Tagged: We Know The Way

The Song In The Scene

Let’s compare two songs.

First, from The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, the narrated piece, The Bells of Notre Dame.

Second, from Moana, Jermaine Clement’s song, Shiny:

Now, these songs don’t have a lot of similarity between one another, really. Shiny is a comedy piece, a sort of mid-stage development point for the characterisation of Maui and Moana, and Bells is the introductory piece for Judge Frollo, Quasimodo, the Priest, and Notre Dame itself.

These two songs, however, show to me a distinct difference in how Disney does things these days versus how they did. First of all, let me clear up that Shiny is a straight-up comedy song. It’s definitely funny – Tamatoa breaks the fourth wall, he tells jokes, he’s very big and exaggerated. It’d be pretty easy to file it as the comedy number with just some details in it.

The thing is, I see these two songs as being startlingly similar and also extremely different. The main thing about them that’s similar is that they’re both songs that tell you about the setting, tell you about the characters involved, incorporate narrative, and reveal a backstory element of a character. Shiny’s a jokey song but it’s a song that does as much as Bells.

The thing they do, however, that’s both songs have a component of the movie’s story happen in the middle of them: In Bells, that component is part of the song, and is implemented as such, but in Shiny, it interrupts the song, and is unrelated to the song: This is particularly interesting because the singing in Disney movies is usually diegetic but also nondiegetic: Nobody really explains that a character is actually singing in any given scene. Moana even uses its diegetic music to convey the transition between languages you saw in We Know The Way:

See that? The way the people of the tribe are singing the song when it’s in their native language, but they’re not shown singing it when the song transitions to English? Wonderful stuff, ingenious.

Now, the thing that prompted this whole idea, though, is something I don’t like that much: These songs are of their space in this story – inextricably. The songs in Moana cannot be easily removed from the movie to listen to as a song, which I think, emperically is kinda harder and more impressive? It means that those songs exist as pieces of the whole, that there’s more work and difficulty involved in constructing the musical.

But at the same time, there’s still something of me that admires and respects the difficulty in the song being the song; that you have 3 minutes to convey what the song’s doing, that it is a discrete piece of media, and the movie implements it – in the same way that a good piece of dialogue can be removed from a scene, and still implies the rest of it.

Anyway, that’s a really minor, aesthetic point and just something I think is interesting, particularly since this habit of breaking structure – of using music to build a structure then breaking out of it by the use of diegesis – is a very hip-hop thing to do.

Notes: How Disney Uses Language

  • Comparisons between Frozen and Moana are sort of a sign that right now, because they’re only one of a small number of films with the similar premise (woman-centered narrative).
  • The riff in both Jungle Book and Aladdin feel kinda like the Oriental Riff, aka Aladdin’s Cave that opens a lot of other things like Turning Japanese. Like, the iconic ‘Oriental Sounding’ music isn’t from anywhere in the Orient anywhere.
  • Cultural Appropriation is a big topic and it’s hard to talk about it in Youtube spaces, and it’s even harder to talk about on Twitter.
  • The Bulgarian choir music thing is just straight up super interesting.
    • Is this fusional, using Bulgarian choir style with the Inupiat lyrics?
  • The thing about Librettists and Operatic Composers amuse me juxtaposed with a Gilbert and Sullivan quote because they hated each other so much by the end, because they couldn’t see it as a synthesis of their work.
  • English is a fixed-stress language; words have a proper emphasis in them, but words don’t have a proper emphasis in a sentence, or rather, the emphasis tends to indicate the subject.
  • Vocables! There’s like, a language for singing, in a language? That’s super cool! I wonder if it’s also part of transmission/commonality between cultures, so they can all sing the same songs even if their languages change over time and space.
  • I really do want to see Moana. It looks really great.
  • God, Lilo and Stitch was also great.
  • The question of cultural appropriation between Hawai’i and France and Polynesian narrative.
  • I really, really love the detail that the characters are singing the song in its original language, and then they stop singing it when the language shifts to English. It becomes nondiegetic, which is really cool.
  • This form of video isn’t actually so demanding of production values. I can do this. I can do this even with Microsoft Movie Editor.