The return of the Disney animated musical

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 24, 2014, 10:41 PM | comments: 0

I went through a slight Disney phase in college. Not super hardcore (contrary to the understanding of my former mother-in-law), but there was a series of films that were really great, in my view: Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. These all seemed like they were written for the stage and made into animated movies. There was a part of me that was really moved by musical theater, even though at the time I had not seen very much of it, and the soundtracks for those movies really reminded me of the "big" shows at the time, like Phantom or Les Mis, only you could watch them on VHS tape.

I remember the summer before my senior year going to a theater in Mansfield one afternoon, before my radio shift at WYHT, to see Lion King. That opening scene completely blew my mind. To this day, it's so visually overpowering, and the music is brilliant. It seemed like Disney could do no wrong, and the formula certainly wasn't getting old.

But the machine definitely fell into decline after that. Mulan, Hercules, Hunchback, Tarzan... none of them did much for me. It was kind of sad even. By that time, my film interest had drifted more into the "indie blockbuster" realm, including stuff like Pulp Fiction, and anything by the Coens. But I still loved a good musical.

When Pixar delivered the first Toy Story, it was clear that animated story telling was not only viable, but ready for a new generation. Most of the Pixar films, even after it was wholly acquired by Disney, were completely awesome. But they also weren't musicals.

Then Frozen was released. Honestly, it wasn't even on my radar, because even though I love movies, I've had to deemphasize them due to time constraints in my post-childbirth life. I had seen the title, but didn't know anything about it. Then I noticed that the princesses were drawing enormous crowds at Epcot. Friends on Facebook were going to see it multiple times, voluntarily. My niece was appearing in Facebook videos performing the big song. Clearly something was up here... this was not a failure.

Finally, I ordered it on BluRay and got it the day it was released. After more than 19 years since Lion King, Disney finally made another musical that was an instant classic. It really is impressive. The music is completely amazing. I didn't even know that Kristen Bell, one of my favorite actresses, was one of the two leads, and that she totally has the pipes.

Even though we tend to visit the theme parks once a week, I'm not sure I would consider myself a Disney nerd these days. Still, there's no denying, they really have a phenomenon on their hands this time.


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