Look, there she goes—that girl is strange, no question
Sometimes you (I) have to marathonically listen to the complete five-volume Classic Disney set, including approximately 250 brilliant and heart-wrenching tunes excerpted with loving care and discerning taste from Disney’s voluminous history of music production.
You may mock, and would in fact be right to do so, especially if you heard me singing along with “Be Our Guest,” doing all the funny voices myself. Mocking accepted. It would be trite for me to make an apologia for Disney’s many aesthetic and political sins. I do think, though, that the people in charge of producing this stuff are smart and savvy—the bad Disney flicks (um, Hunchback) are the ones where they muzzle the mild-bitchy sass of a Mary Poppins or a Princess Jasmine and rationalize the joyful, sweet absurdity of Pete’s Dragon and “Under the Sea.” Sure, a lot of it is middlebrow, but better that we have intelligent middlebrow art than a vast cultural gap between Care Bears and Lars von Trier. Besides, I’d rather sing along to Bedknobs and Broomsticks than Dancer in the Dark. Bjork irks me.
Listening to the Classic set, one hears amazing political discourses being worked out through time—songs that would never get produced/written now can play alongside songs exemplifying the best in contemporary (well, early 90s) multicultural pacifist mores. In “I Wan’na Be Like You,” a jazzy number from The Jungle Book, Louis Armstrong (!) as a semi-villainous orangutan king sings “you see it’s true/an ape like me/can learn to be/human too.” Shudder. But what comes right after that? “The Mob Song” from Beauty and the Beast, with murderously macho Gaston exhorting terrified villagers to the worst excesses of anti-Beast vigilante violence. The audience fears for Belle, imprisoned in her own cellar lest she ‘betray’ the mob to the (non-human but infinitely sympathetic) castledwellers. Human nature has, far from its earlier celebration, assumed a terrifying aspect, appropriate to fin-de-this-siecle events and values.
It’s those (simple) smarts, along with the earnest moral teachings they try to impart (can you believe they made Newsies? It’s straight from Howard Zinn’s list of “stories Hollywood never tells”) that go some distance towards making up for eye-widening travesties like “The Siamese Cat Song.”
Real life update: found out today that I did not get the UNESCO internship (6 months in Paris, sob) for which I applied. This is probably not a bad thing, as I was going to have to get conversationally fluent in French before going, and all the French I know I learned from Lumiere (the candlestick in Beauty and the Beast) and Jacques (the seafood-lovin’ chef of The Little Mermaid). Though I was looking forward to telling Parisians that I love les poissons les poissons, hee hee hee haw haw haw.