Sunday, April 8, 2018

Numeric Princess

"Fairy Tales Can Come True"

[While this is not technically part of my series on my music mixes, you still might benefit from reading the series list (for definitions of terms), and/or the introduction (for general background.]

My smallest human child just had a birthday, as I mentioned last week.  I may have also mentioned that, of all my children, she is the one who most shares my love of music.  Like me, she loves nearly all kinds of music, and she even likes some that I don’t care for.  Like, say, music from Disney movies, and in particular Disney princess movies.  Now, it is practically a cliché at this point to have a little girl who’s obsessed with singing the songs from Frozen, and my kid is not really bucking that trend.  But she’s also perfectly happy to sing songs by Ariel, or Tiana, or Snow White, or Moana.  So The Mother suggested that I make her a Disney princess mix.

Obviously I resisted this suggestion.  There are two broad classes of music that I really can’t stand: country and opera.  And as far as I’m concerned “opera” encompasses light opera (e.g. Gilbert and Sullivan), and, of course, Broadway show tunes.  I don’t care for musicals, and that includes Disney musicals, because they consist of hideously annoying show tunes, and I hate those.  Like, a lot.

And, here’s the thing: if I’m going to make a mix, I’m going to do it right.  And, as part of making a mix, I listen to the music over and over again, choosing the perfect songs, trying to determine the best order, sometimes making decisions about how much space to place between the tracks, and so forth.  And, here’s a batch of music that I really don’t want to listen to even once, much less over and over again.

But, hey: I love my baby girl, right?  Yeah, I must ...

So here is a mix of Disney princess songs.  I learned ever so much about Disney princesses while doing this.  For instance, did you know that there are 11 “official” Disney princesses?  And that there are rules for qualification to that august institution?  Of course, there are 4 princesses who conform to the rules but aren’t princesses—that would be Elsa and Anna from Frozen, weirdly, who it’s just assumed would eclipse all the other princesses if they were let into the club, and Moana and Anastasia, who it’s assumed will eventually join the ranks—and 1 princess who doesn’t conform to the rules but somehow still is (that would be Mulan, who is neither born into royalty nor marries a prince)?  So Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) isn’t a princess (no royalty), and Maid Marian (from Robin Hood) isn’t a princess (not human), and Elena of Avalor isn’t a princess (derives from a TV show, not a movie), and Mary Poppins isn’t a princess because she’s not animated ... even Princess Leia—who, goshdarnit, has “princess” right there in her namecan’t be an official Disney princess because she’s not a friggin’ cartoon.  Well, I personally like to think she’s just too cool to be a Disney princess, but obviously I’m biased: as a child, I was way more into Star Wars than Sleeping Beauty.1

But, I say: screw the rules.  By my reckoning, Alice and Maid Marian and Elena of Avalor and Mary Poppins should each be considered the princess of her story.  Plus their music is cooler than those “official” princesses.  So I’ve included one song each from the 11 official princesses, plus a song from 3 of the 4 non-official princesses,2 plus the 4 extras mentioned above, and I threw in Megara from Hercules for good measure (primarily because she also has a fairly cool song, and this mix was crying out for hip).3  So that’s a total of 19 songs by strong Disney female characters, presented here for your consideration.  Well, really they’re for my daughter.  But you can enjoy them as well.

Let’s start with the list this time.  For each song, I’ve actually credited the character, which makes sense for my little girl.  However, I didn’t want to completely ignore the talented women who provided the vocals, so I put their names in as extra notes.  Note that in a couple of cases, the songs are duets (typically with the “prince” figure), or even larger ensemble pieces.  Also note that there is actually one voice actor who was not just one, but actually two Disney princesses: Lea Salonga is both Jasmine and Mulan.4  Finally, note that every selection here is a single: there is no way in hell I’m tossing you a link to an entire album of Disney music.

Numeric Princess I
    [Fairy Tales Can Come True]

        “Part of Your World” by Ariel {Jodi Benson} [Single]
        “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” by Cinderella (with animals) {Ilene Woods} [Single]
        “A Whole New World” by Jasmine (with Aladdin) {Lea Salonga & Brad Kane} [Single]
        “Reflection” by Mulan {Lea Salonga} [Single]
        “For the First Time in Forever” by Anna (with Elsa) {Kristen Bell & Idina Menzel} [Single]
        “Belle” by Belle (with townspeople) {Paige O'Hara & Richard White & Chorus—Beauty And the Beast} [Single]
        “I Won't Say (I'm in Love)” by Megara (with the Muses) {Susan Egan} [Single]
        “Once Upon a Dream” by Aurora (with Prince Philip) {Mary Costa & Bill Shirley & Chorus—Sleeping Beauty} [Single]
        “Colours of the Wind” by Pocohontas {Judy Kuhn} [Single]
        “When Will My Life Begin” by Rapunzel {Mandy Moore} [Single]
        “Love” by Maid Marian {Nancy Adams} [Single]
        “A Spoonful of Sugar” by Mary Poppins {Julie Andrews} [Single]
        “How Far I'll Go” by Moana {Auli'i Cravalho} [Single]
        “Almost There” by Tiana {Anika Noni Rose} [Single]
        “Let It Go” by Elsa {Idina Menzel} [Single]
        “Noble Maiden Fair (A Mhaighdean Bhan Uasal)” by Merida (accompanying Queen Elinor) {Emma Thompson and Peigi Barker} [Single]
        “Pay Attention / In a World of My Own” by Alice {Kathryn Beaumont} [Single]
        “With a Smile and a Song” by Snow White {Adriana Caselotti} [Single]
        “The Right Thing to Do” by Elena of Avalor (with Esteban) {Aimee Carrero & Christian Lanz} [Single]5
Total:  19 tracks,  56:01

Since several of the princesses offered a few different choices, I also ended up learning a lot about the different types of Disney princess songs.6  Typically the opening song is an introduction, which sets the scene for the audience and lays out the situation so everyone’s on the same page.  Then there’s generally an “I Want” song: this is where the main character (nearly always the princess7) sings longingly about all she doesn’t (yet) have.  Often the “I Want” song is the best choice for a princess: they’re terribly popular, they’re nearly always solos, and they tend to feature strong vocal performances that make them memorable to young girls.  The classic examples of an “I Want” song to be found on this mix are “Part of Your World” by Ariel, “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” by Cinderalla, “When Will My Life Begin” by Rapunzel (from Tangled), “How Far I’ll Go” by Moana, and “Reflection” by Mulan.

The absolute best “I Want” song of all time (at least in terms of Disney princesses), though, has to go to Tiana, for “Almost There.”  Now, the songs from The Princess and the Frog are just better than other Disney songs in general, and that’s because they’re not really show tunes: they’re much jazzier, which makes them far more palatable (at least in my book).  But “Almost There” is particularly notable in another way: even in the modern era, most “I Want” songs are fairly passive—e.g., listen to the lyrics of “When Will My Life Begin,” which is nice song and all (more pop than show tune, so that’s a point in its favor), but it’s still all about Rapunzel just sitting and wishing.  Not Tiana: she’s not sitting around waiting for her dreams to come true, she’s working her butt off to make them come true.  In fact, while “Almost There” give us our volume title this time around, it’s perhaps instructive to hear the whole verse:

I remember Daddy told me:
Fairy tales can come true.
But you gotta make ’em happen—
It all depends on you.

This is absolutely the sort of message I want for my daughter.  Contrast that with the sappy “I Want” song from Snow White: “Someday My Prince Will Come.”  Okay, it was 1937, sure.  But still: oh, my life will be so much better as soon as a big, strong man comes and sweeps me off my feet?  Puh-lease.  This song also embodies another type of song that I completely made up myself after sifting through dozens and dozens of princess songs: the “Ain’t He Dreamy?” song.  “Someday My Prince Will Come” is probably the worst offender in that camp, but “So This Is Love” (from Cinderella) is pretty bad too.  For that matter, “Something There” (from Beauty and the Beast) drifts dangerously close to this territory.

Beauty and the Beast was problematic in several ways, actually.  The super-popular song is of course “Beauty and the Beast” (a.k.a. the “tale as old as time” song), but Belle doesn’t sing in it—not a single line.  So that didn’t feel appopriate here.  And I already threw out “Something There.”  So it really only left me with “Belle,” which is the opening number.  The introduction song for a princess movie is rarely sung by the princess; it’s more about the princess and might be sung by an expository character (or the chorus).  But “Belle” is really her song, with the townspeople contributing bits here and there.  Plus it’s way more tolerable than the “old as time” one.

Similarly, for Snow White, I just went with the one I could tolerate the easiest: “With a Smile and a Song,” which is nothing to write home about, but at least it doesn’t offend my sensibilities as a father.  Aurora (a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty) is also problematic (for many of the same reasons), but I settled on “Once Upon a Dream,” which, while it does feature the charming prince and consequently verges on “Ain’t He Dreamy?” territory, has the twin virtues of being a) less sappy than “I Wonder” and b) short.

At least those older moves offer lots of choices, so I could throw out the really awful ones.  Jasmine, of course, has the opposite problem: there just aren’t any good choices other than “A Whole New World,” which also features Aladdin.  But it’s fine.  More problematic still was Merida, who just plain doesn’t sing at all.  But the fact of the matter is that Brave is the best of the princess movies,8 and Merida is actually one of the official princesses, so I didn’t want her to go unrepresented.  So I’m cheating a bit, but there’s a flashback scene in which Queen Elinor sings a comforting song to toddler Merida.  It only lasts about 12 seconds in the movie, but the soundtrack has the full version, and, most importantly, Merida sings along with her mother at the end of the song, so technically it counts as a princess song.  Yeah, I know: I’m reaching.

Anna and Elsa, of course, were never really in question: “For the First Time in Forever” and “Let It Go” are the songs from Frozen, and, as much I may personally dislike them, I was sort of stuck with them.  Since there are two princesses in Frozen, I felt justified in including two songs from it; “Let It Go” is unquestionably Elsa’s song, and, while Elsa does sing a bit on “For the First Time in Forever,” I think most people would agree that it’s really Anna’s song.  I consider it an “I Want” song, personally, although I’ve read that some people think the one about building a snowman should be considered the “I Want” song for Frozen.  But, hey: this one includes the incredible line “don’t know if I’m elated or gassy,” which is by far the best line spoken by a Disney princess, like, ever.  “Let It Go” I’m just plain sick of, like pretty much the entire rest of the universe.

“Colours of the Wind” is the least worst of a bad bunch for Pocohontas.  “In a World of My Own” is a fun little ditty from Alice in Wonderland.  “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” is actually a pretty good song from “tough chick” Megara.  And, while “Love” by Maid Marian certainly does border on “Ain’t He Dreamy?” territory, it has the advantage of being a really pretty song (and it’s also short, so it doesn’t wear out its welcome).

The “princesses” who didn’t make the cut:  Jane (from Tarzan) doesn’t sing anything.  Esmerelda (from The Hunchback of Notre Dame) only sings “God Helps the Outcasts,” which ... no.  Just no.  Nala (from Lion King) isn’t considered a princess because she’s not human; I wouldn’t hold that against her, but there’s no good song choices there.  And Kida (from Atlantis) only fails the princess test for the absolute worst reason: her movie wasn’t a commercial success (yep, that’s an actual official Disney princess rule).  But she also doesn’t sing anything.  No doubt the crazy Disney people think Atlantis failed because it wasn’t a musical.  Naturally that only made me like it better.  But oh well.

That just leaves us with two tracks.  In the case of Mary Poppins, I know that I’m really stretching the definition of “princess” here.  But I offer a few mitigating counterpoints.  Firstly, the original Mary Poppins has, hands-down, the largest collection of non-vomit-inducing songs of any Disney musical ever.  Pretty much every song in that movie rocks.  Secondly, “not animated” is a terrible reason why you can’t be a princess (second only to “not commercially successful”).  But, in the end, what it really comes down to is that the Ultimate Disney Princess CD has “Spoonful of Sugar” on it, and, dammit, that’s just a fun song.  Also a good message about cleaning up your room and whatnot.  What kind of father would I be to leave that one out?

Finally, the third worst reason to bar entry to the Disney princess club is that you’re a character from a TV show rather than a movie.9  Elena of Avalor is a princess from the Disney TV show of the same name, and there’s a song in every episode, and they’re actually good songs (well, most of the time).  Elena is not always the singer, so my choices aren’t as broad as they might be, but still there’s several good options.  I went with “The Right Thing to Do,” despite the fact that it’s a duet, because it’s got a little bit of a rap/hip-hop vibe that provides some much-needed (in my opinion) musical diversity for this mix.  Doesn’t make a bad closer for the volume either.

So that’s our Disney princess mix, volume I.  Will there ever be a volume II?  Probably not—this one was painful enough as it was.  But, then again, I do love my daughter, so one never knows.  The great thing about her, though, is that most of the time her musical taste is much better than this: in addition to this mix, I loaded another one onto her tablet.  I haven’t written that one up for my musical mixes series yet, but let’s just say it skews more heavily towards P!nk and Joan Jett than to Julie Andrews and Mandy Moore.  And she loves them both equally.


1 Fun fact: I’m pretty sure I saw both of these in the theater.  Sleeping Beauty was originally released before I was born, of course, but Disney films have a tendency to be rereleased regularly, and SB hit the screens again in 1970.  I would have been only 4 or so, but I do have a very vague recollection of seeing that big black dragon up on the big screen, at least.  Sword in the Stone came back around in ‘72 and that one I remember very clearly.

2 Although Disney ended up with the rights to Anastasia when it bought Fox a few months ago, I’m still a little iffy on the whole idea of thinking of Anya as a Disney property.

3 Also, a lot of these songs are very short.  Even with 19 tracks, this mix is still just under an hour, which makes it the shortest mix I’ve ever produced.

4 The talented Ms. Salonga was born in the Philippines, in case you were wondering.

5 Few of the Elena of Avalor songs have been officially released, which is a shame, because they’re generally pretty good, as Disney princess songs go.  This one is only available on YouTube as far as I know.

6 Actually, I gather they’re just the general types of songs in any musical.

7 Nearly always.  Of the official princesses, only Jasmine is not the protagonist of her story—the movie is named Aladdin, after all.  Of the unofficial ones that I added, Megara and Maid Marian definitely qualify, and Mary Poppins is a bit of a toss-up ... is she the protagonist, or is it the children?

8 Most likely the lack of singing is a strong reason for my opinion on that score.

9 Closely followed by: you’re a character from a movie, but it’s a sequel.  Who makes these rules anyway?

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