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The Disney Animation Renaissance was powered by Music

Published September 15, 2020

The era we call the "renaissance" at Walt Disney Animation was, as the name suggests, an artistic revival and rebirth that "woke up" Sleeping Beauty and produced a bumper crop of animated movie classics. The 1990s yielded one unforgettable hit after another—and it was music that started the engine.

The star songwriting duo of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were recruited by Disney in the late '80s because of their sharp Broadway sensibilities, and beginning with The Little Mermaid they supercharged Disney Animation by infusing it with a musical theater mentality that cast incredible singers as princesses and princes, took inspiration from an eclectic variety of musical styles, and insisted that songs powered character and drove story.

Mermaid was filled with instantly beloved tunes—from Ariel's yearning "Part of Your World" to Sebastian's reggae showcase of better living "Under the Sea" to Ursula's sultry, sinister "Poor Unforunate Souls," which convinced Ariel to sell her voice for a moment in the sun. Menken's storybook score wove those melodies into the fabric of the fairytale, and it earned him an Academy Award (along with an Oscar for "Under the Sea").

They topped themselves with Beauty and the Beast, which opened with the infectious "Belle" that has her, Gaston, and the townspeople set up the whole story through song. Lumiere and the other animated objects welcomed Belle to the Beast's castle with the showstopping "Be Our Guest," and the maternal Mrs. Potts cut to the heart of this "tale as old as time" with the emotional ballad "Beauty and the Beast." Ashman and Menken won Oscars for the score and title song, and cast another enchanting musical spell.

Those lyrical films set the tone for the rest of the decade, with songs and scores as memorable and iconic as the animated characters. At the heart of Aladdin was the soaring, tumbling love song "A Whole New World" and the razzle-dazzle "Friend Like Me," which showcased the limitless talents of both the Genie and Robin Williams. (Menken won two more Oscars, and when they accepted the award for "A Whole New World," lyricist Tim Rice thanked the late Howard Ashman, saying: "I'm extremely lucky to be standing in his shoes.')

Menken's Broadway spirit continued to electrify Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. They gave Pocahontas her Oscar-winning anthem "Colors of the Wind," Esmeralda's plaintive "God Help the Outcasts," and Frollo's ferocious villian's song, "Hellfire." For Hercules, Menken teamed up with lyricist David Zippel for the gospel-flavored "Zero to Hero" and the Oscar-nominated hero's statement, "Go the Distance."

Running parallel to this theatrical style, the studio also brought in some of the biggest names in pop music to bring a rocking, grooving, bopping power to its hand-drawn creatures and characters. Elton John, a lifelong Disney fanatic, became the balladeer of Simba's journey from boyhood to kingdom in The Lion King—gifting us the sun-waking glory of "Circle of Life," the peppy "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," Scar's slithering warning in "Be Prepared," Timon and Pumbaa's philosophy of the good life, "Hakuna Matata," and one of the all-time great love songs, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," which won an Academy Award. Composer Hans Zimmer gave the whole story a serious, sincere score full of heartbreaking emotion and indelible melodies, earning his first Oscar.

The singing-songwriting-drumming superstar Phil Collins was asked to bring Tarzan's story to life, and he came up with "Two Worlds" about the character's role in the dual realm of humans and animals, and the achingly beautiful lullaby "You'll Be in My Heart"—which won Collins an Oscar.

And we can't forget Mulan! The Chinese warrior's new live-action adventure isn't a musical like its animated counterpart, but it does pay homage to some of the singular tunes by composer Matthew Wilder—including the training montage earworm "I'll Make a Man Out of You," and the longing ballad about identity and belonging, "Reflection." As she did on the original 1998 soundtrack, Christina Aguilera performed a pop version of that song on the new Mulan, along with the new anthem, "Loyal Brave True."

With lyrics by David Zippel, the animated Mulan soundtrack featured the powerhouse vocals of Tony-winning Lea Salonga as Mulan, Donny Osmond, Broadway legend Marni Nixon—along with the curtain-closing banger "True to Your Heart" performed by Stevie Wonder and 98 Degrees. Tying it all together, and lending the unconventional warrior's story real pathos and gravitas, was Jerry Goldsmith's muscular, melodic, Oscar-nominated score.

It was a renaissance of eye-catching animation and fantastic stories with cherished characters—but at the heart and soul of it all was this fountain of immortal, storytelling music.

Vinyl can be Eye Candy as well as Ear Candy

Published August 11, 2020

A good vinyl record shouldn't pop when it comes to sound, but who doesn't love an album that pops visually? Records can be so much more than functional music carriers... they can be works of art.

Picture discs have been around, in some form or another, since the early 20th century, when you could find records with picturesque postcards glued on top. In the 1920s and '30s, picture discs were mostly cardboard and plastic, but after World War II the technology of fixing an image onto a music disc began to improve. The concept really took off in the 1970s, with top artists like Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath getting optically creative. In 1978, a posthumous tribute album to Elvis Presley, featuring The King's image on both sides, sold like hotcakes.

It wasn't long before picture discs and color vinyl led to other innovations, including messages etched into the vinyl and die-cut records shaped like hearts (Madonna) and pianos (Elton John) and just about anything a clever artist could imagine.

Walt Disney got into the game from the start. The song "Mickey Mouse and Minnie's in Town" was pressed as a picture disc in 1934, and over the ensuing decades many soundtracks and story albums on Disneyland Records popped with colorful scenes from Geppetto's workshop or Cinderella's magical transformation.

With the recent resurgence of vinyl collection, that tradition continues with new, cinematic picture disc pressings of everything from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction soundtrack and Haunted Mansion, featuring those famous hitchhiking ghosts, to the marvelous cast assembled on top of Alan Silvestri's score for Avengers: Endgame.

You want royal thingamabobs? We've got plenty. From Ariel (on The Little Mermaid soundtrack) to Belle (Beauty and the Beast), from Cinderella to Tiana (The Princess and the Frog). And we've got other whozits and whatzits galore—including a shockingly red vinyl version of the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? soundtrack, a literally gold High School Musical album, and 180 gram purple vinyl for Marvel's Jessica Jones.

For a cleverly contoured spin, you can find die-cut picture discs shaped like Baby Groot—playing tracks by David Hasselhoff and Tyler Bates from Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2—and Carl Frederickson's balloon-lifted house from Up, which spins music from Michael Giacchino's Oscar®-winning score.

But for technologically advanced album experiences, no musical universe makes more sense than Star Wars. In addition to eye-popping picture discs for John Williams' Oscar-nominated score for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and a die-cut Porg playing music from The Last Jedi, the galaxy far, far away sent a space-age wonder with A New Hope box set —featuring a holographic spinning Death Star, hand-etched by Tristan Duke of Infinity Light Science.

Most recently "The Child," the breakout phenomenon from The Mandalorian on Disney+ (nominated for 15 Emmy® Awards including best drama), received his own die-cut disc. When you put the big-eyed green infant on your turntable, adorably swaddled in his levitating cradle, you'll hear the infectious theme from Ludwig Göransson's Emmy-nominated score.

All of these visually popping records can be found at DisneyMusicEmporium.com, along with a bounty of other cool products. This National Vinyl Record Day, take some for a spin!