Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Review: Music in Disney's Animated Features

I try to stay apprised of the latest Disney history books, but I only learned of an important new title very recently.

That book is James Bohn's MUSIC IN DISNEY'S ANIMATED FEATURES: SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS TO THE JUNGLE BOOK, published earlier this year by the University Press of Mississippi.

I love all things Disney, but it's the music which I love the best. Heard in both movies and theme parks, Disney music can always be relied on to spur what my family calls "Disney moments" -- tearing up with happiness during a Disney experience. Who isn't immediately buoyed by happy nostalgia when hearing songs such as "When You Wish Upon a Star," "Whistle While You Work," or "You Can Fly!"?

As respected Disney historian Jeff Kurtti writes in his foreword, Disney film music "has been almost ritually passed along to succeeding generations, along with rich cultural memories and memorable entertainment experiences, to gain an even deeper meaning in the ensuing decades."

MUSIC IN DISNEY'S ANIMATED FEATURES is thus the Disney book I never knew I wanted. I consider myself knowledgeable about the history of Disney cartoons, but I learned a great deal from this deep dive into the music, which I'm certain will also enhance my appreciation on future viewings.

After introductory chapters on Disney's earliest use of music, in Mickey Mouse cartoons and the Silly Symphonies, the book covers Disney's animated features during the years Disney was alive; while it skips over FANTASIA (1940) and the "package" features, it explores in depth the music of SNOW WHITE (1937), PINOCCHIO (1940), DUMBO (1941), BAMBI (1942), CINDERELLA (1950), and many more.

Bohn points out that while Walt Disney wasn't a musician, he knew what his films needed musically and had the ability to fill his creative team with just the right people. In his deeply researched, very detailed book Bohn discusses everything from the creative process -- including the interesting fact that Disney's earlier cartoons were scored first and animated to fit the music -- to the musical styles and the way the music is utilized at dramatic points in each film, along with biographies of the composers, notes on critical reception of the films, and mentions of significant later recordings of the songs.

Although the book contains a great deal of information in relatively small print, it's presented in a readable, almost conversational style; chapters are broken up with subheadings, with topics such as composer biographies interspersed at relevant points. For instance, a couple pages into the chapter on SNOW WHITE there's a detour to a four-page biography of composer Frank Churchill, before returning to SNOW WHITE proper. The subheadings made it easy to track as the author explored each film from a variety of angles, and I felt it also made it easier to dip in and out of the book as time permitted, reading it in small sections.

As a side note, it seemed a bit unusual that pretty much every person mentioned in the book had their name followed by their birth and death dates -- even, for example, the actors who attended the SNOW WHITE premiere -- but at the same time I appreciated the inclusion as I often end up looking up dates on my own.

The hardcover edition of MUSIC IN DISNEY'S ANIMATED FEATURES is 294 pages long, including end notes, bibliography, index, and an extensive 38-page appendix listing the composer of every music cue in the animated films covered in the book, along with timing and other data.

The book is illustrated with excerpts from musical scores and a few black and white photographs. I found the use of the musical illustrations very interesting; along with simple lines of music here and there, to illustrate points, there's also a great photo of a sheet of Ken Darby's original notes for "The Mad Tea Party" in ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951). All illustrations are printed directly on the book's non-glossy pages; the reproduction quality is good.

MUSIC IN DISNEY'S ANIMATED FEATURES is must reading for those who love Disney or film music in general. Highly recommended.

Thanks to James Bohn and the University Press of Mississippi for providing a review copy of this book.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Laura, this sounds like a must-have for my library. I'm very excited.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm so glad I could call it to your attention! I'm sure you'll find it very interesting. :)

Best wishes,

10:30 PM  

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