Beyond the Tiara Extract – Rolling Stone

In Disney Princess: Beyond the TiaraLongtime Rolling Stone contributor Emily Zemler reflects on how various beloved princesses became the cultural icons they are today, from White as snowenduring reign to more recent and inspiring royalty like Moana.

The book weaves interviews with historians and those who helped shape the characters, including directors and voices, alongside concept art and memorabilia, and breaks down important themes that are integral to how the princesses serve as inspiration.

The music, of course, is a key part of the storytelling and what has resonated with the characters for decades, as the excerpt below details. The book explores Disney’s first original musical hit, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” of three little pigs to “One Day My Prince Will Come” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through The little Mermaid the award-winning hits “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” and other classics. In this exclusive excerpt from the book, released today, Zemler Zemler delves into influential music and the people who created it.


Before Walt got into feature animation with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the original Disney musical numbers were created out of sheer necessity. The studio did not have a library of songs to draw from like other film studios, so many of Walt Disney’s early animated works used classical music or songs available in the public domain. The studio’s first original musical hit, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”, was written by Disney legend Frank Churchill for the animated short. three little pigs in 1933. The song was a huge hit at the time (and has since been performed by everyone from Duke Ellington to Barbra Streisand to LL Cool J), proving that audiences were as captivated by the music as they were by animation.

As Walt developed White as snow, he knew the story would be best presented as an animated musical feature. “I don’t think there was ever any doubt in Walt’s mind as to the making Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs like a musical,” says Disney music historian Greg Ehrbar. “There were too many benefits to enhancing the storytelling, capturing the emotions of the audience, and taking the film’s popularity beyond the theater.” Like many Disney animated features, White as snowThe music reflects popular musical styles at the time, including operetta. Most 1930s operettas were based on fairy tales, and the songs of White as snow, written by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey, adopted this aesthetic. Walt himself gave his final approval on the musical numbers. In fact, it was Walt’s idea for the film to contain a song called “Some Day My Prince Will Come”, which voice actress Adriana Caselotti sang.

“One of Walt’s suggestions in one of his early sketches for the movie was that he thought there really should be a song called ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come,'” says JB Kaufman, author of The most beautiful of all: the creation of Walt Disney’s Snow White. “So of course Churchill agreed. He came up with this melody, which ended up being a great song and an important part of the score, to this day.

But while the song-focused format of White as snow sounds familiar to today’s viewers, in 1937 making an animated musical was an unusual undertaking. Each song matched the story inextricably, like in a popular musical, and Walt recognized the songs’ potential to serve as promotional jingles for the film. The songs were performed out of the theater with the viewer after the credits, easy to hum or sing in their head. “It was that little piece of the movie that you could relive and it was yours,” notes Thornton. “Music was the one thing you could take away instantly.”

Recorded music from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released as the first commercially available motion picture soundtrack in 1938 via RCA Victor. The collection of eleven titles, titled Songs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Walt Disney (with the same characters and sound effects as in the film of this title) and featured on three 78 rpm singles sold in one package. It was hugely popular, with songs playing regularly on the radio. It was no wonder the film was nominated for Best Musical Score at the Oscars later that year. Back then, home video didn’t exist either, so soundtracks were the best way for fans to relive their favorite movie moments at home.

“The impact of Snow White’s score is not to be underestimated,” says historian Stacia Martin. “These songs were huge and not considered children’s music. They were Top 40 songs on the charts that everyone loved.

beyond the tiara

As Walt continued to make animated features, he stuck to the tried-and-true musical format. He was so determined to get the music from Cinderella (1950) right, he enlisted Tin Pan Alley songwriters Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston to write the songs, including “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”. Voice actor Ilene Woods performed “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” evoking Disney’s previous hit “When You Wish Upon a Star” by Pinocchio (1940). Sleeping Beauty (1959), published almost a decade after Cinderella, had a more classical tone, with the score by George Bruns inspired by that of Peter Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty Ballet. Her most iconic song was “Once Upon a Dream”, performed by comedienne Mary Costa.

It was the era known as the “Disney Renaissance”, which really solidified Disney’s connection to the musical structure of Broadway. Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken had success on Broadway with Little Shop of Horrors in the early 1980s, and were introduced during the production of The little Mermaid to write the music. This collaboration ended up being transformative. Ashman and Menken were responsible for the film’s award-winning hits, including “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl”, and later created the songs for The beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. The two brought both a whimsy and a sense of emotional gravity to the songs, which captivated audiences. It was an interesting time in pop culture, when animated musicals dominated screens, but live-action musicals were far less popular.

“Local American musicals really weren’t doing very well in the ’80s,” says chart specialist Chris Molanphy. “The 90s weren’t much better. Live humans who sang were, for a period of about twenty years, considered uncool. However, in the middle of this period, if an animated character started singing, that was fine with us.

Ashman tragically died of AIDS in 1991 at the age of forty, leaving behind an important legacy that lives on today. Menken teamed up with lyricist Tim Rice to complete Aladdinand has since written the songs of Pocahontas and Tangledas well as new songs for Broadway productions of Disney films like The little Mermaid and Aladdin. He also worked on several of the live-action Princess adaptations, including The beauty and the Beast, Aladdinand The little Mermaid.

“Howard was a genius, one of the greatest talents of our generation in terms of musical theater and the songs and music used in movies,” says Menken, crediting Ashman with the musical legacy that stemmed from Disney films in the years 1990. “He was a really brilliant storyteller. One thing he realized was that a Disney princess is no different than any of us. In a way, we’re all Disney Princesses – a person with a passion, a desire, a dream, an obstacle to overcome and a journey to go through that we can relate to.

Because Disney songs are so tied to pop music, Walt Disney Animation Studios has always tapped the newest songwriters to involve them in the stories. For Moana, the filmmakers tapped Lin-Manuel Miranda to write songs alongside Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i. The “I Want” song from the film, “How Far I’ll Go,” is one of Disney Princess’ most memorable songs to date. It took the songwriters a few tries to get it right, finally landing on the evocative anthem that sees Moana wondering why the ocean is calling her.

“One of the hardest things about it is really figuring out what your character wants,” explains Moana producer Osnat Shurer. “You have to find a place in the narrative where the emotion is so strong that you have to go into the song, and you want to hint at what the character needs because it’s not the same as what he wants to say, ‘How far can I go? I want to go beyond the horizon. I want to go beyond what I know.’ – who among us has not felt this?

Songs like “How Far I’ll Go” and “Part of Your World” act as shortcuts for storytellers, as well as connection points for audiences. They take viewers on the emotional journey of film, and Walt Disney Animation Studios is where that unbreakable bond between animation and song began. Without these melodies, viewers would not feel so immersed in the fairytale worlds of the princesses. “Music is the ultimate storytelling tool and Walt understood that from the start,” confirms Martin. “Despite the power of the animation and visuals, it was the music that could bind the emotions to the imagery.”

From DISNEY PRINCESS: BEYOND THE TIARA by Emily Zemler. Copyright © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Published by Epic Ink, an imprint of The Quarto Group. Reprinted with permission.

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