Warm Hugs and Dandelion Fuzz: ‘In Summer’ from Disney’s Frozen

As I sit to write this, it is a balmy 20 degrees farenheit outside (or -6.66667 celsius). And though I’m usually quite fond of the cold, I’ll admit that, like the lovable Olaf, I’m daydreaming about summer, and sun, and all things hot. Ah, to be lounging on a white sand beach. Listening to the sound of the rolling waves. Drinking out of a pineapple. Heaven.

Which leads us to this week’s focus: the perpetually charming and always singable ‘In Summer.’ The song was part of 2013’s mega-hit Frozen and, next to Let It Go, is easily the most popular and memorable moment in the film. 

The music in the film was composed by the husband and wife team of Robert Lopez (co-creator of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon musicals) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (the couple also wrote the music for Walt Disney World’s Finding Nemo: The Musical, Frozen II, and the songs of Coco.)

The number is performed shortly after the characters of Anna and Sven meet Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad. Time Magazine described the piece as, “”A soft-shoe number with brilliant choreography of character, voice and visuals (it ends with a swirling tracking shot that quotes the one that accompanied Julie Andrews singing ‘The Sound of Music’), ‘In Summer’ makes Olaf’s weather delusion sound and look deliciously delirious.” 

  In 2014, the couple sat down with Professor W. Anthony Sheppard of Williams College to discuss their song writing process. 

“We don’t really divvy it up,” Robert Lopez said. “We talk and talk and talk. First about the story, making sure the story’s right and the song is in the right place. Then we talk and talk some more about what the song should be called. And then we just start playing. We start improvising.”

“We have a big white board,” Kristen Lopez adds. “I just put a whole bunch of ideas and lyrics and phrases up, and then like a day or two later it starts to gel into something.” 

Later in the interview, the couple explained that an earlier version of ‘In Summer’ was titled ‘Hot, Hot, Ice. According to Anderson-Lopez it, “was like ‘Hot, Hot, Hot’ meets Simon & Garfunkel…it didn’t work.” 

When composing the piece, the couple made use of numerous triplets (defined as a three-note group that can be played in the same time duration as a two-note group), which help give the music the frolicking quality heard as Olaf dreams about playing in green fields underneath the summer sun.  

The couple also made use of their prior knowledge of Josh Gad and his vocal ability when writing the piece. Gad originated the role of Elder Cunningham in the first Broadway production of ‘The Book of Mormon,’ for which Lopez composed the music. 

Talking about his role as Olaf, Gad stated that the character, “…loves to hug people. That’s his great gift. He is so full of joy…He doesn’t really understand the concept of heat and summer, and the one thing he loves more than anything is the idea of summer, the magic that summer might be. Even though he doesn’t understand the consequences of what that means and so he embraces this notion that, in a world in which there can be summer, he has yet to experience something like that. And that’s what he strives for.”

It was that very naivety and innocence (captured so perfectly in the song ‘In Summer’) that Gad loved about the character. In a behind-the-scenes interview he stated, “There’s something about that youthful innocence where you can go all the way. Your sandbox is endless with that kind of character…This character does the most insane things without any fear of what might happen.” 

Despite that, Gad does not view him as simple comic relief, stating that the character, “lives to love.” 

In another interview, this time with Rotten Tomatoes, Gad reflected on the film’s music stating, “The music is so powerful in that, it’s not just there to underscore as is often the case, but it’s there to emotionally take us on this journey.”

Speaking specifically of ‘In Summer,’ he recalled, “I grew up watching Aladdin and I remember sitting in the theater and watching Robin Williams belt out his big number, ‘You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me,’ and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I wanna do that someday. That is my big dream.’” 

Given the popularity of the character and the number, it’s shocking to learn that it almost didn’t make it to the final film. That’s because the initial version of Olaf was nothing like the version we ended up seeing, and his big show stopping number was viewed as more irritating than charming. 

A ScreenRant article quotes Jennifer Lee (director of ‘Frozen’) as stating, “When I saw the screening — I wasn’t on the project yet — every time he appeared I wrote, ‘Kill the f-ing snowman.’ I just wrote, ‘Kill him. I hate him. I hate him.'”

In fact, his character was originally designed to be just as icy as the character Elsa seemed on the surface. Fortunately, as noted in Variety, “…a “sneaky” staff animator had worked out a three-page script treatment with Gad in mind after he impressed filmmakers with a late night TV appearance. Lee found him irresistible, and the rest is box office history.”

As the temperature continues to drop around me, I’ll be listening to the song and fantasizing about warmer days. Ready to sing along with me? 

Bees’ll buzz, kids’ll blow dandelion fuzz

And I’ll be doing whatever snow does

In summer

A drink in my hand, my snow up against the burning sand

Prob’ly getting gorgeously tanned

In summer

I’ll finally see a summer breeze blow away a winter storm

And find out what happens to solid water when it gets warm

And I can’t wait to see what my buddies all think of me

Just imagine how much cooler I’ll be

In summer

Da da, da doo, ah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, boo

The hot and the cold are both so intense

Put ’em together, it just makes sense

Ratdadat, dadadadoo

Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle

But put me in summer and I’ll be a happy snowman

When life gets rough I like to hold onto my dreams

Of relaxing in the summer sun, just letting off steam

Oh, the sky will be blue, and you guys’ll be there too

When I finally do what frozen things do

In summer

In summer!

The Art of Relaxation: Disney’s New Album Lofi Minnie: Chill

Last year, Disney released the album Lofi Minnie: Focus to great success. It racked up 12 million streams worldwide, with the song Hakuna Matata garnering 4.5 million streams alone. A little less than 12 months later, and the company is hoping to duplicate that success with the release of Lofi Minnie: Chill.

Announcing the album, Tim Pennoyer, Enterprise Franchise Management, said, “As Minnie Mouse is one of Disney’s most celebrated icons, she’s a source of comfort for so many around the world. Bringing listeners comfort, and a way to unwind, is a huge part of what makes lo-fi special too. We saw those elements marry so well in the release of our first album, ‘Lofi Minnie: Focus’, that we knew we couldn’t stop at just one. We’re so grateful to the brilliant lo-fi talent involved in this project. None of this could be possible without them, and their styles are so nuanced that this album really has something for everyone while maintaining a consistent vibe throughout. Many lo-fi music fans get in the zone by listening for hours, so we stacked 16 songs into lo-fi Minnie: Chill for fans to get over an hour of listening with the first album combined. We’re just getting started on reimagining fresh new interpretations of Minnie Mouse like this and are so excited for people to see what she has in store.”

The track list features:

  1. “Circle of Life” (The Lion King) – Team Astro
  2. “Colors of the Wind” (Pocahontas) – WYS
  3. “You’ll Be in My Heart” (Tarzan) – Jeff Kaale
  4. “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” (Hercules) – Gnarly
  5. “Reflection” (Mulan) – Philanthrope
  6. “Beauty and the Beast” (Beauty and the Beast) – Hippo Dreams
  7. “When You Wish Upon a Star” (Pinocchio) – Jazzinuf
  8. “The Bare Necessities” (The Jungle Book) – Pastels
  9. “Winnie the Pooh” (Winnie the Pooh) – Sagun
  10. “Chim Chim Cher-ee” (Mary Poppins) – Hoogway
  11. “Strangers Like Me” (Tarzan) – mommy
  12. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (Mulan) – Kerusu
  13. “When Will My Life Begin?” (Tangled) – Ruth de las Plantas
  14. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” (Encanto) – Otelsa
  15. “Let It Go” (Frozen) – eevee
  16. “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” (Cinderella) – Made in M

A Brief History

Pinning down the origins of lo-fi music can be a bit difficult. As noted by The Music Origins Project, “Light distortion, jazz samples, fuzzy vinyl sounds, and the light crashing of waves. No CD’s, no live concerts, little to no lyrics, and no commercial music videos. These are some of the most notable traits of what is now known as lo-fi music. You could even say that these key characteristics are the defining factors of lo-fi as a genre. But, how can you fully explain the origins of a genre that essentially does not want to be defined?”

Of course, there is a technical definition out there, but it doesn’t completely clear things up. In his 2018 article An Exploration of the Lo Fi Aesthetic, John Greenfield writes, “Lo-fi comes from the term “low fidelity”, which in its simplest terms is the opposite of Hi-Fi or “high fidelity”. It’s an aesthetic of music that captures the imperfections during recording and production, often with the sound being “low quality” compared to contemporary standards. It’s a bit hard to pin down exactly what makes something lo-fi, with many wrongly suggesting that it’s harmonic distortion or “analogue warmth” that make up the core features of lo-fi music, but it’s actually defined by “the inclusion of elements normally viewed as undesirable in professional contexts, such as misplayed notes, environmental interference, or phonographic imperfections (degraded audio signals, tape hiss, and so on).”

But none of that really tells us what type of music it is. In part, that’s because it has changed stylistically over the years. The use of lo-fi techniques date back to the 1950s, and artists like the Beach Boys were among the more popular acts to employ the methods. However, you’ll find nothing resembling the Beach Boys in Disney’s new album. 

During the 80s and 90s, the term became embraced by a variety of indie artists that embraced a DIY ethic. The early work of Pavement, who hail from Stockton California and were fronted by Stephen Malkmus, may be the quintessential example, particularly their classic album Slanted and Enchanted.

Greenfield goes on to note that, beginning in the late 2000s, lo-fi became associated with “chill wave and hypnagogic pop music genres,” (hypnagogic meaning “relating to the state immediately before falling to sleep.”) It draws influence from hip-hop, jazz, and lounge music, and is designed to feed a relaxed mood. In fact, as noted in an article about the release of lo-fi Minnie Chill, “lo-fi is typically marked by instrumentals and a tempo of 70-90 beats per minute to match the human heart rate.”

The Album

It is this later interpretation of lo-fi that defines the style that you’ll find on Lofi Minnie: Chill, and each contributing artist executes it to perfection. It can be a tricky business reinterpreting songs that are well-known and beloved around the world. But each of the tracks on the album do so with seeming ease, maintaining the familiarity of the melody while transforming it into the lo-fi style to create something unique.

It’s difficult to pick a particular stand-out on the album. Not only because each is executed well by the contributing artists, but because the very nature of the music creates a sense of flow. Having a “standout” type track would almost be counterproductive to the albums overall intent. In fact, listeners can stream this new album with last year’s Lofi Minnie: Focus back to back for an even deeper listening experience with the one feeding perfectly into the other. 

The album can be found wherever you stream music.

Snuff Out the Light (Yzma’s Song): Part Three: Eartha Kitt

When a company has been in the entertainment industry for as long as Disney (who celebrate their one-hundredth birthday this year) it’s inevitable that there will be forgotten or abandoned projects. Kingdom of the Sun is one such project, a story based on Mark Twain’s Prince and the Pauper which was ultimately transformed into The Emperor’s New Groove. 

While the finished product bears some similarities to what the public eventually saw, they were fundamentally different films, and there will always be a sense of “what could have been” when it comes to thinking about it (even if The Emperor’s New Groove did turn out to be one of the most delightful film’s in the company’s history). 

Perhaps the greatest sense of loss comes in the form of “Snuff Out the Light,” the song that the character of Yzma (as performed by Eartha Kitt) was to sing. Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a deep dive into the history of the song, including the history of the abandoned movie and the song’s composition by rock and roll icon Sting.

This week, we’ll take a closer look at Eartha Kitt, who took Sting’s music and words and brought them brilliantly to life. 

From Humble Beginnings

A biography of Kitt on the Internet Movie Database paints a stark picture of her difficult early life, stating, “An out-of-wedlock child, Eartha Kitt was born in the cotton fields of South Carolina. Kitt’s mother was a sharecropper of African-American and Cherokee Native American descent. Her father’s identity is unknown. Given away by her mother, she arrived in Harlem at age nine. At 15, she quit high school to work in a Brooklyn factory. As a teenager, Kitt lived in friends’ homes and in the subways. However, by the 1950s, she had sung and danced her way out of poverty and into the spotlight.”

She first gained recognition as part of the Katherine Dunham Dance Group, where she became a featured dancer and vocalist. A world tour soon followed, and she was subsequently offered a job at a Parisian nightclub. While there, she began to amass a notable fan base, including Orson Welles, who cast her in a production titled, “An Evening With Orson Welles” and would later refer to her as the “most exciting woman in the world.” A review in the Stars and Stripes newspaper said, “Eartha Kitt, whose haunting rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Hungry Little Trouble” blends beautifully with the poetry of “Faust,” quite literally steals the show. The petite 22-year-old South Carolinian invariably draws applause by her singing of “Yo Creo Yo Tengo un Amor” (I Think I Have a Love), a song she wrote herself. Her brief recital between the dramatic portions of the production is certainly worth the price of admission.” 

Kitt eventually returned to New York and found success at the Village Vanguard and Broadway. Soon, best selling records followed with titles like “Love For Sale,” “I Want to Be Evil,” and the perennial holiday favorite “Santa Baby.” 

By 1960, she had earned a walk on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but her biggest contribution to pop culture would come seven years later when she appeared as Catwoman in the classic series Batman. Unfortunately, her career would soon make a massive turn after she spoke out against the Vietnam War while at the White House. As a result, she became blacklisted in the United States.

Despite the consequences, Kitt’s daughter Kitt Shapiro stated that she never regretted the decision to speak out. In an interview, Shapiro stated, “ She said she would have done it a thousand times. She was asked her opinion, and she said, “I thought when someone asked my opinion, they actually wanted to hear what I have to say. Especially in the house that represents our rights to have freedom of speech.” She never regretted it, but she always was disappointed in the outcome.”

Over the years, Kitt published a number of memoirs. The first, Thursday’s Child, was published in 1956. The second, Alone With Me, was released in 1976, and Confessions of a Sex Kitten followed in 1989. 

While theatre remained her lifelong passion, her performance for Disney would introduce her to a whole new generation of fans. 

Pull the Lever, Kronk!

According to the Oral History of the Emperor’s New Groove, Michael Eisner originally wanted Barbara Streisand to play the role of Yzma. While Babs would have brought an undeniable flair to the role, I think Disney fans would agree that Kitt was the woman born to play the role. Kingdom of the Sun director Roger Allers was thrilled to have her as part of the project, recalling, “…I was so happy to cast Eartha Kitt in the role. With these older divas, you can be a little afraid of getting in the room. With Eartha, at our first meeting, I’d just come back from a research trip to Peru, and I brought her back a bunch of Peruvian textiles — these wonderful geometric patterns — as a gift, and she immediately opened up.” 

Allers later recalled his sorrow about losing Kitt’s performances in Kingdom of the Sun. 

“I mean the one song “Snuff Out the Light,” we were almost done with that in animation,” he said. “Sometimes I just think, Oh, just for curiosity’s sake they should just release it, to show people this song with Eartha Kitt as the Yzma character. It’s locked away in the archives somewhere. It kind of drives me crazy.”

Even when Kingdom of the Sun fell apart, Disney decided that Kitt would remain part of the new film. Storyboard artist Chris Williams stated, “We recognized that two things were really working well from Kingdom of the Sun: David Spade as Kuzco and Eartha Kitt as Yzma. “Well, what if we just started with those two things? Just hold on to those two things and build from them.”

Despite the difficulties associated with Kingdom of the Sun, Kitt adored playing the part of Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove. According to director Mark Dindall, “Yzma always kind of grew out of Eartha’s wonderful personality. I do remember thinking when we were first going to pitch her the new idea, I wonder if she’ll think this is too silly, just nonsense and ridiculous. We had the scene where they go down to the Secret Lab, on a storyboard in the story room….She instantly locked in. Nothing like that’s ever happened to me with an actor.”

It was a role that she adored according to her daughter. 

“…as she got older, she played Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove, Kronk’s New Groove, and The Emperor’s New School on television on Disney and ABC,” Shapiro said. “That was a character she truly enjoyed playing because it was so much fun.”

The love for role was returned from audiences and critics, with Kitt eventually winning two Daytime Emmy Awards for her performance in The Emperor’s New School. 

And to think, it all began with a project, and a song, that was scrapped. 

Snuff Out the Light: Part Two: Sting

In last week’s blog post, we talked about the film Kingdom of the Sun, which was re-worked into The Emperor’s Groove. In particular, we looked at the song “Snuff Out the Light” to have been performed by Eartha Kitt as Yzma.

This week we’ll take a closer look at the man who wrote the song: rock and roll icon Sting. 

The Man from Northumberland

Plenty has been written about the rock and roll career of Sting, born Gordon Matthew Sumner. More than a few books have been devoted to that very tasks, so I won’t try to smash all of that information into a single blog post. But here are a few essentials.

Sumner was born in Northumberland, England on October 2, 1951. The eldest child of a hairdresser and milkman/engineer, he fell in love with the guitar when a friend of the family left his instrument with the family. 

He began his career in music during college, playing jazz during his free time with the Phoenix Jazzmen, New Castle Big Band, and in a jazz fusion group called Last Exit. In early 1977, he formed the Police, blending reggae, punk, and jazz into a brand new sound that would effectively change popular music. By the time they disbanded in 1986, they had released five albums (beginning with Outlandos d’Amor and ending with Synchronicity), wong five Grammy Awards, and two Brit Awards. In 2003, they would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Sting began his solo career shortly before the Police broke up, releasing the album Dream of the Blue Turtles in 1985. Improbably, his solo career proved just as revolutionary and successful as his work with the police, adding another 12 Grammys to his collection.

Meeting the Mouse 

On the surface, Sting working with Disney seems like an unlikely pairing. In Vulture’s, “An Oral History of the Emperor’s New Groove” they note, “After the breakup of the Police, Sting had become a massive international solo star. Meanwhile, Elton John’s songs for The Lion King had proven to be unforgettable. It only made sense that the company would now approach another star to do something similar: to compose a broad variety of songs to enhance a film’s musical-theater-style appeal — which was, after all, part of the Disney formula.”

At first, he had mixed feeling about the prospect of working with the company, stating, “”I had concerns about working for a big corporation. But two of my close friends, Elton John and Phil Collins, had worked with Disney and they encouraged me to do it. Like everybody else, I had grown up with Disney movies and I was aware that it had a legacy with a very long reach. I was intrigued by the idea that people would be watching the movie and listening to my songs in 20 or 30 years’ time. Also, writing for animated characters was a challenge that appealed to me.”

Rogers Allers, director of Kingdom of the Sun, remembered, “ had put a year or more in before I had the idea of asking Sting if he would like to do the music. On one of his albums, he had something that was Latin American–sounding. We met with Sting at his home in England which is sort of near Stonehenge. I met his wife Trudie. They were very gracious people. Pretty shortly after that, Trudie came up with the idea of doing a documentary about Sting’s experience on a Disney film. She and her filmmaker J.P. Davidson would come periodically and canvass us, film things, interview people. They got to watch the whole up and down of the movie.”

According to John Paul Davidson, director of The Sweatbox (the documentary detailing the disaster that was Kingdom of the Sun), Sting’s work on the film may have been some of the best of his career. Allers was also enamored of the pieces he created, taking special note of Yzma’s song. 

“I love the one he wrote for Yzma, ‘Snuff Out the Light,’ where she goes down to the catacombs and has a song and dance with all the mummies,” Aller said.

Unfortunately, it and the other five songs he came up with were all ditched when the movie changed direction and transformed into The Emperor’s New Groove. As noted previously, Sting was understandably less than thrilled with Disney’s decision to cut his work. An article in the Guardian quoted him as saying, “”At first, I was angry and perturbed. Then I wanted some vengeance. We couldn’t use the songs in this new film because the characters they were written for didn’t exist anymore.”

Luckily for Disney, the bad feelings didn’t last long and Sting contributed two new songs that would appear in The Emperor’s New Groove. He noted, “After about five minutes of ranting and raving, I thought, ‘OK, let’s get back to work. Let’s try to make this thing happen.’”

But there were still hiccups. Sting didn’t care for the plot of the new film. Instead of a re-telling of Twain’s Prince and the Pauper, it told the story of a theme park being built in the heart of indigenous land. Sting saw it as an affront to his beliefs, stating, “ I told them I was resigning because it was the exact opposite of what I stand for. For the past 12 years or so I’ve been involved with the problems in the Amazon and the destruction of the rain forests. The people who live there don’t have any human rights or legal protection, and I’ve been raising money to try and provide that. More than saving trees, we’re trying to save people’s lives. I’ve spent years trying to defend the rights of indigenous peoples and they wanted to march over them to build a theme park! I wasn’t going to be a party to it.”

Changes in the story re-assured him. As fans of the movie will no doubt recall, Emperor Kuzco never builds Kuzcotopia, instead building a simple small cabin near his new friend Pacha’s home instead.  As a result, Sting did contribute a pair of songs to the final product. The end results were “Perfect World” and “My Funny Friend and Me,” the latter of which was nominated for Best Original Song at the 73rd Academy Awards, but lost to Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed.” 

Looking back on the journey, executive producer Don Hahn stated, “Sting was a real mensch. When he saw the movie changing from the thing he signed up for, he sent a nice letter saying, “I didn’t sign up for this, good luck.” But Randy wasn’t going to let him resign. He was like, “Okay. We’ll talk next week and then we’ll send you the new assignment.” Sting would say, “No, you don’t understand.” Randy and Mark were persistent about keeping him involved. In the end he had some really great work in the movie. But I think it’s a difficult memory for him, because he wanted to do what Elton John did on Lion King.”

Finishing the Story

Next week, we’ll take a look at the final piece in the story of “Snuff Out the Light,” the performance of the one and only Eartha Kitt as Yzma.

Snuff Out the Light (Yzma’s Song): Part One: Kingdom of the Sun

It’s a simple fact. Villains get the best songs. Dr. Facilier sang “Friends on the Other Side.” Ursula had “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Mother Gothel gave us “Mother Knows Best,” and Scar provided one of the most haunting performances in Disney history with “Be Prepared.” Each steals the show.

Unfortunately, some of Disney’s most captivating villains don’t have their own songs. Maleficent. The Evil Queen. The Horned King. But what about the evil sorceress Yzma? Equal parts comic and nefarious, she is the primary antagonist of Disney’s 40th animated feature, “The Emperor’s New Groove.” Voiced by the legendary Eartha Kitt, it would seem like a no-brainer to give her a musical number in the film. And yet…none appears.

The Emperor’s New Groove (released in 2000) is less of a musical than many of the Disney films that went before it. The song “Perfect World,” performed by Tom Jones, is featured at the beginning and end of the movie, but that’s about it. Even the Oscar-nominated “My Funny Friend and Me” does not appear until the film’s credits. 

But that wasn’t always the plan. For much of its life, the movie was envisioned as a musical, which would have included a stunning song, “Snuff Out the Light” performed by Yzma. So, what happened?

The Kingdom of the Sun

In 1994, director Roger Allers saw the debut of the smash hit The Lion King. At this point, he and writer Matthew Jacobs came up with the idea for a new film: Kingdom of the Sun. The movie was to be set in the kingdom of the Inca.

Despite its South American setting, the movie was to draw its plot from a quintessentially North American source: the writings of Mark Twain. The story would adapt Twain’s novel The Prince and the Pauper. The part of the prince, named Manca at the time, would be voiced by David Spade, while the pauper, Pacha, was to be performed by Owen Wilson. 

In the story, the film’s villain, Yzma, sought to revive the shadow god Supai in the hopes that he would restore her youth. To do so, she must sacrifice Prince Manca, who bears the symbol of the sun. The song “Snuff Out the Light” details her motivations:

When a woman acquires a certain age

And the men who adored you no longer swoon

It pays to avoid the sunlit days

And live by the light of the kindly moon

But the moon grows old just like us all

And her beautiful years are done

So now she prays through endless days

To take her revenge on the sun

When I was a girl at my daddy’s side

Papa, the royal mortician

Revealed to me in secret signs

The mark of the magician

And daddy was no dummy

Did outrageous things with a mummy

And often the stiffs that he would drive

Would look better dead than they did alive

I studied well I learnt the trade

I thought my looks would never fade

If I could find that recipe

To give eternal youth to me

It was always my ambition

To use papa’s tuition

And gain some small remission

From the vagaries of time

Every little ray of sunshine robs me of my youth

Who to blame? Who the one? Who to curse?

You know the only one to blame

Would be my enemy the sun

Snuff out the light, claim your right

To a world of darkness

Snuff out the light, neophytes

Of a world of darkness

Supai baby, turn me on

Every wrinkle soon be gone

I could squeeze myself with glee

The promises you made to me

I’ve really stopped at nothing

Murder, treachery and lying

Whatever it takes to keep my looks

You really can’t blame a girl for trying

Snuff out the light, claim your right

To a world of darkness

Snuff out the light, neophytes

Of a world of darkness

Snuff out the light, claim your right

To a world of darkness

Snuff out the light here tonight

Apparitions of eternal darkness

Spiraling in circles through the night

Creatures of beguiling blackness

No more squinting in the light

Bats and owls and coiled sea dragons

Crocodile and carrion beasts

Swirling in the growing darkness

Join us in the coming feast

Spectre wraith and apparition

Spirit demon phantom shade

Salamander serpents, dog-faced devils

Dance and watch the dying sunlight fade

The music for the movie, including “Snuff Out the Light” were composed by the team of David Hartley and rock icon Sting (aka Gordon Sumner). 

Unfortunately, the movie suffered numerous setbacks during production. Disagreements about the plot led to significant revisions, with Disney feeling that the original concept was too similar to other Prince and the Pauper adaptations. Complicating matters further, the film received a poor response from test audiences and CEO Michael Eisner expressed displeasure with it. 

Director Mark Dindal, the man responsible for the Warner Brothers’ film Cats Don’t Dance, was brought in to assist with the movie. His vision differed drastically from Allers, who wanted to emphasize drama over comedy. The disagreements eventually led Allers to quit the film, causing Eisner to threaten to shut down production completely. 

A complete re-tooling of the movie began. The plot was drastically changed, and John Goodman replaced actor Owen Wilson as Pacha. The songs composed by Hartley and Sting were scrapped from the film, as they reflected the original plot. Sadly, this included “Snuff Out The Light.” It was a development not well received by the musical superstar, who commented, “At first, I was angry and perturbed. Then I wanted some vengeance.” 

Fortunately, many of the discarded songs were included in The Emperor’s New Groove original soundtrack album, including Yzma’s grand number. 

Inside the Sweatbox

The chaos of the production was captured in a documentary titled The Sweatbox, directed by Trudie Styler (who also happens to be Sting’s wife), and John Paul Davidson. A review from MotionPictureComics.com states, “the first thirty-to-forty minutes of The Sweatbox unfolds as one might expect any in-depth look at the making of an animated film to go”…about forty minutes in, we witness the fateful day in which an early story-boarded cut of the film is screened for the heads of Disney Feature Animation, Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider. They hate the film, declare that it is not working, and begin a process of totally scrapping and reinventing huge chunks of the story. Characters are totally changed…voice actors are replaced, and the entire story is shifted around.” 

Unfortunately, most of the world would not be able to see the finished product. An altered and Disney-approved version was released as a featurette with the DVD release of The Emperor’s New Groove. Viewers would not get the chance to watch the original until it was leaked by an 18-year-old cartoonist from the United Kingdom. 

A review from Cartoon Brew states, “The Sweatbox is at turns infuriating, hilarious and enlightening. You’ll cringe in sympathy with the Disney artists as you see the gross bureaucratic incompetence they had to endure while working at the studio in the 1990s. The film not only captures the tortured morphing of the Kingdom of the Sun into The Emperor’s New Groove, it also serves as an invaluable historical document about Disney’s animation operations in the late-1990s. If any questions remain about why Disney fizzled out creatively and surrendered its feature animation crown to Pixar and DreamWorks, this film will answer them.”

The story of Kingdom of the Sun and, by extension, “Snuff Out the Light” casts a fascinating light on the production process of an animated film, revealing the conflict, politicking, and struggles that go into creating a work of art. But it is still only part of the story when it comes to the music. 

Next week, we’ll dig deeper into the men who wrote the music for Yzma’s song: David Hartley and Sting. 

Six Iconic Disney Music Moments

(A version of this article first appeared on the Celebrations Magazine blog in February of 2022)

There is an undeniable power to music. Just a few notes can conjure up a swell of emotions and memories. Both the world of Disney films and the parks utilize the magic of song with expert skill. Who doesn’t tear up when they hear the first few notes of “Married Life” from Pixar’s Up? Or the words, “Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight” from the Wishes firework spectacular?

 As 2022 draws to a close, let’s take a look at a few favorite Disney music moments. 

Nobody Else But You (A Goofy Movie, 1995)

The list of stunning musical numbers produced by Disney in the 90s is impressive. Songs like “A Whole New World,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” and “Be Our Guest” immediately spring to mind. They’re so well known that they’ve essentially become a part of our collective memory and culture.

That said, I’ve got to admit a soft spot for this simple duet from A Goofy Movie. Sung by Max and Goofy, it’s a tender and entirely relatable depiction of the father/son relationship. The music was composed by Tom Snow, with lyrics by Jack Feldman. 

Once upon a time, I’m sure that I primarily sympathized with the youngster’s point of view, but these days I find myself identifying with Max’s awkward, well-intentioned father.

Portobello Road (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971)

Portobello Road

If we tried to make a list of classics composed by the Sherman Brothers, we’d be here all night. Their work can be found in every corner of the Disney universe, and the pair are responsible for Walt Disney’s favorite song (“Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins). 

One of the most charming, though oft-overlooked, pieces of their catalog is Portobello Road from Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The number is primarily sung by David Tomlison (best known as Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins). It utilizes a minor key, a bit like Chim Chim Cheree, and evokes a wonderful sense of mystery and wonder as the characters explore the various street vendors found on Portobello Road.

The Great Outdoors (Country Bear Vacation Hoedown, 1986-1992)

Country Bear Vacation Hoedown

Once upon a time, the Country Bear Jamboree contained a seasonal overlay known as the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown. The show featured all of the classic characters but dressed in a variety of outfits best suited to outdoor life in the summer.

“The Great Outdoors” was the opening number and was performed by Henry, the Five Bear Rugs, Melvin, Buff, and Max. The lyrics are all about the joys of things like fishing, camping, and tramping through the woods. To add a little menace (they are bears, after all) they finish out the song by saying, “if y’all won’t join us, we’ll chase you up a tree.” 

George Wilkins, the man responsible for the song, created numerous pieces for Disney, including the music for Horizons, The Living Seas, and Test Track.

Fish Are Friends, Not Food (Finding Nemo the Musical, 2007-2020)

Finding nemo the musical

Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are best known for writing music for Disney films like Frozen and 2011’s Winnie-The-Pooh, as well as Pixar’s Coco, but they are also the pair who wrote all of the show tunes for Animal Kingdom’s Finding Nemo the Musical. 

The song “Fish Are Friends, Not Food” is performed by Bruce, Anchor, and Chum. It’s a catchy little ditty that almost makes you wish that the singing sharks were sporting straw hats and canes as they harmonize. 

Halfway through the song, Bruce is sent into a feeding frenzy, and the music shifts into a driving rock and roll, as he chases Marlin and Dory around the stage.

Listen to it once, and the tune will be stuck in your head for days. 

Good Morning (Magic Kingdom Rope Drop)

Magic Kingdom

Though I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the number of years it was performed, the 1939 classic Good Morning used to be an essential part of the opening ceremonies each day at the Magic Kingdom. 

Guests who arrived before the park gates were open would gather in front of the train station, and the performers from the Main Street Trolley Show would appear and sing this chipper melody.

Unlike the other songs on this list, it is not a Disney original. Composed by Nacio Herb Brown, with lyrics by Herb Brown, it was performed by Judy Garland and Mickie Rooney in the movie Babes in Arms. It was later performed by Betty Noyes (dubbing for Debbie Reynolds), Gene Kelly, and Donald O’Connor in the perennial favorite Singin’ In the Rain. 

Just listening to the song today makes me think of early mornings, after stepping off one of the ferryboats, waiting to take those first steps onto Main Street U.S.A.

The Music of Frontierland

Frontierland

As you wander through the Magic Kingdom’s various lands, you might be forgiven for not noticing that each area has its own unique music loop. It’s okay. That’s kind of the point of ambient music. It sets a mood, without you even realizing it is there, but you would be sure to notice if it was gone.

Frontierland has some of the best-themed music in the park, mixing well-known favorites like “The Ballad of Davey Crocket,” along with songs like “Home On the Range,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “Buffalo Gals,” and “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” 

The instrumentation and arrangements are pitch-perfect. They make it feel as though you’ve truly stepped back in time, like a tumbleweed and covered wagon might go rolling past you at any moment. 

Of course, we’ve only scratched the surface with this short little list. We could go on and on, but what do you think? What are some of your favorite Disney music memories? 

Babes in Toyland: The Music of Disney’s Holiday Classic

Before Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and well before The Santa Clause, Disney gave the world a holiday classic in the form of Babes in Toyland. Released in 1961, the live-action musical starred Annette Funicello, Tommy Sands, Ray Bolger (best known as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz), Ed Wynn, and Tommy Kirk. While critics held mixed opinions of the film, with many saying that it would only be enjoyed by younger viewers, it has remained popular over the years and remains a Disney holiday tradition over sixty years after its release.

Disney’s history with the film dates back to 1955, but the story itself is older by centuries and is tied to a literary mystery whose answer may never be known.

The Curious Case of Mother Goose 

In 1697, Charles Perrault released a book of nursery rhymes and folktales subtitled Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oie (Tales of my Mother Goose), which became instantly popular. Thirty-two years later, the book was translated into English in Robert Samber’s Histories or Tales of Past Times, Told by Mother Goose, and by 1786, the stories had reached the United States. 

Though many of the rhymes and songs associated with Mother Goose have become part of the collective memory of childhood, such as “Humpty Dumpty,” “Hey Diddle, Diddle,” “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” and “Hickory, Dickory Dock,” very little is known about the actual Mother Goose. While some have speculated that she was the widow of Isaac Goose and a resident of Boston named either Mary or Elizabeth Goose, there’s some reason to doubt the claim. 

As noted by the Poetry Foundation, “the existence of various French texts that refer to Mother Goose at a much earlier date make the American legend improbable.  These texts, dating as early as 1626, even show that the French terms “mere l’oye” or “mere oye” (Mother Goose) were already familiar to readers and could be referenced. The figure of Mother Goose may even date back to the 10th century, according to other sources.  In an ancient French legend, King Robert II had a wife who often told incredible tales that fascinated children.”

Regardless of her identity, the works of Mother Goose became popular in nurseries around the world,  in much the same way that Walt Disney’s creations like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy would later become universally known and beloved. It would even inspire a 1903 operetta, the first major hit for composer Victor Herbert.

On Broadway

Born in 1859 on the island of Guernsey, Victor Herbert was the grandson of Irish playwright, poet, composer, and novelist Samuel Lover. Though he initially planned to pursue medicine, the cost of a medical education proved prohibitive, so he decided to pursue music. He studied under Bernhard Cossman, before studying at Stuttgart Conservatory. 

Herbert joined the orchestra in Stuttgart in 1881 and a few years later become romantically attached to soprano Therese Förster. The pair were married in 1886 and moved to the United States the same year to join the Metropolitan Opera. Within a few years, he composed his first operetta, a piece entitled “Prince Ananais” which was performed by a group called The Bostonians. Several successes followed, as did work with the Pittsburgh Symphony. 

In 1903, he released “Babes in Toyland,” which debuted at the Chicago Grand Opera House before eventually moving to the Majestic Theatre in Manhattan. The piece included characters culled straight from Mother Goose, such as Contrary Mary, Bo-Peep, and Mother Hubbard. It also featured some of the most popular music that Herbert would ever compose, including the songs, “Toyland,” and “March of the Toys.” 

The original story was a good deal darker than the one that Disney would eventually bring to the big screen. A prime example is the character of the Toymaker. In the Disney version, he was portrayed by the lovable Ed Wynn. In Herbert’s story, the Toymaker was an evil genius who works with the villain Barnaby to create toys designed to kill. In the tale, the toys eventually turn on the Toymaker and murder him. Barnaby meets his demise after drinking a cup of poisoned wine.     

Despite the somewhat ghastly content, the operetta ran for 192 performances on Broadway and spawned a number of revivals over the years. There was also a film version starring Laurel and Hardy released in 1934. Eventually, the story made its way into the hands of Walt Disney.

Becoming a Holiday Classic

In 1955, Disney announced that they would be making an animated adaptation of Herbert’s story. A 1959 article in Variety titled “Disney’s 1st Live Tuner” noted, “Walt Disney is mapping a new version of Victor Herbert’s ‘Babes in Toyland.’ His first live-action musical, Mel Levin has written new lyrics. Ward Kimball will produce and direct.”

The story underwent numerous changes, as did Walt’s plans for how the film would be presented. In 1960 he stated, “We’re updating the lyrics; the music, of course, is Victor Herbert’s. March of the Toys will be done in animation. I’ll be using fantasy with ‘live’ more and more. I’ve decided people should play people and shouldn’t be animated – only the effects should.”

Keen-eyed Disney fans may also notice that Kimball did not end up directing the film. That role went to Jack Donohue, after a series of disagreements between Walt and Kimball led to his removal from the project. Donohue brought a Broadway background to the film, having worked on musicals such as “Top Banana” and “Mr. Wonderful.” 

Disney insisted on Funicello for the lead role of Mary, having established her as a star and household name through The Mickey Mouse Club. She later recalled enjoying the experience, particularly because, “it was the first, and unfortunately, I think, the last time I made a movie in which I actually danced something besides the Watusi or the swim.”

Ed Wynn, an established star from his vaudeville days, portrayed the Toymaker. No longer an evil genius, he was instead a bumbling, but good-hearted man assisted by his brilliant protege Grumio in making the toys children receive for Christmas. Speaking of Wynn, Tommy Kirk later recalled, ‘I thought he was delightful and so did everyone else. You couldn’t not like him. He was completely crazy and he was just as crazy offscreen as he was on. But it was all, of course, an act. He was a very serious, religious man in his own way, but he loved playing Ed Wynn, the perfect fool, the complete nut. And he was good at it.”

The Composer

Though the musical was based on Herbert’s operetta, there were striking differences. As noted, his lyrics were changed. Much of the music in the film was original compositions written by George Bruns, and the pieces taken from Herbert’s original score were adapted. The classic song “Toyland,” was transformed from a dreamy ballad into an up-tempo march.

Born in Oregon to a lumber mill proprietor, Bruns expressed his interest in music at a young age, learning to play the piano at six. By the 30s, he was performing with groups around Portland, before becoming the musical director for radio station KEX. By the late 40s, his career had taken him to Hollywood.

Bruns’s Disney career began when he was asked to adapt Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Sleeping Beauty” for the 1959 film. He would later work on “The Absent-Minded Professor,” “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” “The Sword in the Stone,” and “The Jungle Book,” among other projects.  For his work on “Babes in Toyland,” Bruns earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score, though it would lose to “West Side Story.” 

In 2001, he was named a Disney legend. But perhaps the greatest legacy he left behind is a body of music known and loved around the globe.

A Holiday Legacy

While the film and its music remain much loved, perhaps the most notable contribution that “Babes in Toyland” made to the holidays are its toy soldiers, designed by Imagineer Bill Justice and Francis Xavier Atencio. The soldiers have become a staple of Disney during the holiday season, featured in the parks, and in parades. To see them is to fall immediately into the holiday spirit, a feeling of warmth, joy, and wonder, the same feeling you’re left with after watching the movie and listening to its delightful music. 

12 Disney Songs of Christmas – Part Two

Last week we started our Disney holiday music journey with part one of the “12 Disney Songs of Christmas” and I’ll be the first to admit that the songs featured were all a bit silly. But honestly, that’s what I love about them. Christmas is a joyful time. For me, silly and joyful go hand in hand.

That said, I also have a deep love for the more sentimental side of holiday music. Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” is pure perfection, as is Nat King Cole crooning “The Christmas Song.”  

In that spirit, here’s the second half of the 12 Disney Songs of Christmas. Give these songs a listen, but be forewarned: You may need a hankie. 

From All of Us to All of You (From All of Us to All of You)

On December 19, 1958, ABC broadcast the special “From All of Us to All of You” as part of the Walt Disney Presents series. Hosted by Jiminy Cricket (after a brief introduction from a miniaturized version of Walt Disney) the show included some favorite clips from Disney feature films, as well as the shorts “Santa’s Workshop” and “Toy Tinkers.”

The special also included the song “All of Us to All of You,” written by Gil George and Paul Smith, and performed Jiminy Cricket, with a little help from Mickey Mouse on piano and drums, while Pluto chipped in with a tiny bell that was tied to his tail. A slight reprise was featured later in the broadcast.

Gil George was actually Hazel George, Walt Disney’s personal nurse who later become a songwriter, providing lyrics for more than 90 songs in the Mickey Mouse Club, as well as lyrics for films like “Old Yeller,” “The Light in the Forest,” and “Tonka.”

Smith, her primary collaborator, also composed music for the True Life Adventure Series, Cinderella, and Pinocchio (for which he won an Academy Award). 

It Feels Like Christmas (The Muppet Christmas Carol)

Released in 1992, The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet film produced after the untimely passing of Jim Henson and performer Richard Hunt (who performed Scooter, Statler, Janice, Beaker, and Sweetums). The movie was dedicated to both and is a perfect tribute to both men.

The song “It Feels Like Christmas” is a heartwarming number sung by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Jerry Nelson). The lyrics were penned by Paul Williams, the man behind such 70s hits as Three Dog Night’s “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” and the Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays.” His career credits also include frequent collaboration with Henson and the Muppets. In 1976, he appeared in episode eight of the first season of the Muppet Show, and the following year wrote the score for Henson’s holiday special “Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.”  In 1979, he wrote the score for The Muppet Movie, including the Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated “Rainbow Connection.” 

The song would later become part of Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration, the castle stage show at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

Oh, What a Merry Christmas Day (Mickey’s Christmas Carol)

Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” was published in 1843, forever changing the world with its tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim. 140 years later, Disney released their own interpretation of the story in Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Scrooge McDuck was cast in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, with Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit, and Goofy as the ghost of Marley, Scrooge’s best friend and business partner.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Animated Short Film, the first nomination of a Mickey short since 1948’s “Mickey and the Seal.”

Irwin Costal provided the music for the film, producing “Oh, What a Merry Christmas Day” as its theme song. A gorgeous choral number, it hearkens back to the great English Christmas carols like “The First Noel,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” or “Good King Wenceslas,” though without the religious element inherent in those songs. 

Kostal began his musical career in radio, working for the NBC program “Design for Listening.” He later moved to television and Broadway, writing music for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” as well as providing orchestration for “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music,” and “The Music Man.” His Disney career included work on films like “Mary Poppins,” “Pete’s Dragon,” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”  

Peace on Earth (Lady and the Tramp)

Another song in the great tradition of Christmas carols appears in Disney’s 1955 masterpiece “Lady and the Tramp.” Based on “Silent Night,” an Austrian carol penned by Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr, “Peace on Earth” was composed by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke. 

Along with his work on “Lady and the Tramp,” Burke wrote music for the Academy Award winning Disney short “Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom,” and worked frequently with artists like Frank Sinatra, The Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, and The Mills Brothers. 

Peggy Lee hardly needs an introduction, as one of the 20th century’s most iconic performers, she earned the nickname “The Queen of American Pop Music” through a career that included over 1,000 recordings and the writing of 270 songs. Among her most popular records were “Why Don’t You Do Right?” and “Fever.” 

The song was performed by the Disney Studio chorus and Donald Novis, who co-created the script for Frontierland’s Golden Horseshoe Revue with Wally Boag, and sang the Academy Award nominated “Love is a Song,” from “Bambi.”

As Long As There’s Christmas (Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas)

The 90’s saw Disney release a whole bevvy of direct to video sequels and specials. The 1996 opening of Walt Disney Animation Canada brought 200 new animators into the company’s fold, and their first project was “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas.” 

Both the score and original songs were composed by Rachel Portman with lyrics by Don Black, the latter of whom was a frequent collaborator of Andrew Lloyd Weber. 

Disney Legend Paige O’Hara reprised her role as Belle for the film, and is the primary singer of “As Long as There’s Christmas,” a heartwarming number that would also be sung by Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack during the films closing credits. 

When We’re Together (Olaf’s Frozen Adventure)

To close our 12 Disney Songs of Christmas, I simply have to include “When We’re Together” from “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.” It never fails to bring a tear to my eye, which is usually followed by embarrassing my kids as I give them huge hugs. 

Written by the songwriting duo of Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson, the song warms the inside like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold night, celebrating what makes the holidays truly special, and features all of the original stars of Frozen, including Idina Menzel (Elsa), Kristen Bell (Anna), Josh Gad (Olaf), and Jonathan Groff (Kristoff). 

In addition to their work with Disney, Samsel and Anderson are responsible for the songs in Apple TV’s “Central Park,” and made their Off-Broadway songwriting debut with the opening of “Between the Lines” a musical based on the Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer novel.

Mad About Mad About Me: The Story of the Mos Eisley Cantina Band

Writing about the Star Wars universe is a dicey proposition. Pull at a single string and you’ll find that it seems to extend forever. Thousands upon thousands of pages have been written on the subject, both fiction and non-fiction. Even the most minor of characters have detailed backstories. 

Such is the case for Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, better known to most as the Cantina Band. The group made their first appearance in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, but have since had appearances ranging from the ill-fated Star Wars Holiday Special to books like Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina and Tales from Jabba’s Palace. 

The group is best known for the infectious ditty “Mad About Mad About Me,” better known as “the Cantina Song,” a jaunty little earworm that has been making toes tap across the universe since it was first played in the most wretched hive of scum and villainy you’ll ever find.

Of course, there’s a real-world history to the music as well. But before exploring that, let’s take a look at the fictional backstory behind the piece. 

Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes

Hailing from the planet of Clak’dor VII, the group was fronted by the ill-tempered and perfectionistic Figrin D’an. During the Clone Wars, they performed as part of Jasod Revoc’s Galactic Revue, before entering into an exclusive contract with Jabba Desilijic Tiure (known to most as Jabba the Hutt) to perform at his palace and in the Mos Eisley Cantina on the planet of Tatooine. 

Without further ado, let’s meet the boys in the band and the respective instruments each plays. 

  • Doikk Na’ts — Dorenian Beshniquel
  • Figrin D’an — kloo horn, gasan string drum
  • Ickabel G’ont — Double Jocimer
  • Lirin Car’n — second kloo horn
  • Nalan Cheel — bandfil
  • Sun’il Ei’de — drums
  • Tech Mo’r — Ommni Box
  • Tedn Dahai — fanfar

In terms of musical style, the group was known for playing both jizz and jatz music, the former of which has numerous sub-genres such as jizz-wail, aubade, and glitz. Alas, what separates each style from the other is an arcane knowledge that your humble author does not possess.

Over time, the group began to fear for their safety in regard to Jabba the Hutt. Despite this, the group took the opportunity (and 3000 credits) offered to perform at the wedding of Lady Valarian, Jabba’s chief rival. When he learned of this betrayal, he sent bounty hunters after the group. However, they managed to escape during the confusion as a group of Imperial Stormtroopers happened to raid the event at the same time. But the group didn’t travel far, taking a job at the Wookie Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina, otherwise known as the Mos Eisley Cantina. 

It is reported that in later years they performed in venues like Shanko’s Hive and the floating casinos on Dac, eventually wending their way to the SkyCenter Galleria at Cloud City.   

Follow all of that? I’m going to assume you’re nodding your head yes and move on to the slightly less fictional history behind the music. Still a bit confused? Not to worry. Just pick up a copy of Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina and read the short story, “We Don’t Do Weddings: The Band’s Tale” by Kathy Tyers. 

The Composer

Attempting to sum up a career as prolific as that of John Williams is no easy task. As his own webpage notes, “In a career that spans five decades, John Williams has become one of America’s most accomplished and successful composers for film and for the concert stage. He has served as music director and laureate conductor of one of the country’s treasured musical institutions, the Boston Pops Orchestra, and he maintains thriving artistic relationships with many of the world’s great orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Mr. Williams has received a variety of prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honor, the Olympic Order, and numerous Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, Emmy Awards, and Golden Globe Awards,” and has, “composed the music and served as music director for more than one hundred films.”

His music has become a cultural touchstone for many, whether it be in films like Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, and the Indiana Jones series, or dramatic classics such as Schindler’s List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, and Empire of the Sun. 

Born in 1932, Williams grew up in New York before relocating to Los Angeles 16 years later. While there, he studied composition under Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco before entering service in the Air Force. He then attended Julliard and began working as a jazz pianist in nightclubs before returning to California to write music for television.

Williams eventually worked with director Steven Spielberg on his groundbreaking thriller Jaws, creating a score that would become one of the most iconic in cinema history. Which is why Spielberg readily recommended him to George Lucas when he needed someone to score his film Star Wars. An article by Udiscovermusic relates, “he handed…the film over to Williams – who won the job thanks to the recommendation of Steven Spielberg after Williams delivered the most iconic horror score since Psycho for his fish movie Jaws – and said: “That. But better.”

 When it came time to compose the music for the Mos Eisley Cantina scene, Lucas had very specific direction for Williams. He asked him to, “imagine several creatures in a future century finding some 1930s Benny Goodman swing band music in a time capsule or under a rock someplace — and how they might attempt to interpret it…”

Williams assembled a nine-piece jazz band to perform the piece, featuring the trumpet, saxophones, clarinet, piano, steel drum, a synthesizer, and an assortment of percussion instruments. According to an article by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, “To give it that alien quality, the bottom end of the sound was minimized, with added reverb working to thin the instruments out even more.”

The piece became wildly popular and even attained massive success outside of the cinema. The instrumental disco album Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk was released in 1977 by Millennium Records. It featured the single “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” which rose to Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for two weeks. The album and single would both be certified platinum a year later. 

A brief historical note on AllMusic states, “John Williams supposedly did not know anything about disco when he returned from London. When he was asked to listen to Meco’s version of his now-famous recording, Williams was apprehensive. But, in the end, he credited Meco with helping bring symphonic music further into the mainstream.”

Today, fans of the catchy little ditty can hear it inside Oga’s Cantina at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. It’s been a wild ride for the swinging tune that began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. 

8 Favorite Musical Experiences in Walt Disney World

Note: A version of this article was previously published by Celebrations Press on March 13, 2022: 8 Favorite Musical Experiences in Walt Disney World – Celebrations Press

November is Thankful Season in the United States, a time to celebrate the things that make our lives better. The little sparks of wonder that light up the darkness, even if it’s only for a moment. It doesn’t matter how big or small, if it spreads joy, it deserves to be recognized. With that in mind, here are a few of the best musical experiences in Walt Disney World (past and present). Without them, life would be a little less magical.

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

1) Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing (Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Magic Kingdom)

The song “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” tends to get all the glory at this attraction, and not without good cause. It’s a classic composed by the legendary Sherman brothers, and it is imminently singable. Add to that the voice talents of Wally Boag, Fulton Burley, Ernie Newton, and Thurl Ravenscroft, and it’s clear why Guests love it so much.

That said, there’s just something perfect about “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing.” Originally written in 1932 by a group of songwriters, including Tolchard Evans, the piece is sung by the Showgirl Birds. Hosts Jose, Pierre, Fritz, and Michael join in as well. Maybe it’s the beauty of the Bird Mobile, which holds the cockatoos, or the fact that José does his best Bing Crosby impression during the piece, but it just holds a special place in our hearts. 

It's Tough To Be a Bug

2) Beauty and the Bees (It’s Tough to Be a Bug, Animal Kingdom)

You didn’t read that wrong, and it wasn’t a typo. While waiting to enter It’s Tough to Be a Bug, you’ll see a variety of posters advertising musicals like “A Cockroach Line,” “My Fair Ladybug,” and “Beauty and the Bees.” 

Make sure to listen while you’re in the area, and you’ll even notice music being performed by insects, specifically a chorus of bees performing their version of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s beautiful “Beauty and the Beast” (from the 1991 film of the same name). Once you hear it, the tune will be buzzing in your head all day.

Country Bear Jamboree

3) Heart, We Did All That We Could (The Country Bear Jamboree, Magic Kingdom)

While I will always consider “Blood on the Saddle” as performed by Big Al (above) to be the greatest musical moment of all time, I can’t deny the glitz and glamor of Teddi Barra.

The song she sings, “Heart, We Did All That We Could”, was a 1967 Billboard Country Top 20 hit in 1967, though it was Jean Shepherd singing it that time, instead of a Mae West-influenced bear who descends from the ceiling like a furry angel. While Shepherd’s performance is wonderful, she’s got nothing on the last of the Big Time Swingers. 

World of Motion

4) It’s Fun to Be Free (World of Motion, Epcot)

Long before Test Track, Guests of Walt Disney World could enjoy a slightly more leisurely journey in the World of Motion, a dark ride that carried Guests through the past, present, and future of transportation.

A ubiquitous part of the experience was the song “It’s Fun to Be Free”, a jaunty number composed by Buddy Baker and with lyrics by Xavier “X” Atencio. If that pair sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. They also wrote “Grim Grinning Ghosts” for the Haunted Mansion. Atencio is also responsible for “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)”, a song that he wrote with George Bruns. 

Na'vi River Journey

5) The Shaman’s Song (Na’vi River Journey, Animal Kingdom)

As the boats wind their way through the waters of Pandora on Na’vi River Journey, Guests find themselves surrounded by ethereal, glowing plants, wild animals, and beautiful, haunting music. The climax comes when the Shaman of Songs appears.

A truly stunning piece of Audio-Animatronics, she sings a profoundly gorgeous song with music by James Horner and Simon Frangien, featuring lyrics by Paul Frommer. The song is sung in Na’vi, but there’s no translation needed to convey the sense of wonder, awe, and reverence that it creates. 

Oga's Cantina

6) Cantina Song aka Mad About Mad About Me (Oga’s Cantina, Hollywood Studios)

Music has always been a key part of the Star Wars experience. From the opening credits to the menace of the Imperial March, the score becomes its own character throughout the films. So, it’s no surprise that it plays a huge role in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

One of the best examples comes from DJ R3X in Oga’s Cantina. If the little droid looks familiar, that’s because he used to be a pilot on Star Tours. These days, he spins tunes for tourists. While all of his music is great, his remix of the Cantina Song, originally performed by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes is arguably the most fun. Just listen to a few bars and you’ll start tapping your feet.

Magic Journeys: Epcot

7) Making Memories (Magic Journeys, Epcot)

When Epcot opened in 1982, one of the original attractions was Magic Journeys, located in the Journey Into Imagination Pavilion. The 3D film allowed Guests to view the world through the eyes of a child, where everyday wonders were transformed into flights of fancy. 

Before the movie, there was a pre-show that included the song “Making Memories”, written by the Sherman Brothers. Because the attraction was sponsored by Kodak, the lyrics are all about preserving memories through photographs, and like other pieces composed by the Shermans, it’s incredibly singable.  

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

8) Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (Hollywood Studios)

This one feels a bit like cheating, but if we’re talking about great music at Disney parks, how can we not include the Bad Boys from Boston? Hit Aerosmith songs like “Sweet Emotion,” “Back in the Saddle,” “Walk This Way,” and others can be heard on the high-octane thrill-ride. They’re great to sing along to, that is if you can stop screaming as the coaster rockets along.

If I had to list one complaint about the whole experience, it would be that I still haven’t received those backstage passes that Steven Tyler promised me. What’s the holdup?