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  • Disney’s Most Awkward Transitions into Music

    Disney’s Most Awkward Transitions into Music

    September 9, 2009, 4:23 pm
    When deciding how to add a song and dance sequence into a film, one always hopes that the transition is relatively smooth, seeing as most people don’t usually break out into song and dance at random intervals. However, the transition into singing isn’t always the cleanest that it could be. Consequently, the viewer is left wondering why the heck the directors decided that the song was good enough to be kept in the movie without putting enough effort into making it fit properly into the film. In the interest of keeping this top 5 blog not just about the "best" but also about the worst, weirdest, and more... I bring you...

    September 09, 2009

    Criteria:

    - Must be an original first run Disney cartoon (not affiliated (Pixar, etc), and not a sequel or straight to video)
    - Transition into song/dance sequence is abrupt from both a pictorial and sonic sense and leaves the viewer thinking "WTF?"
    - None of this "let’s add a new song in that wasn’t there before to justify charging $50 for a special edition’ DVD!" on the "rare" Disney un-vaulted reprints. Original cuts only!

    A note about editing animation: For those of you who are unfamiliar with editing a full-fledged animation, you should know that the workflow is very different from a typical narrative film. There are generally no takes to choose from or major story decisions made in post-production. Due to the labour-intensive and tedious work of drawing each frame, the story is painstakingly worked and edited before animation even happens. The acting picture editor usually has more to do with straightforward assembly than creative decisions that go beyond making sure that the pieces fit together and flow into one another. So, when talking about decisions made in editing animation, we look at why the director chose a particular angle to be drawn at that moment and how it relates to not only next angle in a sequence but the soundscape. It’s a tricky business because as we all know, storyboards don’t always end up being the final cut of a narrative, but for a cartoon, it’s everything.
    Disney’s Most Awkward Transitions into Music
    5. The Fox and the Hound (1981)

    "Ka-BLAM elimination... Lack of education!" If they had listened to Big Mama’s advice then this film wouldn’t be in number 5. This is just when Disney started getting back into making real cartoons again (see number 3 for what was happening before), and you can tell by some of the angle choices and musical dialogue that they still didn’t quite get it to 100% yet. They cross the axis, jump cut into a close up at the same angle, and on top of these poor pictorial decisions they have a song with a very unusual phrasing style that ends up making the sequence feel very choppy. Lesson learned here: just because you can draw any angle doesn’t mean you can break the basic rules of continuity. Even drawings can confuse people!
    Disney’s Most Awkward Transitions into Music
    4. Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

    This movie kills me because it’s so beautiful to look at and so nicely animated, but they "Disneyfied" it to the max. It’s not the worst case of Disneyfication that there is, but it’s pretty bad. In regards to the editing, though, it’s not so bad. This film is truly gorgeous to watch! So why is it put at number 4? There is one scene where Esmeralda just manages to escape the clutches of the evil Frenchman by claiming sanctuary and is wandering about Notre Dame’s interior. In this scene there is no music for about a minute before we see a close up of her in front of a really bland background. Then she starts to sing. The song itself is weird (Judging solely by the awkward lyrical content I would guess that it’s supposed to be some sort of powerful song — I’ll be blunt, they failed. It’s just a weird song) but it’s made even more uncomfortable by the way it starts. You as a viewer are certainly not expecting her to randomly start singing, especially such a dirge-like piece after the drama that just occurred. The images that go along with the song just make you feel uncomfortable. That would be enough of a surprise if it weren’t compounded by a bunch of random churchgoers who stand up and dance (if you can call it that). You just have to see it to believe it.
    Disney’s Most Awkward Transitions into Music
    3. Robin Hood (1973)

    There were a few choices for this particular spot, almost all of which came from the early 1970s period of Disney feature animation. If you’re an animation history buff, you know that the lead animators at the time were using (overusing?) a technique called Xerography (where the pencil drawing could be Xeroxed directly onto the cel, eliminating the need for an inker). The technique was developed in 1960 and was used in a feature for the first time with "101 Dalmatians." From then on Walt basically considered it the bane of his existence. He discouraged its use as much as possible, but the fact remained that it cut down on time and cost significantly, so he allowed it to be used more than he would’ve liked. After his death, the company decided that it was even more cost effective to just stop drawing whole scenes. In most of the films from the 1970’s you can see certain movements and exact shots/angles repeated more than once! It’s just lazy...

    In any case, Robin Hood won over the Aristocats for this spot because it’s stupidly funny how Little John appears in the frame just as the song "The Phoney King of England" abruptly starts. There’s no music or sound to warn us that Little John or a song is coming. All there you see is the oversized chicken finishing her line. Then suddenly out of the bottom left-hand corner Little John the bear slides into frame. ...and when I say he slides into frame I mean he slides. It’s creepily smooth and totally unnatural. Consequently, I get the feeling that the directors were skimping too much to bother making some sort of natural transition into this particular song. "I know! We can save time by sneakily inserting him in the frame at the last second!"
    Disney’s Most Awkward Transitions into Music
    2. Alice in Wonderland (1951)

    This film actually has a little bit of an excuse for being sloppy, but that doesn’t make it okay in my book. Disney actually began work on this film before the war, and it was shelved to make time for ?ber-fun propaganda films. They picked it up again later, and that’s where you can tell that they probably lost some angles in the shuffle because the whole movie feels like it was slapped together. I’m using the transition into Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum’s "Walrus and the Carpenter" song as a particular example, but the whole film feels the same way throughout. Mostly it has to do with jump cuts to close ups of the same angle, but there are also some weird sound issues that add to the sequence making it seem like it was taped together with duct more than splicing tape. The close ups seem more of an afterthought than a well thought-out angle and they are haphazardly placed in the timeline.
    Disney’s Most Awkward Transitions into Music
    1. Tarzan (1999)

    Don’t get me wrong— I actually really like this film, and yes, I’m big enough to admit that I like Phil Collins’ music in the film, too. However, as much as I might like Phil, he missed the concept of integration for most of the songs. They acted more as montage sequences than your typical Disney character song sequence. Now, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with doing that, but I draw the line where you start with a character singing and then have a sudden Phil explosion where creatively it doesn’t make sense to do that. Glenn Close starts singing the sweetest, virtually a cappella version of "You’ll Be In My Heart" to calm little baby Tarzan, when suddenly there’s a swell in music with Phil singing his heart out while the picture cross dissolves into a peaceful gorilla tree nest. It’s really abrupt and takes the viewer out of the movie completely. Not to mention that the rest of the scene involves still shots of mommy animals sleeping with their baby animals, and I don’t want to hear energetic music at that point. Those pictures make me think, "lullaby," and (most of) my memories of lullabies don’t involve a full orchestra and choir. If I was the creative director on the scene I would have kept the peaceful mother-baby connection atmosphere and let Close sing the song from beginning to end, instead of having Phil’s very distinctive voice barge into my nice little nest feeling. Then again maybe that’s just my inner mother instinct saying "GET OUT OF MY NEST PHIL COLLINS!"

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