Musical Numbers in Animated Features

So I’m guessing many people now have heard of Tangled? It’s Disney’s 50th Film and it’s doing well in the theatres. What’s interesting is that despite being advertised as a romatic-comedy with action and a varying group of characters as shown in the trailers and posters, it is actually a romantic-comedy with action and a varying group of characters…and it’s also a musical.

Despite Disney practically lying to us, for good or for bad, it’s still a good movie with some really nice songs, fun moments and it’s Disney so expect an unlikely romance between two good looking people with completely different lifestyles, lovely sidekicks and a dark yet enchanting villain.

However, as I listen to the songs, I realise that many Disney and even non-Disney films have musical numbers, songs that focus on one or a group of characters, that gives us an idea of either who they are, their motivation or their current feelings. Even if they aren’t musicals, writing a list of western animated features that DO NOT have at least one song sung by a character is much shorter than the other than ones that do. Disney is a master at musical numbers, An American Tail had a few, even The Secret of Kells and Tales from Earthsea both had one sung by their female protagonist. So one thing I wonder is, why?

Admit it, you owned a video like this once in your life!

Like mentioned in the last paragraph, musical numbers are normally used for plot & character development, such as a character detailing who they are or what there goals are (also known as the “I Want Song”). Writers and Directors probably like using these since they can make development more entertaining than a simple monologue or narration, allows opportunity to use creative visuals and scenery or just add a minute or two to the total running time. Animated Features specifically for kids are normally have these, and its easy to see why after remembering god knows the amount of Sing-Along videos Disney made during the 1990s and Early 2000s. However, just because you can go that route, doesn’t mean you have to.

Musical Numbers have their problems, they can be unnecessary and poorly transitioned making them stick out, you need song writers to make sure the lyrics flow with the music, you need people who can actually sing to take it seriously among other reasons. Sure young kids can appreciate even the bad stuff, and songs don’t have to be good or brilliant in order to be redeemable or memorable as long as it has some quality to it, but there are animated films I’ve never watched completely purely because I couldn’t stand the music.

So when should they have songs and when shouldn’t they, and what kinds of songs do you use? Well that varies depending on what age group, genre of film and the environment of the film. If you watch several films you can notice a few common points where songs are used, like not long after a character is revealed to explain who he is and a motivational song when a character is feeling like all hope is lost, although those are the clichĂ©d ones.

If you want to get a person’s best attention, the song needs to appear when the viewer half-expects it.An example of this is Aisling’s Song in The Secret of Kells, in the scene, you can tell the song is about to start since the music and the environment calms, yet you might not if you’ve never seen the film before since you do can see that Aisling has an idea, but the viewer doesn’t know what it is, so when the calm yet enchanting song starts, the viewer’s attention is gained as the music feels sudden, yet since it was brought in carefully it doesn’t lead to surprise in confusion. They also feel captivated as the song suits the dark and peaceful environment from the scene.

To understand it better, you need to see what the worst example is. In my opinion the worst you can possibly get in an animated film is the “Party Time” song in Titanic: The Legend Goes On. You are meant to have a child friendly retelling of the Titanic, and the scene takes place inside the docks after a dog saves a mouse’s life from a hungry cat, with the mouse giving his thanks, at this point the creative team thought it was very “suiting” to then have the dog do a rap completely out of nowhere, about absolutely nothing to do with the story, characters or setting, where it doesn’t fit at all with the film. It leaves the viewers in surprise and confusion to why it is in there, and disgust to the point where they could break the DVD because of how bad and out of place it is.

But back to my original question, why? Why do some animated features feel they need to have songs when they aren’t musicals? Why did Tangled have to leave out the point that it was a musical in its marketing, misleading a portion of its viewer-base?

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