May 28, 2014

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3 Songs: “Disney Derived” Edition

I make absolutely no secret that I’m a little bit obsessed with certain aspects of Disney. I grew up during the Renaissance of the 90’s, have read books specifically about the Michael Eisner years at the company, and have spent more than one hike talking about why, despite all the problems and the issues and the nauseating amounts of money they throw around, I still have so much love in my heart for the animated canon. Even when I’m not actually a fan of the film itself, I can usually appreciate the story behind it—and make no mistake, there are lots of stories.

Music has always been a fundamental part of the Disney animated canon. Whether they were Greek chorus-style narration like “Second Star to the Right” or full-blown Broadway-style musicals like Beauty and the Beast, Disney has always recruited some of the best and brightest to write their music—and in this age of remakes and remixes, the original version rarely stands alone. As we emerge, bleary-eyed, from this past winter’s “Let it Go” obsession, here are three Disney covers and derivatives that I personally adore. I’m not counting the pop covers that came standard with every new film release, firstly because this is my site and I make the rules, and secondly because almost every single one of them was awwwwwwwwwwwful. No one ever needs to be reminded of Celine Dion’s butchering of “Beauty and the Beast.”

IM5 and Todrick Hall – “Disney Dudez”

I confess that this post came around entirely because I rewatched this video twice today. I watch it a lot. The ridiculously cute members of IM5 play various Disney princes who are dumped by their lady counterparts (played by each member in drag, which is amazing); the resultant song is a mashup of not only the pertinent Disney songs from each prince’s film, but also samples hits like “My Girl”, “I Want You Back”, and “What Makes You Beautiful”–which, incidentally, shows just how much these guys should be famous instead of OneDirection. This song and video are just a huge joy in every way, and I love it without shame–even if the blonde kid who plays Cinderella’s Prince looks a little too much like Prince Joffrey from GoT. Still, I totally have these guys on my wish list for guest stars on Particles and Waves.

Howard Ashman – “Beauty and the Beast”

Leaping off from that last point I made in the introduction, there is a good cover of the award-winning title song to Disney’s crown jewel film, and it comes from an incredibly humble place: the lyricist himself, singing on an album called, aptly enough, Howard Sings Ashman.

Here I need to go into a little bit of history, and reveal myself as a member of an obscenely tiny group of people who believe that the Disney Renaissance died with Howard Ashman in 1991, barely two and a half films in (SorryNotSorry, Lion King fans). The story goes that, while The Little Mermaid was still being storyboarded, Ashman casually suggested giving the stuffy English butler crab character a Jamaican accent—that way they could incorporate some calypso into the music. The rest is history; when Mermaid catapulted the nearly-bankrupt Disney company back up to the top and “Under the Sea” won an Oscar for Best Song, Ashman and Menken became a key part of the company’s next feature. But as the animation process began, the artists became a little confused as to why they were being flown out to New York to work with Ashman instead of him coming to their Burbank studios. The answer, tragically, was that Ashman had been diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1988, and had progressed to full-blown AIDS.

Ashman was always an extraordinary talented lyricist; give a hard listen to “Under the Sea” or “Belle” and you will find yourself in awe of his ability to twist words so wittily. Beauty and the Beast was his baby; he was the one who suggested that the inanimate objects in the Beast’s castle become anthropomorphic characters (which lead to the show-stopping “Be Our Guest”), amongst other contributions which earned him a producer credit. In March of 1991, producers held a test screening for the half-finished Beauty and the Beast at a New York film festival. While not completely coloured or animated, the print allowed the critics to focus on the musical sequences, and they responded with overwhelming applause. The Disney producers rushed to Ashman’s bedside that night, describing the incredible good press, and said their goodbyes; he died four days later, and never saw the finished release of the work that now carries his dedication in its credits. As a coda to his tale, the Disney execs arranged for Ashman’s life partner, Bill Lauch, to accept Ashman’s Oscar for Best Song posthumously–in 1992. For all that the company has struggled with acknowledging LGBT issues and characters, their work with Ashman was never anything but respectful, professional, and overwhelmingly kind, at a time when the AIDS crisis was still a major point of controversy.

Howard Ashman’s final story never fails to bring me to tears, and so to hear him singing the title track from Beauty and the Beast—my favourite animated film of all time—is both haunting and comforting. This is the man whose lyrics I eventually got tattooed on my ribs; they have permeated my childhood and remain tremendously important to me to this day.


Marilyn Manson – This is Halloween

I want to meet the person who went to Manson and successfully got him to cover a Disney song. I further want to shake his or her hand, because this is the most flawless pairing of song and singer I have ever heard in my entire life.

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