dr. Facilier sets the plot in motion, we learn about our protagonist's and the villain's soon-to-be henchman's desires in this song. Dr. Facilier is now defined as clever, and the viewer is anticipating the inevitable, even though he has not explicitly stated that he will convert Naveen into a frog.

Disney's songs in their animated films are thematic

The animated movies' theme songs also give the audience a sense of what to expect and separate the movies. New themes are presented with music to help people connect with the films and become engrossed in them.

A telling example is the musical progression in Mulan. If “Reflections” conveys the character’s identity struggles and the theme of “hiding who you are to fit in”, the later theme of “owning who you are with no shame” is expressed through the inspirational number “True to your heart”. It is the songs that enhance the movie’s universal appeal and meaningful themes of honor, feminism, duty, and individualism.

Likewise, the clash between nature and humanity was a central theme of Bambi. As a result, the studio had to come up with music that was appropriate for the concept. The soundtrack brings to life the nature depicted in the film with such feel-good songs like “Sleepy Morning in the Woods” and “Love is a song” especially. In contrast, the music also helps the audience feel the chaos when humans begin to cause trouble. “Man returns” to create drama and suspense via its instrument, which helps convey the uneasy and terrifying presence of man in nature.

We can see that the examples above almost never explicitly say what their exact purpose was (except “Reflections”). However, in the film as a whole, the musical cues were clearly understood by the audience, and more importantly, facilitated the storytelling. Without them, the story would probably not have progressed so smoothly.

Conclusion

For decades, Disney films have touched the hearts of people of all ages, and a big factor for this lies in their musical numbers. Disney animated movie soundtracks often receive as much attention as storytelling and animation and influence the whole industry. David Tietyen with his book ‘The Musical World of Walt Disney’ commented: “Walt Disney was not a musician, he was a cartoonist. In fact, from all reports, he had no formal music education. Yet, the music and songs that flowed from his studio have become a part of our

American heritage.”

Taking inspiration from Disney studio’s iconic approach, DeeDee Animation Studio has skillfully & subtly integrated music into the animation. Thanks to this, DeeDee’s films can further bring the audience a sublime experience of both sounds and visuals. To find out more about these animated movies, you can read at Animation.


References:

Animatedviews.com, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: With a smile and a song!

Dave Tietyen (1990), The Musical World of Walt Disney


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