Opening Night – Fiction

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Hey all! I wrote this piece for a literary magazine that, unfortunately, didn’t get accepted. No hard feelings towards them, I’m super excited to read the next issue, but I also thought this piece was too good not to share with you all. It combines some of my favorite things: theater kids, classical references, relationship dramas, and soft endings. I hope you all like it!

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Why the World Needs More Dungeons & Dragons

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I’ve been back home for a few days for spring break. That means seeing people you haven’t in a long time and swapping stories with your friends and, as I’m getting older, increasingly your friends’ parents. As I’ve been catching people up on my life in the past few months, it’s really dawned on me how important tabletop games have been to me this past year.

This post is going to be really freeform, just me talking about my experiences with TTRPGs and why I think more people should at least give them a shot. It’s also my subtle way of seeing if this is a direction people might be interested in seeing this blog go, so if you are, keep reading and let me know in the comments down below. If not, that’s understandable and I promise there’ll be more film and writing stuff in the future as well. This is just me trying to see if I can get some more content flowing from me to this blog, which seems to bloom and die as my schedule permits.

Okay, with all those disclaimers out of the way, let’s get started.

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Making TV a Better Place, One Season at a Time

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The highly anticipated third season of my favorite show, Netflix’s One Day at a Time just dropped and I binged the entire thing in a night, so I thought I’d do a little write-up to explain why this season is amazing and why, if you’re not watching one of the best shows on TV right now, you should.

One Day at a Time is a reboot of the classic 1970’s sitcom of the same name created originally by Norman Lear. Under the lead of showrunners Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce, the show has been modernized to fit contemporary sensibilities while still keeping the hallmarks of Lear’s original work. The show follows Penelope Alvarez, played by Justina Machado, a single mother and Army veteran trying to keep her family, consisting of Isabella Gomez as outspoken social justice heroine and daughter Elena, Marcel Ruiz as cocky but well-meaning son Alex, and the untouchable Rita Moreno as melodramatic and completely fabulous Abuela Lydia. Rounded out by Todd Grinnell as dorky hipster landlord Schneider and Stephen Tobolowsky as the human embodiment of a sad puppy dog Dr. Berkowitz, the show follows the daily exploits of these characters as they try to live their lives one day at a time. Cue the amazing theme song sung by Gloria Estefan herself.

This show does what all good sitcoms should. It is hilarious, first of all, in the classic sitcom fashion. Jokes can range from topical humor to physical gags, but pretty much every one lands. The cast’s comic timing is wonderful and makes every episode thoroughly enjoyable. On the other hand, the show’s stories are able to tackle relevant topics in today’s world and spin them in some interesting ways. Subjects like mental health, racism, homophobia, addiction, and more get treated with the respect they deserve. The cast deserves all the credit for being able to switch between the comedic and sometimes intense dramatic notes of the series and still back and still feel like natural characters.

Now, enough about why this show is great. Go watch it if you haven’t already. If you’re all caught up, let’s talk a bit more about why Season 3 was some of the best TV out there.

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Matthew Pinkney, Writer’s European Vacation

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Happy 2019 everyone!

Is it February already? It has been a while since I’ve posted. For those of you who don’t know, I spent a couple weeks at the beginning of the year on a study abroad course in Europe. Now that it’s been nearly a month since I got back, I think it’s high time I posted the pictures I took while on the trip.

My family and I left on Christmas Day and, after some unexpected delays, we finally made it to Amsterdam. Our first day, we started off at the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of the Netherlands, home to Rembrandts, Vermeers, and other treasures of the Dutch Golden Age. We then went to the Van Gogh Museum and learned all about his life through his numerous letters and varied works. We stopped at the Diamond Museum and learned about the Dutch diamond industry, then went out to Dam Square and walked around the rest of the night.

Day two in Amsterdam, we went back to Dam Square and toured some more of the historical sites: the Old Church built in the 1200s and the Royal Palace overlooking the Square. On day three, we went on a tour of the whole city by canal boat, which gave us a beautiful new look at the city.

After three lovely days in the Netherlands, we boarded a plane and jetted off to London. We started our first day with a walking tour of the Royal Family hotspots, then explored the city before enjoying an amazing New Year’s Eve dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s The Narrows. For the next few days, we toured a lot of the highlights of London: the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the Churchill War Rooms, the National Gallery, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It was an incredible experience, but inevitably, our time together was over.

But my time in London was just getting started! The class I took looked at Harry Potter through various different critical lenses. For my group, we looked specifically at the adaptation from book to film. Of course, there were readings and discussions while we were abroad, but there was mostly sightseeing.

Our first day started with a Harry Potter walking tour of London, ending at King’s Cross Station. Our second day took us to Oxford to check out Christchurch College, which served as a huge inspiration for Hogwarts. Speaking of which, day three took us to the Warner Bros. Studio, the Mecca for Harry Potter fans. They had basically every set, costume, and prop you could imagine from the films, and the tour ended with a full-size model of Hogwarts Castle. Not going to lie, I did tear up a few times.

On day four, we went to Greenwich and saw the observatory and some fabulous views of London. Day five took us to the Tower of London, and then a few friends and I went to the Tate Modern and tea. Day six took us to the House of Minalima, the graphic design firm that has worked on every Harry Potter movie, and then to go see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I wasn’t a fan of the script when I read it, but after watching it, I can definitely say that it needs to be seen to be believed.

Day seven took us back to Westminster Abbey, while day eight took us to St. Paul’s Cathedral, with its more than five hundred steps to the top. And yes, I did climb them all. Our last day was a free day, which I spent hitting the last few things around London before the eleven-hour flight back to the states.

After almost three weeks in Europe, I can honestly say that this was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life. Being on my own for the most part and having to learn the rules of a new culture was fun and exciting, and it was great to be able to do something different and experience new weather, new cultures, and new people. It will definitely be an experience I will cherish forever.

Now that I’m back, there are a lot of projects I want to work on. I’ll try to keep you folks updated. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures!

The History of Disney, Part 8 – Final Thoughts

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In 2016, I began attending film school at Chapman University in Orange County, California. I wanted to be a writer, and though film wasn’t my first choice necessarily, it seemed like a more lucrative way to follow my passion than just getting an English degree. Going away to school and actually being on my own for the first time was an interesting transition. It wasn’t particularly traumatic, but it certainly wasn’t easy. Living with new people, navigating a new social scene, actually finding out what going to film school really means, all of it made for an exciting but challenging first semester.

Film schools often host guest speakers from the industry, especially those close to Los Angeles. One event that was fairly early in the year but immediately grabbed my attention was a pre-release event for that year’s new Disney animated film, Moana with the film’s screenwriter, Jared Bush.

Now, like many kids growing up in the United States, Disney was a huge part of my childhood. I grew up in the early 2000s with a decent collection of VHS tapes and later DVDs of both classic and more modern Disney films. My little sister helped extend my Disney Channel-watching days well into middle school, and, growing up in California, there were, of course, family vacations to Disneyland. I’m not saying I chose Chapman as my college because it’s a ten-minute drive from Anaheim, but I will say that that fact didn’t hurt. The music, the colors, the story of Disney films enchanted me as it did many others, firing the imagination for my games of make-believe.

Disney helped spark my interest in filmmaking. After seeing one of the films we owned enough times, I’d start digging into filmmaker commentaries and behind-the-scenes features. I distinctly remember the special edition DVD of Aladdin that had hours of content on that movie, looking at every angle of the making of the film from beginning to end, interviewing cast members, animators, producers, songwriters, pretty much everyone imaginable involved with the film in some way. In middle school and high school, as the Internet became a bigger part of my media diet, I discovered film critics on YouTube. At first, it was people cracking jokes about bad movies I hadn’t seen. They led me to creators who looked at movies more in depth, talking about what worked and what didn’t, people who weren’t afraid to really dive into something they were passionate about, even if it wasn’t considered “worthy” of study. Of course, a fair amount of this was about Disney, but it was the insights that helped me see film as something more than just something you watched because it looked cool.

So there I was, a fresh-faced youngster, going to learn about this new movie I’d heard a lot about. It was from Disney, a company who I was a fan of. It had music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, one of my favorite musicians. And it was tackling Polynesian culture and mythology, a topic I was really excited to see explored. Needless to say, I was pumped for the presentation.

I sat with a bunch of other people in one of the smaller screening rooms and the screenwriter began speaking. He was funny and kept us all engaged as he told us jokes that got cut from the final drafts and all their research to the South Pacific to make the movie as true to the culture as possible. He showed us clips, first of the song “We Know the Way,” which had dropped by the time of the event, and then the first few minutes of the movie, where we learn the backstory of Te Fiti and see baby Moana first meet the ocean.

It was that day, sitting in a dark screening room and getting a sneak peek at a movie I’d already made plans to see with family, that the first idea of this project really began. It may have been the first time I was really able to put my knowledge of filmmaking to use in appreciating the beauty of what I was seeing. It’s where I was able to articulate why that song and those visuals made me fight back tears, even though it wasn’t sad.

Almost exactly a year after Moana released, in my sophomore year, I wrote the introduction to this long-running series where I would watch the every Disney animated movie and provide my thoughts as well as historical and cultural context. And now, here we are, a whole year and fifty-eight movies later. So, what have I learned from doing all of this?

I learned a lot. I learned how styles have changed over the years, in animation, in storytelling, and in music. I learned how to adapt to adversity, whether it was Walt and his team struggling to make ends meet during the Wartime Era or me struggling to watch movies and keep a deadline. I learned how to talk about movies to people who might not have the same experience with them that I have. I learned how to condense research and write facts in an entertaining way. I learned to always be ready for a surprise and that you’re never too good for something you thought you wouldn’t like. I learned how to extract the joy even in things that aren’t the most pleasant. And I learned how to appreciate the little moments that take your breath away and make you whisper “Wow.”

This has been a fun ride, folks. I’ve watched over seventy hours of movies from the 1930s to 2018. There have been some real highs and some real lows, but overall, it’s been an enjoyable time. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend replicating this experiment, but I would encourage you to take some time this holiday season and catch up with some of your favorite movies. They can be Disney, but they don’t have to be. Get cozy with some snacks and relive an old childhood favorite or catch up with something you haven’t come back to in a while. Try to look at them with a more analytical eye. See if you can figure out what makes them work, what makes those special moments so special. See if you can find out why you keep remembering that film. Maybe you remember it because it was the only tape you had as a kid and so it’s burned into your brain, regardless of its actual merits. That’s totally fine, not every movie can win an Oscar. But maybe you’ll find something really special, something you hadn’t even realized when you were just sitting back and enjoying it. And, hopefully, you’ll be like me, watching films and really enjoying the act of watching them, laughing at the stupid moments and treasuring those moments that feel, dare I say it, magical.

I want to thank you all so much for going on this journey with me. Your comments and support have meant the world to me. This has really been a labor of love and it wouldn’t have been possible without your support. This has easily been one of the longest projects I’ve ever done, and it feels bittersweet to be done with it. Before we move onto the next big thing, let me leave you with a parting gift. Just once more, let’s get a good list in.

Now, I’m not going to rank all fifty-eight movies here, that would be ridiculous. If you want more of my thoughts on them, you can find them in previous posts in this series. I’m going to restrict myself to my top and bottom five overall, as well as the five most surprising movies for me. Without further ado, let’s get started.

My least favorite Disney movies:

Bottom5

5. Sword in the Stone – The legend of King Arthur has been interpreted in countless different ways over the years. Dull film that takes out all the interesting bits would not have been my first choice for an adaptation, but it certainly was Disney’s. This is the epitome of mediocre movies made to appeal to kids, which has never been Disney’s ethos. This subject matter deserves a second pass at it to really get the Disney spirit on it.

4. Dinosaur – I honestly can’t tell you much about this film, and I didn’t watch it that long ago. It does nothing to really try to draw you in and there’s nothing even noteworthy about it, beyond it being definitely the worst-looking Disney film. I wish I had stronger feelings towards this movie, but honestly, if you can’t remember anything about a film you saw a month ago, that says more than any review could.

3. Fun and Fancy Free – This movie is just baffling to me. Two completely unrelated shorts, neither of them strong enough to support their own movie, slammed together and forced onto the viewing public. It’s somewhat enjoyable in a “so bad, it’s good” way, but even that enjoyment wears thin after a while.

2. Song of the South – Now, when you have a boring narrative and you need to spice it up, I wouldn’t suggest going for awkward racial tensions. This movie is just a hot mess. The parts that aren’t boring are just uncomfortable to watch. Some of the animated segments are charming, though none of Disney’s best, and James Baskett does a fine job with the script he’s given. Still, this isn’t a movie I’m too keen on trying to defend.

1. Chicken Little – Every other movie on this list has at least one thing about it that makes it a little tolerable to watch. Even Song of the South has “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Chicken Little has nothing to recommend about it. A movie that hates its characters, is poorly animated, and is just altogether unpleasant to watch. This will be ninety minutes of your life you will never get back.

My most surprising Disney movies:

Surprise 5

5. Bolt – My criteria for a “surprising” movie is one that I watched for the first time or first time in a while and was surprised at its quality. I hadn’t seen Bolt since it came out a decade ago and was really pleasantly surprised at how wonderful it was. The buddy dynamic of the two mains makes for a very enjoyable journey and the Hollywood in-jokes are funnier to me now that I have some more knowledge about the industry.

4. Bambi – Bambi was the big surprise of the Golden Age for me, another movie I hadn’t seen in years. Doing this rewatch, I was better able to appreciate the stillness of it, the quiet beauty of its setting. The backgrounds really make you feel as though you’re in a cool, misty forest somewhere, observing animals in their natural habitat. I recommend this movie to anyone who just needs to slow down a bit in their life and enjoy some pretty scenery.

3. The Great Mouse Detective – A really surprisingly strong comedy based entirely on the performances of the hero and villain. Basil is an engaging a hero as the best of his Sherlock Holmes predecessors, but the real star is Vincent Price as Ratigan, one of the most fun Disney villains ever put to film. It’s an engaging ride that builds to a spectacular climax. If any movie deserves a revisit with a modern update, it’s this one.

2. Lady & the Tramp – Another movie that, like Bambi, is more beautiful style and scenery than intense plot and action. It’s in the grand romantic comedy tradition where I feel like I should be mad that there isn’t really much plot, but the characters are so engaging that I enjoy it regardless. It also takes full advantage of the medium of animation for beautifully composed shots and scenes that would be difficult to capture in live action.

1. Treasure Planet – Disney is really good a telling a pirate story, what can I say? This retelling of arguably the most famous pirate story blasts it off into an inventive sci-fi setting with a dash of 90s coolness that thankfully feels charming today. The relationship between Jim and Silver is really this movie’s heart and it’s very sweet. This is my most surprising movie as I just kept being surprised at how much I liked it and kept liking it as the movie progressed. This is my recommendation if you’re looking for a more underrated Disney gem.

My favorite Disney movies:

Top 5

5. The Jungle Book – The best of the pre-Renaissance films in my opinion. Every story beat and song flow into each other and build up to a strong climax and poignant resolution. Walt’s last film was truly his best, and while later works would innovate on the groundwork he set, they truly are standing on the shoulders of giants like this film.

4. Aladdin – A perfectly-timed comedy that runs like clockwork from the moment you press “Play.” With classic characters, unforgettable songs, and some of the most breathtaking moments in animation, this movie has remained a classic for generations for good reason.

3. Zootopia – A timely message about discrimination and personal biases wrapped up in a buddy cop movie about talking animals sounds ridiculous, but it’s one of the smartest movies I’ve ever seen. A well-executed script with enjoyable characters makes Zootopia a thought-provoking watch, while the beautiful visuals and inventive design make it more than just a glorified after-school special.

2. Lilo & Stitch – Animation doesn’t have to be bombastic to be effective. Lilo & Stitch shines in the quiet moments, the moments of friends surfing and playing on the beach or of sisters saying a tearful goodbye. The sci-fi action and space battles are fun, but they work because they serve the greater narrative, not because they interfere with it.

1. Beauty and the Beast – Every time I watch this movie, my love for it only grows stronger. This is Disney’s crowning artistic achievement as a studio, a tour de force of animation, music, writing, acting, everything. Everything synergizes to create something truly magical. Disney’s entire business model post-1991 has been to recapture the critical success of this movie. They’ve come really close, but nothing has topped it yet, and maybe it never will. I certainly enjoy watching them try though.

The History of Disney, Part 7 – The Revival Era

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This is Part 7 of my look back at the history of Disney animation. For more information on this project, check out the introduction, and the previous six posts which cover the Golden AgeWartime EraSilver AgeDark AgeDisney Renaissance and the Second Dark Age.

The Disney Revival refers to the films produced and released in the years after 2009. There were nine films released in this period: The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled (2010), Winnie the Pooh (2011), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), Big Hero 6 (2014), Zootopia (2016), Moana (2016), and Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018).

This is the modern era of Disney movies, the era that leads up to the present day. This encapsulates the entirety of the current Disney administration, under the head of CEO and former Eisner protege, Bob Iger. This includes the acquisition of Marvel and Lucasfilm, the construction of Shanghai Disney, and the recent merger with 21st Century Fox. These have been some of Disney’s most profitable years, seeing massive growth in an era where most other major studios have been struggling at the box office. 2018 saw Walt Disney Studios, the company’s entire film division, hit its highest revenues in history.

I won’t belabor this history lesson too much, as it’s so recent, but I will talk a bit about what contributed to this resurgence of Disney animation, much like I did when talking about the Disney Renaissance.

Disney fully acquired Pixar Animation in 2006. With this merger brought a lot of new talent and technology to Disney, including head of Pixar, John Lasseter, who helped shift the studio back to a more “filmmaker-driven” environment. The first film Lasseter had direct hands in the production of was Bolt (2008). Though it was only Disney’s third movie to be fully computer animated, after Dinosaur (200?) and Meet the Robinsons (2007), its moderate success was enough to keep the faith in Lasseter’s direction.

As had been done in the past, the studio turned to Ron Clements and John Musker, directors of The Little Mermaid (1989) and Aladdin (1992), to create their next film, The Princess and the Frog (2009). This marked a return to the classic style of Disney musicals in the Renaissance Era, which would take a cue out of the Renaissance’s playbook in recruiting Broadway talent to help write the songs. The old Disney standby Alan Menken returned to help score Tangled (2010), while Robert Lopez of Avenue Q and Book of Mormon fame worked with his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez on Frozen (2013), and Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda collaborated on Moana (2016).

There’s another interesting thread to the Disney Revival films, though, and it loosely involves another filmmaker with ties to the Disney Renaissance: Jeffrey Katzenberg. Katzenberg had left Disney in the 1990s after a heated dispute with Michael Eisner that would turn into a long-running lawsuit over payment. During this time, he founded DreamWorks Animation alongside Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. DreamWorks always had ties to Disney. Apart from Katzenberg, a number of other animators have left Disney for DreamWorks, and the films of Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks have sometimes mirrored each other a bit too close for simple coincidence. It’s somewhat unclear as to what degree Antz (1998) was a direct ripoff of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (1998), but it can’t be denied that DreamWorks has always kept an eye out for Disney.

In fact, Disney and the complete mess surrounding Katzenberg’s departure is responsible for DreamWorks’ most important film: Shrek (2001). This movie poked a lot of fun at the Disney brand and people ate it up. It was the fourth-highest grossing film of the year and beat Pixar’s own Monster’s Inc. (2001) for the inaugural Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Disney clearly noticed that audiences were responding to a more satirical look at the brand Walt had established and Eisner had monetized. 2007’s Enchanted was Disney’s parody and loving homage to the Disney animated canon, and was a critical and commercial success, even receiving a couple of Oscar nods.

A trend was set: you can make bank poking fun at Disney, or, at least, the public perception of Disney movies as overly saccharine and sometimes annoying kids’ fare. There had been jokes like this going as far back as Zazu singing “It’s a Small World” in The Lion King (1992), but the movies and marketing in the Revival age seemed to lean in more heavily to this postmodern metatext trend. Part of this is simple marketing. The Princess and the Frog didn’t do as well as hoped and many blamed the open “princess”-ness of the film, leading to the changing of Rapunzel and The Snow Queen to Tangled and Frozen. But I think a lot of this idea also comes from a broader cultural criticism of the Disney company. Eisner’s corporate control morphed Disney in the popular consciousness from the company of Walt and Roy and old men in knit cardigans to the very definition of a mega-corporation. This led to a reevaluation of the themes and trends being portrayed in Disney films, particularly in regards to the portrayal of women. It became easy and cool to lampshade some of these problems in newer films to give them some more cultural cache.

But, how many of these attempts were actually successful? Let’s take this list into the home stretch, folks.

9. Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) – It’s telling of the strength of this era that we start with a movie I think is actually pretty enjoyable. It builds within the framework set by the first movie and has some really neat interpretations of the workings of the Internet. That said, the story feels like more of a rehash of the first more than a fresh new take, and the Internet-based humor is already starting to feel a little dated. It’ll be interesting to see how well this one in particular ages.

8. Wreck-It Ralph (2012) – The callbacks in this one being more nostalgic than current help to bring this film over its sequel for me. It’s a charming and light-hearted movie that manages to do everything a good family film should. However, aside from the video game jokes, there’s not really much to set this movie out amongst its competitors. It’s a great movie to kill time and enjoy yourself, but not really one to be searching for any unique artistry or depth.

7. Tangled (2010) – This is possibly the most personally biased of all these rankings. The characters are fleshed out well, the story is nicely paced, and the animation is truly lovely – “I See the Light” gets me every time solely based on the animation. It’s entirely the style of this movie that kills it for me. The music is some of Alan Menken’s weakest and reminds me of guitar-heavy musicals like Next to Normal and The Last Five Years that I personally just can’t stand. The visual design of the film, while beautifully rendered, is also just a bit too generically Ren Faire for me. If all of these elements were wrapped up in different packaging, Tangled would be way higher on this list.

6. Winnie the Pooh (2011) – I described The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) as one of the best classic Disney films that combined episodic storytelling with a single, cohesive plot. This film is what you’d get if you took one episode and blew it up into its own film. It’s classic Winnie the Pooh humor and antics, just given more space to breathe. If you’re a big fan of the Hundred Acre Wood crew and haven’t checked this one out already, give it a look. It’s a better version of what you know and love without making the old film feel unnecessary.

5. The Princess and the Frog (2009) – I often see Tangled and Frozen pitted head-to-head online, as if there’s a great rivalry to see which is better. While I obviously have an opinion on the matter (opinions you are currently reading), I find the movies much more alike than they are different. It’s disappointing to see two similar films going against each other when one of my favorite princesses gets left by the wayside. The animation is the classic Disney style at its most polished and refined, the music helps center the film in its era while still being accessible, the character dynamic between Tiana and Naveen is one of the best in the Disney canon. If there’s one movie from this era that deserves a bit more love, I cast my vote for this one.

4. Big Hero 6 (2014) – This movie is a lot of things: it’s a superhero film, a buddy film, a mystery, and an action comedy. But, at its heart, it’s a movie about loss and how we move on when someone we love leaves us. The brilliance of Big Hero 6 is how it’s able to weave in those thematic elements into such a bombastic action film. This feeling of loss informs the actions of the characters, from the main hero to the villain to the sidekicks, and pays off in dramatic moments that don’t feel forced. When it works, it’s incredible. The movie falters when the plot concerns override these themes and we have to resolve things quickly to keep the action going. Still, it’s a superhero story that manages to still feel unique in the age of superheroes.

3. Moana (2016) – An interesting addition to the princess canon that breaks pretty much all the rules of the “Disney princess” genre. The animation is absolutely stunning, with some of the most beautiful water shots I’ve ever seen put to film. The chemistry between our main heroes is also wonderful, with neither feeling like they dominate the shared screen time. Dwayne Johnson as Maui can be a little hit or miss for me at times with his humor, but Auli’i Cravalho as Moana was honestly pitch-perfect casting on Disney’s part. This movie holds a lot of significance to this series which I’ll discuss soon, but for now, just know that it is a wonderful film.

2. Frozen (2013) – Look, I get the hate around Frozen. I was alive in 2014 when it was marketed to hell and back. I was there when little kids everywhere put this on repeat, as they are want to do. I was there when Disney initiated the Frozen takeover of practically everything, so I understand why some are still a little cold on this movie. However, if you can look at this film with fresh eyes, you’ll understand why this was so successful. It’s a great film. The visuals were gorgeous, the songs were some of the best from Disney in ages, and the story offered a new take on the classic “love conquers all” narrative that was actually kind of engaging, even if the actual plot was a little bumpy. It’s been five years, folks. Maybe it’s time to let all that hate go.

1. Zootopia (2016) – Rarely does a movie whose primary audience is young children try to tackle serious social issues. The message in most family films, Disney included, falls more in line with the ethos of “be yourself” and “be kind.” Rarer still is the movie that can do this and not come across as preachy. Zootopia takes us on a journey through a beautifully designed world to tell us an incredibly timely message about our own and the way our base instincts can be manipulated to divide us. Combined with engaging characters and witty dialogue, Zootopia manages to teach without making us realize that we’re being taught. It’s an incredible film for any age that feels incredibly appropriate today.

And with this, we’ve come to the modern day. There will be one final update where I’ll reflect on this project as a whole and give some of my personal favorites and least favorites overall. Until then, thank you all for taking this ride with me. We’ve got one stop left.

End of Year Update

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Hello everyone!

It is officially the most wonderful time of the year: finals season! As such, there’s no big update to anything this week, but I still thought I’d give you a little look into what’s coming for the rest of 2018.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be finishing up my Disney retrospective with a look at the most recent era and a brief reflection on this series as a whole. After that, it’s basically Christmas, so I’ll be taking a much-needed break.

In January, I will be spending a few weeks studying abroad in London, so there won’t be any activity here until mid-January when I’m back stateside. I’m super excited to go and share this incredible experience with all of you folks.

Until then, happy holidays!

The Fruit Tree – Debut Issue

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Hello everyone!

I’m excited to announce that I have been selected to be a part of the debut issue of “The Fruit Tree,” a new independent literary journal that brings together unique perspectives from writers around the world. It’s an incredible journal full of interesting pieces. I had a blast writing mine and getting to read everyone else’s has been even more fun.

You can find the December 2018 issue of “The Fruit Tree” at this link. You can read the whole thing for free by clicking “Preview” or you can help support them even more by purchasing a physical copy.

Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy all the incredible work that everyone put in to make this a reality.

The History of Disney, Part 6 – Second Dark Age

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This is Part 6 of my look back at the history of Disney animation. For more information on this project, check out the introduction, and the previous five posts which cover the Golden AgeWartime EraSilver AgeDark Age, and Disney Renaissance.

The Second Dark Age refers to the films produced and released in the years between 1999 and 2008. There were eleven films released in this period:  Fantasia 2000 (1999), Dinosaur (2000), The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), Lilo & Stitch (2002), Treasure Planet (2002), Brother Bear(2003), Home on the Range (2004), Chicken Little (2005), Meet the Robinsons (2007), and Bolt (2008).

It is difficult to accurately decide when a major shift in any historical movement occurs, as there are always factors leading up to the generally understood moment of change and the old way of thinking tends to linger in some sense.

Case in point, when did the Disney Renaissance really end? Was it in 1993, when Pocahontas opened to less than overwhelming praise? Was it in 1994, when Frank Wells’ death finally opened the rift between Eisner and Katzenberg and the latter left animation? Was it in 1996, when Michael Ovitz left as president of Disney, having been repeatedly stopped at every turn by Eisner and his cronies?

As usual, these things are easier to pinpoint in hindsight. After Tarzan (1999), there were a string of under-performing and ill-reviewed films. But these issues, though they are the focus of this series, are not the real reason we consider this era a second Dark Age for Disney. No, as a letter quoted in James B. Stewart’s book DisneyWar puts it, “All roads lead back to Eisner.”

After Michael Ovitz’s ouster as president in 1996, Eisner consolidated his power by not naming a replacement, instead making himself as CEO and chairman the sole head of the company. Eisner would tease a successor throughout this period without fully committing, keeping many people thinking they were next in line when really, the succession was more like a free-for-all. Conditions on the board weren’t much different. Eisner collected allies and slowly stamped out dissension until the board would basically rubber stamp any decision he made.

And what decisions. In 1998, Disney got into the emerging Internet market, purchasing the startups Starwave and Infoseek and consolidating them into the Go Network. Despite the best efforts of former ABC exec Steve Bornstein, Go.com floundered, its assets too disparate to merge into a cohesive unit, and Disney had to buy back most of its stocks. They weren’t hit quite as hard as AOL-Time Warner when the tech bubble burst, but it was still a costly misstep.

Speaking of costly missteps, Disney’s acquisition of ABC in 1995 had some mixed success. The 1997 hit Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was a huge hit that came out of nowhere, then was watered down to meaninglessness when ABC decided to air it three nights a week. By 2004, ABC was in fourth place in the ratings among all major networks. In 2001, Haim Saban’s Fox Family channel was purchased for $5.3 billion and became ABC Family, a network that failed to find its identity or really generate revenues until today. Heck, it’s not even ABC Family anymore, as it was rebranded in 2016 to Freeform.

The theme parks also failed to really excite the bottom line. In 2002, Euro Disney changed its name to Disneyland Paris in an attempt to distance itself from its first decade of failure. The year before, Disney’s California Adventure opened to low attendance and major critiques. Regardless of quality (2001 was also the year when the fantastic Tokyo DisneySea opened), the theme park division, long the company’s moneymaker, was hit hard by the recession and reduced tourism that followed the September 11th attacks.

Not all of Disney’s middling performance in this period can be attributed to Eisner – Disney was hit quite hard by the recession in the early 2000s. That being said, Eisner’s involvement in the numerous branches of the Disney company had some influence in both their successes and their failures, and his consolidation of power was to blame for the stagnation both on the creative and business sides of the company.

In 2003, Stanley Gold and Walt’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, resigned from the board of directors and launched the “Save Disney” campaign to force Eisner’s ouster. Their campaign was targeted directly at shareholders, urging them to withhold support for Eisner to save the company. They accused Eisner of micromanaging the company, citing the failures above as proof while also attacking him for his lack of a clear succession. While Roy may have hated references to Disney’s “brand,” the appeal to Disney fans was incredibly successful. During a protest-rattled stockholder meeting in 2004, 43 percent of Disney shareholders voted against Eisner. Eisner was succeeded in 2005 by Robert Iger, former president of ABC, as chairman, who still leads the company today.

James B. Stewart sums up Eisner’s downfall perfectly in his excellent book DisneyWar: “When Eisner himself sometimes referred to the drama swirling around him as ‘Shakespearean,’ he might well have been describing the Bard’s obsession with this very theme, in which a ruler disregards his subjects and answers only to the demands of his own ego.”

Aesthetically, this era is known for its experimentation. Disney expanded their animation studio over the Renaissance years, opening new animation studios in Florida, Australia, Canada, France, and Japan. While these studios mostly collaborated with the main studios in California, several films and segments were produced entirely at these satellite studios. Lilo and Stitch (2002) and Brother Bear (2003), for example, were produced entirely at the Florida studios, and the Firebird Suite portion of Fantasia 2000 (2000) was produced entirely in France.

With this level of decentralization, many different ideas were allowed to be greenlit. It also helped that much of the attention from the higher-ups were on other areas of the company, allowing the animators more leeway than they otherwise might have had.

This era also saw a shift away from the musicals of the Renaissance age, almost like a reaction against them. The Renaissance format was by this point seeing diminishing returns, so it was likely a smart business decision that also kept costs down, as they didn’t have to hire as large a music team.

While this era is looked at with fondness by many, there’s no denying that this was generally a dark period for Disney. However, there are always still some gems hiding in the darkness. Let’s see which movies overcome the period’s reputation, and which only serve to strengthen that reputation.

11. Chicken Little (2005) – Sometimes, a movie is ugly not just visually, but in its soul. Chicken Little is a mean-spirited film. No one outside of our main character and his friends is likable, the jokes are often just mean more than funny, and the whole film is just unpleasant. I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie that I so actively disliked and wanted to turn off while watching. This movie doesn’t even feel like Disney; it feels like a rip-off direct to video sequel from a third-tier studio. Do yourself a favor, don’t watch this movie. You will gain nothing and only lose time.

10. Dinosaur (2000) – See, most times, these bad Disney movies are just boring. And, Oh Lord, is Dinosaur boring. This was Disney’s first to be fully computer animated in 3D, and while the dinosaurs are fairly good=looking for the time, I could barely tell how good or bad they looked thanks to this movie picking the most boring color palette in existence. My memories of this movie are just grey and grey-brown motion blurs. I cared for none of the characters or the plot, but they also didn’t enrage me in any way. It’s just a really forgettable film, not even bad enough to be memorable.

9. Home on the Range (2004) – I put Home on the Range this low not for what it is, but for what it represents. I didn’t mind Home on the Range. The art was appealing, the story was okay, the characters were fine, the music wasn’t grating, it was a perfectly adequate animated kid’s movie. And therein lies the problem. The name “Disney” carries too much weight, especially now in its post-Eisner corporate conglomerate form. A Disney movie needs to be more than simply “adequate.” When you have Best Picture nominees under your belt, you can’t afford to take things too easy.

8. Brother Bear (2003) – I didn’t realize how prevalent this movie was in my memory until I started watching the movie and realized I could recite the trailer to this word-for-word from recall alone. I’ll be honest, I think that ultimately killed this movie for me. I was completely unable to take it seriously for even a second. The premise is so outlandish and the jokes do lend themselves to a more comedic than epic tone. This is definitely one for bad movie nights, just so other people can laugh at my riffs.

7. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) – This movie had amazing potential… as a television series. As a 90-minute movie, it feels rushed, like every character is trying to get the words out as fast as possible and there’s no room to let the moment sink in. When you kill off the majority of your crew in the first half hour, you may have some pacing problems. That being said, the characters were charming and the world was beautifully designed. If Disney wants to bring this back and give it the full Stargate or Star Trek treatment it deserves, I am available to consult.

6. Fantasia 2000 (1999) – I actually I think I like this better than the original Fantasia. This movie gets to the good stuff quicker. There’s less stuffiness to it and I enjoyed the segments more overall than the originals. It’s still very hit or miss depending on which segments are on, and, while I didn’t mind the celebrity cameos, they did sometimes feel like filler. But, I think this is a nice quick little tribute to Walt’s dream of endless Fantasias.

5. Meet the Robinsons (2007) – Charming is the best word to describe this movie. It’s very sweet and wacky with that frenetic, bubbly kind of sci-fi air that seems typical of a lot of retro-futuristic throwbacks. The characters are lovable and the comedy is witty, but there are times when it’s too wacky for its own good. It feels too upbeat, especially the music, for the more dramatic elements to really take their full effects. There was never a moment when I felt like things wouldn’t work out for our heroes in the end. Nonetheless, it’s light and enjoyable and really speaks to the little weird kid inside all of us.

4. Treasure Planet (2002) – I did not expect to enjoy this movie as much as I did. Maybe it was the aesthetics, the really cool mix of Victoriana and science fiction. Maybe it was the complex yet heartfelt relationship between Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver. Maybe it’s because this was my first real exposure to the Treasure Island story and dang it, pirates are fun. Whatever made this movie work for me, it really worked. It’s charming and a good popcorn flick. I can totally understand why it bombed on release, but I think it’s one of the more underrated movies from Disney.

3. Bolt (2008) – I also didn’t remember liking Bolt as much as I did when I first watched it, but man, is it a good movie. Maybe I’m biased because I’ve studied film and TV and so get a lot more of the in-jokes now as opposed to when I was a kid, but that’s not the main thing I love about this film. Road trip movies are based on the dynamic between the people on the trip, and the relationship between Bolt the dog and Mittens the alley cat was really fun and funny. This movie was a real surprise for me. If you haven’t seen it in a while, go check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

2. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) – This movie does everything a comedy should do. The jokes come fast, but not overwhelmingly fast. The characters are relatable, if not always likable. In fact, this movie is a pretty good example of how to make an unlikable protagonist work. The art style is also really fun and would have been interesting for the time, though I can tell you that this particular 2000’s style has certainly worn me down a little by this point. It’s overall a really fantastic comedy that can handle its more somber moments with ease as well.

1. Lilo & Stitch (2002) – Now, this movie. This is the kind of movie I wish we saw more of from Disney and from Hollywood in general. A movie with integral themes that run side-by-side with the main plot. A movie that knows where to focus its energy and doesn’t need to get bogged down with extraneous crap, like a forced relationship or an obvious villain. A movie with characters that act like real people, not just stock archetypes. Lilo & Stitch has some of my favorite characters and music of the whole Disney canon, and is one of those movies that should really be evaluated without the caveat of it being Disney or animated. It’s an incredible film about family and love that is much more down-to-earth than Stitch’s alien nature would suggest.

And with that, we are basically caught up to the modern day. In our next installment, we’ll be covering Disney in the past decade and their rise back to fame and fortune during The Revival Era. After that, there will be one or two more parts to this series wrapping everything up, sharing my thoughts of what I’ve learned making this series and what I feel about Disney going forward. I’m hoping to have these both out by the end of the year, so I’ll be seeing you all real soon!

The History of Disney 5.5 – Renaissance Songs

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In my last installment of my Disney History looking at the Disney Renaissance, I talked a lot about how Disney really found a solid formula for success and stuck to it. To illustrate this point, we’re going to take a quick sidebar and compare the various Disney Renaissance movies based on their song numbers. Is this just a ploy to give me more time to work on the next parts of the series? Yes, but keep reading regardless.

Now, there are six main types of songs found in these movies. These are common to not just Renaissance Disney, but a lot of post-Renaissance movies and musicals as a whole. However, many Disney movies outside the Renaissance are missing at least one major category of song, while most of these movies have all six. So, without further ado, let’s get into the categories. I’ll discuss the specifics of each category, then rank the Renaissance movies based on these numbers.

1. Opening Prologue Song – This song sets up the world and tone of the piece. This is meant to signal the everyday life of the characters before the events of the movie take place to change them. In Broadway, this is often the place for the overture, though some musicals have both. Think “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof or “Good Morning, Baltimore” from Hairspray.

  • Hunchback – “Bells of Notre Dame” – A true operatic prologue in the vein of Les Mis. This song is an epic with some truly gorgeous orchestration. This opening really sets up the dark tone of Hunchback beautifully. You know exactly what you’re in for after this.
  • Beauty and the Beast – “Belle” – This song helps to acquaint us not just with the characters and story but also with the operetta style of the film. It’s a more traditional Broadway style, but it works with this story and world and is done brilliantly.
  • The Lion King – “Circle of Life” – Lion King has one of the most iconic opening seconds in all of film, and this song is a major reason why. This sequence has some of the best animation in the film, and the song is iconically beautiful.
  • Aladdin – “Arabian Nights” – Another short and sweet song that introduces us musically and visually to the world we’ll be inhabiting. It feels complete without having to go on and on for too long.
  • The Little Mermaid – “Fathoms Below” – A fun little sea shanty to acquaint us with our underwater adventure. Though short, it’s a charming preamble that flows into the greater score beautifully.
  • Pocahontas – “Virginia Company/Steady as the Beating Drum” – These two songs serve essentially the same purpose of introducing us to each side of the main conflict. Both are good songs that don’t really stand out in any way.
  • Hercules – “The Gospel Truth” – This song is a good introduction to the admittedly odd decision to go with Christian gospel for the musical motif. However, the two slower reprises just bog down the overall feeling of the prologue.
  • Tarzan – “Two Worlds” – This is just my opinion, but I feel that the lyrics here are too specific in narrating the visuals. If you’re not going to use diegetic music (that is, music happening in the universe of the story as opposed to elements like the score), then I feel it should be a little less obvious.
  • Mulan – “Honor to Us All” – With one massive exception, Mulan‘s soundtrack is kind of dull. While this is a nice opening with the visuals, it doesn’t hold up as one of my favorites musically.

2. “I Want” Song – This song very simply and kind of bluntly spells out the main character’s wants. Often this is the first ballad of the show, taking a moment from the action to detail the stakes for the piece. Think “The Wizard and I” from Wicked or “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.

  • Hunchback – “Out There” – The way this song builds musically to its climactic end brings a tear to my eye every time. Tom Hulce’s performance as Quasimodo builds perfectly as well, going from sweet and timid to powerful and hopeful so naturally, it almost feels effortless.
  • The Little Mermaid – “Part of Your World” – The prototype of the Disney “I want” song. Its biggest strength is its simple melody that allows the lyrics and vocal performance of Jodi Benson to really shine.
  • Tarzan – “Strangers Like Me” – The driving beat of this song really propels it forward and keeps pace for the visuals. The lyrics, unlike in the opening, feel just specific enough to be part of the story while not getting too close to narration.
  • The Lion King – “Can’t Wait to Be King” – Another great blend of music and visuals that help show Simba’s naivete while still keeping us on his side. The heavy use of percussion keeps the pace lively as it builds to its climax.
  • Mulan – “Reflection” – One of the more melancholy “I want” songs in all of Disney, the more somber tone allows the incomparable Lea Salonga to imbue her words with so much emotion.
  • Aladdin – “One Jump Ahead/One Jump Ahead (Reprise)” – A fun and bouncy number that blurs the line between opener and “I want’ song whose reprise really establishes Aladdin’s motivations. It also really helps set up the jazz-inspired musical theme for the film.
  • Pocahontas – “Just Around the Riverbend” – A powerful ballad that shows off Judy Kuhn’s impressive voice. The lyrics do leave a little to be desired, though, and the music at points competes with the vocals rather than supporting them.
  • Hercules – “Go the Distance” – A ballad that, while pretty, just kind of goes on longer than it needs to and then goes on for even longer. A lot of the music in Hercules could have benefitted from a little editing, and this song is no exception.
  • Beauty and the Beast – “Belle (Reprise)” – This little reprise is gorgeous, but at barely over a minute long, I just really wish we had gotten a proper “I want” song.

3. Secondary Character/Marketing Song – This genre is more specific to Disney than musicals as a whole. While most musical have one showstopper number where the less important characters get to shine, these tend to get used by Disney a lot in their marketing. These are the songs that make key appearances in trailers, in commercials, in toys, in fast food ads, everywhere. Think “Carnaval del Barrio” from In the Heights or “King of New York” from Newsies.

  • Mulan – “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” – This is the big exception to Mulan‘s mediocrity I mentioned before. The movie itself really picks up once it gets to the camp, and turning that into a high energy montage with a song that’s found its way onto a number of gym playlists helps kick the film into high gear.
  • Beauty and the Beast – “Be Our Guest” – A true showcase for the secondary characters that helps to make the castle seem inviting for both Belle and the audience. This sequence is a true tour de force for the animation as they match the orchestra beat for beat.
  • Aladdin – “Friend Like Me” – I don’t envy the animators tasked with bringing Robin Williams’s incredible energy to life. This song goes by so quickly, but every note and motion are so meticulously placed that you’re left breathless by the end of it.
  • Hercules – “Zero to Hero” – The Muses start this number off with a bang and don’t let up until it’s over. It’s a celebration of Hercules at the highest point of his journey, and makes you feel like you can accomplish anything.
  • Pocahontas – “Colors of the Wind” – While Pocahontas is too serious for its own good most of the time, you can’t fault it when it produces a beautiful song like this.
  • The Little Mermaid – “Under the Sea” – A lively change of musical style from the traditional Broadway style that helps liven up the film with an iconic number. This change was one of Ashman and Menken’s masterstroke ideas that help make Mermaid such a good film.
  • Hunchback – “Topsy Turvy” – While Hunchback‘s mature tone is one of the strongest elements of it, Disney was very nervous about how it marketed that. “Topsy Turvy,” a lighthearted song with a jaunty, if not too memorable, melody, was just the spoonful of sugar needed to lure in parents of young children. The song itself is pleasant to listen to, but not quite so memorable.
  • The Lion King – “Hakuna Matata” – A good song will survive the transition from film to soundtrack relatively intact. This song really loses something without the dialogue, leaving it a shambling mess upon listen.
  • Tarzan – “Trashing the Camp” – A basic idea for a scene that gets turned into an overly long musical number. It’s not objectively bad music, but it’s the low point of Tarzan‘s score for sure.

4. Villain Song – Again, this genre is more often found in Disney movies than in musicals as a whole, but a good villain song is a staple for many reasons. Not all musicals have villains, but any Disney villain worth their salt will have a fun and dark number perfect to set themselves up as the bad guy. Movies with subtler villains won’t have one, which sadly does them more of a disservice than anything. Think “Candy Store” from Heathers or “Last Midnight” from Into the Woods.

  • Hunchback – “Hellfire” – A very different villain song that doesn’t so much revel in villainy as it does lament it. Fully committing to making church music sinister (not a far jump in all honesty), this whole sequence is one of the most intense in all of the Disney canon.
  • Beauty and the Beast – “Gaston/The Mob Song” – Two songs that show off both sides of our main villain. “Gaston” is a bawdy waltz which feels both fun and a little sinister, while “The Mob Song” commits fully to embodying the townsfolk’s paranoia and desperation.
  • Aladdin – “Prince Ali (Reprise)” – In less than a minute, Jonathan Freeman as Jafar manages to give one of the campiest and most gleeful performances I’ve ever heard. He is having so much fun in this number. It makes me wish we’d seen more opportunities for him to let loose musically.
  • The Lion King – “Be Prepared” – Another song that builds beautifully to its climax. Fully understanding Scar’s villainy apparently involves an epic statement of purpose that changes color as it builds to its joyful peak.
  • The Little Mermaid – “Poor Unfortunate Souls” – A wonderfully vampy song that I want more of. The second half is even better as it really picks up steam and builds to an epic crescendo. I truly just wish we could have gotten an even bigger song for such a larger than life persona.
  • Pocahontas – “Mine, Mine, Mine/Savages” – Another pair of songs, these are not as good as Beauty‘s. “Mine, Mine, Mine” just suffers from being a weak song for a weak villain, while the “both sides” narrative in “Savages” feels disingenuous in a way similar songs like West Side Story‘s “Tonight (Quintet).”
  • Hercules/Tarzan/Mulan – None

5. Love Song – The culmination of the romantic subplot (or plot) that we’ve been watching for the whole show. This song usually falls in the middle of the second act to tie up all the loose ends right before the big climax. Think “Almost Paradise” from Footloose or “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls.

  • Aladdin – “Whole New World” – Surprisingly, this is the only love duet in this era, and it really takes advantage of having two characters to play with. This song best encapsulates the exhilaration of falling in love in a manner so infectious, it can even get a jaded grump like myself to believe in that thing called love again.
  • Beauty and the Beast – “Beauty and the Beast” – A very simple tune rendered with such tenderness that I defy you not to get a little tear in your eye while listening to it. Angela Lansbury is kind of odd choice for a singer when you think about it, but her performance is really what makes this song so special.
  • Hercules – “Won’t Say I’m In Love” – Another unique love song, this one is unique for its sheer level of sass and reluctance. The switch from gospel to more of a Motown edge for the musical style works so well for the number and makes me want to see more numbers like this.
  • The Little Mermaid – “Kiss the Girl” – The Caribbean elements return for the closest thing Disney will ever really get to a seduction song. It’s fun and bouncy and serves to help balance out the back half of the movie musically.
  • Tarzan – “You’ll Be In My Heart” – This song plays as a traditional love song later in the film, but the initial use of it as a song about maternal love in the beginning is better in my opinion. It’s soft and sweet, even if there’s not a ton to it.
  • The Lion King – “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” – Possibly because I really like the Elton John version of this song, I’m not a fan of it in the movie. The lyrics and performances just feel kind of flat. Lion King‘s strength musically comes more from the score than the songs anyway.
  • Hunchback – “Heaven’s Light” – A truly sweet number amongst all the bombast of Hunchback‘s score, but it gets lost as a mere counterpoint to the sheer intensity of “Hellfire” that immediately follows it.
  • Pocahontas/Mulan – None

6. Final Reprise – This song wraps everything up, sending us leaving the movie theater on a high note. The reprise also serves as a reminder of the beginning of the show to show how far we’ve come. Think “Epilogue” from Les Miserables or “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?” from Hamilton.

Most of these are just choral arrangements of the big song of the movie, probably the one that you’ll have to listen to the adult contemporary remix of over the credits. These are all pretty, but they aren’t ranked in any order as they’re all fairly interchangeable.

  • The Little Mermaid – “Part of Your World (Reprise)”
  • Beauty and the Beast – “Beauty and the Beast (Reprise)”
  • Aladdin – “Whole New World (Reprise)”
  • The Lion King – “King of Pride Rock”
  • Hunchback – “Bells of Notre Dame (Reprise)”
  • Hercules – “A Star Is Born” – The one Disney movie to have an actual ending song and it’s just kind of okay. A very one-note number that only prolongs a movie that I’m usually ready to be done with.
  • Tarzan – “Two Worlds (Reprise)”
  • Pocahontas/Mulan – None

7. Miscellaneous – These are songs that really didn’t fit into any of the above categories, but I wanted to give my thoughts on them regardless. In no particular order:

  • “Human Again” from Beauty and the Beast – This song is the reason I prefer the special edition of this movie to the original. From a writing and lyrical perspective, this is one of the more personal songs in the Disney canon, expressing lyricist Howard Ashman’s feelings as he battled with the latter stages of AIDS. It never fails to bring a tear to my eye and send me with a tune in my heart.
  • “Prince Ali” from Aladdin – The speed at which Aladdin moves is truly incredible. “Prince Ali” is what you get when you take the pace and speed of “Friend Like Me” and just amp it up into a spectacle that just keeps getting bigger and bigger until it all literally comes crashing into the ending.
  • “God Help the Outcasts” from Hunchback of Notre Dame – Hunchback is so often intense and bombastic that it’s really nice to hear such a sweet song during a moment that could have been played seriously. It’s a tender song set to some of the best visuals in the whole movie. Its beauty shines from its earnestness and sincerity.
  • “Son of Man” from Tarzan – I just really like this song. Nothing deep about it. It’s bouncy and energetic, it tells the story without being too literal, it’s catchy, and I think it’s probably the best song on the soundtrack.