L13FC: The Music in Animated Films

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. Traditionally, a co-host joins me, and we approach a topic of the film industry and talk to visitors all day on the thirteenth of the month. It’s great to hear from one and all, so add to the conversation. Would you like to lead a discussion you are passionate about? Let’s figure out a topic together and select a month that works for you. It’s easy and fun. Email me with your idea:  cbruchman@yahoo.com. 

For the last four years, I’ve been reintroduced to animation after a twenty-odd year hiatus. That was the time frame from when my kids were too old to watch animated films to when it took them to have kids of their own. Then I became a grandmother and started revisiting old favorites like Pinocchio (1940) and The Jungle Book (1967) and tried to catch up on the newer ones like the Toy Story set or Shrek. In fact, I watch more animated films than I do adult films these days. For example, I know every line in Frozen and Moana and Trolls is fast approaching the how-many-times-can-one-possibly-watch-a-film?

I’d like to introduce to you my co-host, Milly, who is the orchestrator of entertainment when we are together. While her articulation skills are developing, she has definite opinions about animation in films.

Shooting a bow and arrow after watching Mulan. Again.

Milly’s thoughts:

Grandma, Walt Disney cartoon movies are musicals and I like to sing. How can I sing the songs to you in the car if I don’t watch them over and over? They make me happy and you are my best friend like Pumba and Timon when they sing “Hakuna Matata”. I am Elsa because I wear my Elsa dress all day long. For two years and counting. I have magical powers. For example, I can sing all the words of “Your Welcome” in Moana. Not bad for a four-year-old girl. All the songs in Trolls are fun to dance in my socks. But Bridget the scullery maid cries because she loves King Gristle and he doesn’t love her yet, so not that one. Grandma, I know you would rather watch other cartoon movies, but they don’t have much singing. And you cry at the sad parts. I don’t like to see you cry, so let’s watch the ones I want. Over and Over. I will love them forever.

Grandma’s thoughts:

Some animation films these days are just too loud and silly for my liking. While Disney’s Cinderella is my all-time favorite princess, I like to remind Milly when she’s acting more like the step-sister Drisella, and she giggles at the thought. I must admit, some recent animated films have moved me to tears. I don’t mind watching them over and over.

Let’s talk about the two music styles in animated films. There are the Shrek films that have a great time with pop music, but I find I appreciate animated films that take advantage of creating a mood with orchestral scores like John Powell‘s How to Train Your Dragon 

and Michael Giacchino who has racked up beautiful scores for UP, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille.

Proportionally, I don’t hear sophisticated scores in adult films as I do in animated films, and that seems ironic that I have come to rely on a Pixar film take me away on a magical adventure or exotic location with music.

Do you like your animation with songs, or do you like your animation with a solid score? 

64 Comments on “L13FC: The Music in Animated Films

  1. Wonderful idea to have Milly as a co-host. As a step-granddad, I have become overwhelmed by films like ‘Frozen’, and ‘Cinderella’, from repeated viewings that have driven me almost insane. I have come to hate ‘The Lion King’ with a vengeance, and I swear if I ever hear ‘Under The Sea’ again, I will smash the DVD player into small pieces!
    So, I suggest ‘Fantasia’ as one of the few musical cartoons I admire. I would also add ‘Dumbo’ and ‘Pinocchio’ for memorable songs, and leave it at that. I can live the rest of my life without ever seeing a more modern Disney film. Happily. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. I too have grandkids, but we see them once a week on a sunday afternoon so don’t watch movies. In spite of that I seem to have seen a lot of the ones you mention, and particularly liked Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, (though Finding Dory was a disappointment) Up, and How to Train your Dragon. I agree that a musical score that fits the film is far superior to pop music.

    • Hi Fraggle. It sounds like movie watching is all we do, but that is,after the hikes, playgrounds, puzzles, and errands. I see her a lot.
      Anyway, yes, the scores are wonderful and a huge career boost for many talented composers.

  3. Fun idea for a post to get your grandkid to help out 🙂 Girls do love to sing, I know that from my own family.

    To answer your question, I prefer animation with memorable songs. In recent times, Frozen definitely impressed me, especially the songs Let It Go & For the First Time in Forever. Modern classics, and nice the movie could be watched by any age group.

    • Welcome, Chris. Yes, they are are arranged with complexity (like that harmony with her sister).
      Tangled was a musical–Into The Woods–and we’ll done.
      Brave is my favorite for scores.

      • I have quite a lot of animated films to catch up on, both newer and older, hopefully soon. Heard good things about Brave.

        By the way, I thought I’d let you know, I’ve moved my site from blogspot to wordpress.

  4. I’m not much of a music critic, but I even have CD’s from these shows – they certainly make an effort in these films to have music I really enjoy!!

    • Meg, you and my daughter have that in common. Do you have a favorite?
      Brave with the Celtic score and the funny 3 brothers ransacking the castle while mother is a Bear is priceless.

      • Hmmm.

        Love Frozen, Beauty and the Beast and non-musical films like Zootopia, Inside Out among others.

        The musical Disney films is one of the reasons why I became a fan of musicals

  5. I’m in the camp of enjoying a fabulous score or a non-musical animation film with a great, relevant song. The most recent of the latter being “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana and Zootopia’s “Try Everything”. Of course, Toy Story’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and the tearful “When Somebody Loved Me” has true meaning. I’d agree “Brave” had a wonderful score and the use of classical pieces for Fantasia was impactful and influential — 2001: A Space Odyssey, anyone?

    That said, what Pete spoke of songs played endlessly evolved into something torturous. Another great subject to look at, Cindy, and having Millie as co-host made it even more special. Thanks for this.

    • Thank you, Michael! I am happy you came by. Sounds like you are a fan of both.
      Claymation is a fascinating off-shoot. For kids and adults like
      ‘Chicken Little’ or Xmas show classic like ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

  6. I like a great score, as some of the new films try to get a big singer to do a big new “hit song”, but it overwhelms the rest of the story…that said, credit to Pixar for finding a great mix of both

    • I think Shrek started the trend to match pop songs to emphasize the plot which was amusing at times. But now I prefer the original songs. There are so many talented people out there. I like being introduced to new harmonies. I surprise myself on Pandora when I dial up an orchestral channel scores from animation films show up with frequency.

  7. I’m sad to admit that my favourite film in this category is the 1951 Alice in Wonderland, especially the song about the afternoon.

  8. Cindy I loved those old Walt Disney films as I grew up. Going to the movies was a family treat and I think in general apart from the entertainment factor there were some good lessons for us kids as we grew and sought meaning in the world around us. I’d probably not have the same feeling of excitement watching one today as the art of cartoon making has improved enormously. 🙂

    • I agree, Ian. I think there are a lot of good messages included and I like that values are included. It takes a village to raise a child, as you know, and the values in animated films are very strongly put forth.

  9. Rango was a gem. That was the last one I watched.
    Since I don’t have kids I don’t see many animated features.(I do watch Star Wars Rebels at times. I’m a big Ahsoka fan. Does that count?)
    I’m sure there’s some Classics out there.

  10. My hiatus from animation is even longer than your twenty-odd years Cindy, so sadly I can’t offer much insight.
    I do remember The Jungle Book being the first film I ever saw at the cinema. It must have been a re-release in the early 70s. Those happy memories of sitting upstairs in the circle of The Theatre Royal in Hyde will always stay with me.
    What a charming co-host you had this month. Well done Milly, it was lovely to meet you.

    • I second this Cindy, Milly is a charming and insightful film commentator. The apple doesn’t fall from the tree, your daughter was the same and now your granddaughter.

      • Ha! I can’t get anyone to co-host with me anymore so I’ve opted for family members. Anytime you wanna come back for a day on the 13th, let me know. 😉

        • I get a week off over Christmas, maybe I can something then even if it is in preparation for one you print down the road. That being said I’m really enjoying the ones with your family members. They’re stars Cindy. Bright shining stars.

          • 🙂 You think of a topic and we’ll post it whenever. However, I know you are a busy man and would hate to chase you away.

  11. Wonderful post! I really think that animations should be with songs, and films should be with scores. I cannot imagine such animations as Beauty and the Beast or Mulan without songs in them, it is like taking away half the fun. I have songs like “I”ll Make a Man out of You” (from Mulan) or “Belle” (opening song) on my ipod and can listen to them endlessly.
    Talking about animations and songs, I really like the songs in the animation Anastasia (1998); the songs which are always in my head are “In the Dark of the Night” (which reminds me of the Scar song “Be Prepared” in The Lion King) and “At the Beginning”, but then again Richard Marx was my singer in my teenage years lol

  12. Sweet!!! ❤ Your Granddaughter sounds adorable!!
    Speaking of a hiatus; I went through one too, for 20 years (between the ages of 12 and 32), except for a few short films. Then I watched “The Triplets of Belleville” (2003), a decade ago. I loved it, and slowly a new appreciation for the art of animation started to get hold of me. And by the latter half of my 30’s I ended up watching more and more cartoons. But unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of the movies Milly spoke of! And from the rest, I’ve seen very few!!

  13. Hello Cindy!! Miss you my friend, hope you are well. I LOVE this topic, it’s near and dear to my heart. LOVE that you’re co-hosting w/ your grand-daughter Milly. Oh man, I LOVE John Powell‘s How to Train Your Dragon, could be one of my fave scores of all time. Soooo many Disney scores are my faves, esp. when Alan Menken is involved!

    • Hi Ruth! ♥ Glad you are well. I thought about you when I mentioned Powell’s score. I have been working a lot and put on the Celtic channel and somehow, Brave’s score (my favorite animated film) and Powell’s scores come on frequently. I never tire of it. 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by, busy woman!

  14. I love the animations with songs, especially the old old Disneys of my youth.
    When I first saw Beauty and the Beast, I thought this would make a great theater musical. A few years later I was privileged to work the weeks of technical rehearsals and changes in the pre-Broadway production and then a solid 4 weeks of shows. The same with The Lion King.
    The photo of Millie shooting a bow and arrow after seeing Mulan is precious, but a far cry from what my Granddaughter, Heather, did after seeing the movie. She cut off her hair like Mulan did.

    • Ha! Don, she sounds like a hoot. It does seem to be the fad now, to turn Disney animation films into theatrical events. And now, the human version (Cinderella & Beauty and the Beast).

  15. I think like everything else if it is done well then I’m happy. The first two Shrek films were great and I particularly enjoyed the use of Bonnie Tyler’s I Need A Hero at the finale of the second one. There’s a guy I watch on YouTube named Oliver Harper and he’s made me realise that scores aren’t as orchrestral as they used to be in film. I think I prefer big orchrestral scores broadly speaking but I’ve also noticed how movie trailers these days are more and more making use of popular songs to great effect. See the trailer for I, Tonya as a recent example but also Rolling Stones for Flight and Aerosmith for Argo. Martin Scorcese is the king of using popular music in film but not everybody rises to his level so broadly speaking I would like more orchrestral music in film and that includes animated films.

    • Hi Lloyd, we are on the same page. I liked the first 2 Shreks, too, and thought it very clever how they incorporated new twists of pop songs into the plot (like the Bonnie Tyler song). Did you like ‘Baby Driver’? That was the best I’ve seen using great songs that orchestrated the plot. Loved it.

      • I was very excited about Baby Driver but alas was not quite so happy with it. I will say I loved the use of songs and how they synced up with the action. That was brilliant and I’m glad you loved it.

        • That part of it, the songs. The last third I thought was weak–the rushing of the consequences and the cheezy ending, and Jon Hamm I’m not sure I bought into his character. Jamie Foxx’s was so unlikeable, I thought it garish to the others. But the music and Baby’s world via his tune was great.

  16. I was nine when The Little Mermaid came out and so had a front row seat to the re-birth of Disney animation. Post Lion King I got a bit too old to see them but really enjoyed Mulan. I’ve seen recently Tangled and yes Frozen. I particularly like the opening of Lion King with the Circle of Life and think Let It Go despite being played to death is a gem of song. How about that pared down version that Idina Menzel did with The Roots and Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show? After not quite hitting the note on Oscar night she nailed it in that video. Fantastic stuff. Angela Lansbury also recently took to stage in a surprise performance to perform Beauty and the Beast. It was quite stirring the video of that.

    • If you liked ‘Into the Woods’ you would no doubt like Tangled, eh? Agree on all fronts about Frozen. I’ll have to look up the duo with Jimmy Fallon. Brave is my favorite of the recent animations. I’m a sucker for Celtic music. There is a lot of fun and dimension in that one–the three mischevious brothers make me laugh and I love the storyline. If you haven’t seen it, I really recommend it. It’s a dark comedy and aimed at an older audience.

      • Well I loked Tangled but not Into The Woods. Haha. As for Brave, Ive seen it and much preferred Up and Wall E. I’m glad you liked it and I thought it was grest to see a movie that celebrated a mother-daughter relationship for a change.

  17. Hmmm, to answer your question, it would depend on the movie for me. If it flows well with the plot, then I’m all for it! Even a nice combination of both songs and a segment of orchestral score, for example in some parts of the Lion King, works for me since it matches the feel of the film. I also love the catchy but not too overpowering songs like, “Almost There” from the Princess and the Frog, and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan. As a millennial, I do find the older pop music tunes to be very nostalgic. For example, the Goofy Movie’s song, “I 2 I,” gets me moving every time. 🙂

    • Welcome, D. Nicely said–there is no right answer and it depends on preferences. I just watched Coco and loved the Hispanic music and songs.

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