Posts Tagged Music

The Top 10 Most Underrated Songs in Animated Movies

With Frozen blowing up box offices and “Let It Go” erupting from the mouths of children (and adults) everywhere, it seems that there is small but noticeable interest in music in animation. Once considered a time-wasting trope that dotted Disney hand-drawn films, a tolerable exercise in audience patience, now seem to making a powerful resurgence, in TV shows and films alike. There were a few years where songs were on their way out – Toy Story nixed them, and Shrek actively called them out on their uselessness. Now expect to see them all over the place.

That all being said, there are a few songs out there that we ought to give more love to, whether it be the surprising craftsmanship, the entertaining performance, the perfect mood-setting, or just an overall catchiness. For this list I try to look outside of Disney’s oeuvre, although there are some of them here. I also try to focus on songs that aren’t discussed or overplayed, and have a unique quality beyond being designed for a sing-a-long. And of course, it’s personal, but I will try to explain why I like them. So, here we go:


10) Frozen – “Fixer-Upper”

The trolls in Frozen are somewhat problematic; even through they’re part of the original fairy tale, they really add nothing to the plot, and there is a creepy vibe to this song, a message that seems to run counter to the film’s general idea of a woman’s agency being beyond getting the guy. Yet “Fixer-Upper” works because its rhythmic quality is catchy, and its goofy lyrics keep it from becoming too forceful. It kinda reminds me of the Fraggle Rock theme song, with specific beats designed for specific lines. I personally think it’s better than “Let it Go.”


9) An American Tail: Fivel Goes West – “The Girl You Left Behind”

So it’s hard to really get a sense of this song since the animators decided to stage the Fivel chase sequences around the music, drowning out the Western/Country instrumentals and many of the sassy lyrics with the events of chase. Yet Tanya’s “debut” song is energetic and catchy, as the cats around her can attest to, and it’s energetic as all hell, even if the actual song has nothing to do with the film. It feels like a ol’ classic Western song by way of a full orchestra, which works better than it should. It’s a wonder more symphonies don’t channel old music and retool them for Radio City Music Hall.


8) The Spongebob Squarepants Movie – “The Best Day Ever”

I’m cheating here. “The Best Day Ever” is actually from an episode of Spongebob Squarepants of the same name. It was simply replayed during the movie’s end credits, yet for some reason, it works so much better there, mainly because it’s a stupidly fun denouement to a stupidly fun movie. It takes it its time with the lyrics and letting the simple guitar riff and drum beat carry it, and while Spongebob’s voice can be annoying, his words can’t help but make you smile a little bit. There’s a bit of a Beach Boys quality to it – which is obvious in retrospect. Modelling a song from a band known for its “perfect” beach music would be exactly how you’d tackle a song involving talking sea critters.


7) Cats Don’t Dance – “Big and Loud”

I will always look for excuses to post anything about the underrated Cats Don’t Dance. It’s such a fun, sincere, enjoyable movie that was hurt by bad marketing. That being said, I will admit that, for a movie defined by its 1950s Hollywood aesthetic, the music isn’t that good – but part of me thinks that’s by design, since it’s more about invoking a specific sensibility – the Merrie Melody short – than selling out its soundtrack. Yet “Big and Loud” is designed for the stage. Performed by Darla Dimple in a bid to manipulate Danny, “Big and Loud” is both a send up to the over-the-top performances of ridiculous set pieces as well as pointed satire calling out its superficiality, especially performed by the film’s antagonist. The reprise, which gives a more sinister edge to it, signs that satire in blood.


6) A Goofy Movie – “After Today”

Buzzfeed seems to have a hard-on for this film, which is fine, except they keep ignoring the film’s more important moment – the dark, confrontational hot tub scene between Goofy and Pete. Yes, Powerline’s mid-90s R&B-stylized songs work so well in the movie’s context, leaving a generation to wonder why there’s no “official” Powerline album, but it’s the opening montage “After Today” that has stood the test of time. A rallying cry for summer vacation and all the “freedom” it entails, “After Today” surges by on energy and commitment alone. And if the animated version for some reason turns you off, there’s always the, uh, live-action remake.


5) Anastasia – “Journey to the Past”

There’s a sad desperation to Anastasia, Fox’s attempt to muscle in on the Disney Princess market. Even though the movie is fairly flat and lifeless, there is a Frozen-esque dedication to its songs, given an otherwise forgettable film a fairly decent soundtrack. “Journey to the Past” is like a proto-“Let it Go,” what with both women singing about their fates and desires in snow-capped locales. “Journey” is typical animated music fare but it builds nicely, with those jamming violin strings giving it a unique rhythm within its heavy orchestration that gives it a pep. It’s goose-bumps inducing, particularly that final line as the full scale of the song comes in full force.


4) South Park – “What Would Brian Boitano Do?”

“Blame Canada” got the Oscar nomination, but “What Would Brian Boitano Do” is the best and catchiest song of a movie filled with them. South Park, particularly the movie, reminds the world that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are clever, crafty, and talented musicians, and this ridiculous non-sequitur song cue gives the four main characters their own moment of inspiration. Many people may miss the film’s overall putdown of animated films’ over-reliance on song cues, but that doesn’t mean South Park can’t relish in them. Also, it sounds remarkably similar to “The Girl You Left Behind,” which either means BLATANT PLAGIARISM or just an example of my taste in music.


3) Ferngully – “Toxic Love”

There’s really nothing about Ferngully worth discussing. It’s typical environment clap-trap, aggressively biased filmmaking that encourages the protection of our resources (not that this isn’t an important message, but it’s no excuse for a mediocre film). That being said, “Toxic Love” is a surprising standout, with Tim Curry’s amazing crooning skills to a bluesy soundtrack, singing a sexually-charged ode to pollution. Even Captain Planet would be taping his toes to this one, especially in the final refrain as the trumpets blare and the background vocals add to Curry’s voice. We know Curry can sing, but turning an anthropomorphic smog-guy into a one-hit wonder is another thing entirely.


2) The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation – “Forever Young”

There isn’t much going on with The Care Bears, the greeting-cards-turned-children-mascots that were popular in the 80s. Overall cutsey and cuddly, the only interesting angle was their “care meter” – if too many kids stopped caring, their world was destroyed. Odd. The movies aren’t much better, but the second one ended with this remarkably powerful ballad by Carol Parks, a musician known for her marriage to Dean Parks. “Forever Young” is perfectly 80s, but rather understated, particularly for this kind of film. It’s not a movie about passing down the “Care Bears legacy,” but the song, with its simple machine-produced beats and fake-instrumentals, as paired to the surprisingly poignant montage, creates a small piece of crafty work. Carol never oversings her lines, and the addition of the kids and adult choir lets the song end nicely. The electric guitar is unnecessary, but like I said, perfectly 80s.

Song The Care Bears Movie 2 – Forever Young by moidixmois


1) The Brave Little Toaster – “Worthless”

Honestly, we should be talking about the music in The Brave Little Toaster more often, mainly because it’s so unique and quite unlike any animated film’s soundtrack out there. It feels experimental; its unrefined quality actually adds to the charm. And while “Cutting Edge” and “It’s A B-Movie” are specifically creepy-yet-enjoyable mood-setters, “Worthless” is by far the strongest, with aggressive piano and trumpet work, creating an angry and depressing homage to country music. The combination of multiple vocal styles gives it an everyman quality, leaving viewers contemplating their own legacy. It’s dark, it’s scary, it’s good.


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Welcome to the blog!

In the past few weeks, I’ve received a number of hits and views due to some wonderful connections I’ve made through Twitter and emails. To which I say: welcome! Thanks for the wonderful comments and observations.

The purpose of this blog is to essentially give equal weight and thought to  all forms of entertainment and attempt to delve into the pop culture lens across the board. Here, I discuss movies, TV, comics, books, video games, music, and cartoons in equal fashion, exploring how all those forms of entertainment are approach today and how they may or may not relate to each other. Many critics will explore, let’s say, feminism with either one character for a distinct genre, or several characters from one genre. I prefer to look at Ripley, Peggy Olsen, Wonder Woman, Lara Croft, Gladys Knight, and Korra with the same perspective and ponder, what exactly, is feminism today. No format or genre is outside my consideration. Everything is fair game, and I will try to discuss these forms of entertainment in a fun, informal, approachable manner, while indeed putting some thought into it all. Or at least try.

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Screenshot from Willy Wonka

Wonka and his infamous "pimp" cane.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – (1971)

Director: Mel Stuart
Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Alberston, Peter Ostrum
Screenplay by: Roald Dahl, David Seltzer

(I apologize for the delays with the Childhood Revisited saga. It’s been a tough couple of months, and as I started working on 2 side projects, as well as providing the occasional write-up for Destructoid [along with the day job], which left me struggling to do weekly writeups. So while I won’t be getting back into the weekly C.R. reviews, I’ll try and provide one or two every month. No promises, as I also like to write about other things. :) )

I had the recent pleasure of watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was a lot more fun than I expected. And with my recent foray into all things animated, light, whimsical and fun, I thought it would be fitting to try re-watching Willy Wonka. (I wonder if I should review James and the Giant Peach at some point.) It was supposed to be a Valentine’s Day write-up, then an Easter one, but I missed all those dates, so now it’s simply a regular one. I’m a bit rusty with my analysis of these things, so forgive me if it seems a bit “off.”

NOSTALGIC LENS: Every so often, there’s a not-so-subtle push to rear kids via their (supposedly) most-loved passion: candy. This and books like The Chocolate Touch used thinly-veiled metaphors to teach lessons through the delight and, uh, power of confectionery. I liked candy, but didn’t LOVE it, so I pretty much tossed aside the lessons as pointless to me. As for the movie itself, I remembered bits and pieces, but nothing that stood out, save for the chocolate river scene. Oddly enough, the part that freaks people out the most – the psychedelic boat ride – was completely gone from my memory.

DOES IT HOLD UP: I love the 70s completely unironically – from its overall sense of fashion and style, to its endearing exuberance to its cheesy TV shows, lame game show concept, overwrought music, and “whatever” dance styles in vogue (the commitment to these entertainment styles is what makes them stand out). 70s films were, overall, of two types: deep in a bizarre sense, and comical in an ironic, detached sense. One of the reasons Star Wars stood out was that its blockbuster sensibilities was so novel and straightforward and played everything real.

Willy Wonka makes great use of the latter aesthetic, being such a whimsical, devil-may-care type of film. I’ve never read the original novel, but even I can gather how much it deviated from it. (Apparently Dahl hated it.) It’s a musical, yes, but even through its melodies and comedy, the film just breaks from its original narrative not only for song cues, but for random gags attributed to a specific point in the story. It’s two insane stories in one: a international assault-search for golden tickets in Wonka bars, and a tour of Wonka’s eccentric factory with goofy yet semi-dark consequences, and during each section, we’re treated to almost variety-show-like moments that seem to take in the full extent of filmic styles of the time. The separate beats seem off but are remarkably held together by a strong and coherent style, a fun cast, and a catchy batch of tunes.

This ten minute clip is the perfect epitome to showcase what I mean. The slightly awkward “child in the chocolate” part is undermined by goofy faces and Wonka’s witticisms – which is then undermined again when he is sucked up the tube into god-knows-where. Scary? Not for long – a goofy whistle and a Oompah Loompah song calms the nerves and teaches you a quiet lesson, kiddies. That’s fine. And then it’s a boat ride into a drug-fueled TUNNEL OF HORROR, because why not?

Then it’s back to the fun stuff.

Willy Wonka is a huge risk of a film, because there’s no reason for anything to happen the way it does. There no need for the music numbers, or the side jokes, or the abject weird tunnel scene or any number of visual elements; nor is Wonka supposed to be a laureate of classic literature and poetry. But it’s there. And if there’s one thing that the internet has taught me, it’s that if you’re going to do something for no reason, you might as well do it amazingly, like if you were to, oh, let’s say, do a live-action version of the song “After Today” from A Goofy Movie.

Of course, not all of it is random, and I’m happy to say that the parts that do matter are just as great as the parts that don’t. Gene Wilder is a great Wonka, that perfect mystery of a character who’s both carefree and careless, who carries the film during ever dark and light moment with nary a concern in the world. All the children were surprisingly great, even being mostly one note, although I will give special mention to Veruca Salt, played by Julie Dawn Cole, for being such a great spoiled brat and really owning the character. The set design and cinematography is exquisite, the gags still hold up, and the music is exceedingly endearing: tell me you don’t want to sing along to “Pure Imagination”:

Still, its dated aesthetic is still apparent, and as I mentioned earlier, certain gags come off a bit stilted and awkward. (And that ending is so tacked on and rushed that it’s really disappointing). But overall, its enjoyable and, unlike other musicals, the songs aren’t way too long.

IN A NUTSHELL: Want makes this movie truly work is that, despite its visual datedness, it’s still really a delight and would definitely hold up for children today (which I couldn’t quite say for something like The Goonies or Wizard of Oz.) It’s emphasis on kids and their behavior, against the backdrop of sugary goodness (which will NEVER grow old) makes Willy Wonka a particularly, yet truly, timeless classic.

NEXT FILM: Cats Don’t Dance


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