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Saturday Matinee

Disney Cartoon #59, Lady and the Tramp Week, Special Song Showcase: Disney's Greatest Love Songs (1941 to 1995) - published February 18, 2012

by Albert Gutierrez

Introduction: "Music Is Better Than Words" - It's Always Fair Weather (September 1, 1955)

In 1955, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released a musical called It's Always Fair Weather, which features a wonderful song called "Music Is Better Than Words." Dolores Gray, who played Madeline Bradville, sang the lyrics with such passion and fervor, making the number stand out in spite of its brevity and low-key staging. The song celebrates how the power of music can elevate a moment, especially apparent in these lyrics:

Music is better than words
You break the spell when you start to speak
That technique is all wrong
Just forget about words and sing her a song

I've always loved both the song and its message, which has become my ethos regarding the use of songs in musicals: "When you've got a lot to say, sing a song!" Sometimes, mere dialogue is not enough to convey a character's thoughts or the impact of a moment. Songs can help create visuals that better bring to life such moments and ideas. That's not to say dialogue isn't important. A well-written scene can be just as strong as a well-written song. But sometimes, songs have the edge because they can provide more creative ways of expressing thoughts and emotion. For example, "I'm not in love" by itself can be a very boring sentence. But when that turns into "No chance, no way, I won't say it [...] It's too cliche, I won't say I'm in love," the character's thoughts are given more weight and meaning.

To celebrate the power of song, I've decided to introduce a new recurring series to Saturday Matinee: "Special Song Showcase." In addition to my "Animated Sequence Analysis" articles, the new series will take a look at how Disney enhances their shorts and films through music and lyrics. We'll analyze how both are used, give some brief history, and share any personal stories or notable facts. Future entries in this series will focus on only one song each, but to celebrate Saturday Matinee's inaugural "Special Song Showcase," we'll take a quick look at some of Disney's greatest love songs. Love does not always refer to romantic involvement or sentimental journeys. We can find love in a variety of ways. This week's Saturday Matinee looks at four songs that represent unique aspects of love, along with my own personal pick for greatest love song.

The songs I selected are not the definitive treatment of love in the Disney canon. After all, you won't find expected standards like "So This Is Love" (Cinderella), "Love" (Robin Hood), or even "I Won't Say I'm In Love" (Hercules) here. They're wonderful love songs, and each depict love marvelously. But they don't properly capture the aspects of love that I was looking for in this article. The full extent of what Love is will always be a mystery, and I did my best to solve it with the following five songs:

The First Time I Loved Forever: "Baby Mine" - Dumbo (October 23, 1941)

Baby mine, don't you cry; baby mine, dry your eye
Rest your head close to my heart, never to part
Baby of mine

Dumbo can be quite a downer of a movie. The majority of the film features everyone picking on the little pachyderm. He's only truly happy for ten minutes of the entire movie: when he's born, when he has a bath, when he visits his ma, and the end. Yet those ten minutes (give or take) pack such an emotional wallop that - for this viewer, at least - they make all the teasing and the strife worth going through. Sometimes we need sadness in our lives to better appreciate the happiness we'll find.

"Baby Mine" represents love at its most primal within all of us. It can even be considered a "first love." I'm not talking about a playground crush or summer fling, but of those tender moments in our earliest youth, when we are mere babies blissfully unaware of much of the world around us. And yet, we have such an amazing capacity to love and be loved. During these first few months of life, we create bonds that we'll have for the rest of our lives, and which ultimately shape how we love others as we grow older. The film uses the song in the context of a parent to child, but it can speak to us on many levels beyond that. Spouse to spouse, sibling to sibling, friend to lover. We learn to love at a very early age, because others are already loving us so, so much. As such, "Baby Mine" represents the first time we love forever.

Love of Life: "I Love to Laugh" - Mary Poppins (August 27, 1964)

We love to laugh, loud and long and clear
We love to laugh, so everybody can hear
The more you laugh, the more you fill with glee
And the more the glee, the more we're a merrier we

Mary Poppins would seem atypical for a Disney movie with a love song. However, as a friend pointed out, the film does include a song about love. "I Love to Laugh" is a celebration of life. Laughter is a natural high, done often in jubilant and humorous occasions. Sure, sometimes a person will laugh in derision or scorn. But people use it to feel better, and its contagious nature leaves everyone feeling better. Laugh alone, and it can fade away into an awkward silence. Laugh with others, and you can laugh forever.

Thus, "I Love to Laugh" is a testament to how wonderful life can be. Most importantly, laughter is something we enjoy. We love it almost as much as life itself, because it is such a celebration of life. And who better to laugh with than with your closest friends, your dearest family members, or even perfect strangers? It is a phenomenon that unites us all. Think about the last time you were part of a big hearty laughter in a crowded room. For those glorious moments, all that could be heard in the room, all that can be done, is laugh. No matter if we laugh too fast, only blast, or twitter like birds. We're united in our laughter; it celebrates the joy we are experiencing.

Faith, Hope, and Love: "Candle on the Water" - Pete's Dragon (November 3, 1977)

I'll be your candle on the water
This flame inside of me will grow
Keep holding on, you'll make it
Here's my hand, so take it
Look for me reaching out to show
As sure as rivers flow
I'll never let you go
I'll never let you go
I'll never let you go

Pete's Dragon does not always know what it wants to be. The film fluctuates between slapstick, special effects, and sincere drama, without finding a common ground that lets all the elements work together evenly. Yet, it still manages to share the importance of faith, hope, and love. Nora has waited faithfully for Paul, young Pete hopes for a better life, and Elliot is pure love through and through. "Candle on the Water" is a perfect amalgamation of those themes, and shows how even the silliest of Disney movies can reflect the human condition.

Most important are the repeating lines at the end of the song, "I'll never let you go, I'll never let you go, I'll never let you go." They signify the steadfast and earnest devotion that the singer has for the listener. "I'll never let you go" is unabashedly promising of a better future, because the line and the words refuse to let anything stand in their way. It's an amazing coda to the song, especially as it reinforces the faith of the characters at that moment in the film. Their happy endings have not yet arrived, but for now, "Candle on the Water" helps remind them - and us - to keep the faith. It evokes the final lines in Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo: "Until the day when God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, Wait and hope."

Love Unattainable, Forbidden, Forever: "If I Never Knew You" - Pocahontas (June 23, 1995)

And I'm so grateful to you
I'd have lived my whole life through
Empty as the sky, never knowing why
Lost forever
If I never knew you

Sometimes, love is not fair. The circumstances of one's birth, the consequences of one's actions, the reactions of others, they all can change how we love. In Pocahontas, everything goes *wrong* for the two lovers. When John Smith and Pocahontas are given one final tender moment alone before his planned execution, they both share their regret and gratitude at what had happened. When the film was first released, the scene ended there, and Pocahontas left the hut. Their relationship felt unresolved, as if something were missing. And something was.

In 2005, the filmmakers re-instated the duo's love song, "If I Never Knew You." Amazingly, the inclusion of that one song suddenly changes the dynamics of their relationship. Watching the film without the song, their love seems very artificial. Fortunately, the song's return helps flesh out what both meant to each other. When they overlap each other, in perfect harmony, we see how the two characters (their fictional depiction, not their historical counterparts) were truly meant to be together:

For if I never knew you / There's no moment I regret
If I never knew this love / Since the moment that we met
I would have no inkling of / If our time has gone too fast
How precious life can be / I've lived at last

Pocahontas has plenty of flaws, but I would be hard-pressed to find any in the film's treatment of love. Sure, we do get the rapidly-aged Pocahontas and the equally-tamed John Smith. Their relationship seems inconceivable on most levels, from the language barrier that mysteriously disappears to the talking tree that doles out advice. Yet, in spite of the nowhere-near-normal nature of their love, it speaks to us. We can sense just how much both mean to each other, their love crosses cultures and social norms of their time. As such, it's very much like the love in Colleen McCullough's epic novel The Thorn Birds, which was turned into a television miniseries in 1983. The miniseries was promoted with the tagline of "Love Unattainable, Forbidden, Forever." And nothing better evokes that idea than "If I Never Knew You." John and Pocahontas may not have been as tumultuous as Ralph and Meggie, but both couples shared a love that others would never have approved.

The Greatest Love of All: "Bella Notte" - Lady and the Tramp (June 22, 1955)

Oh this is the night, it's a beautiful night
And we call it bella notte
Look at the skies, they have stars in their eyes
On this lovely bella notte.
Side by side with your loved one,
You'll find enchantment here.
The night will weave its magic spell,
When the one you love is near!
Oh this is the night, and the heavens are right!
On this lovely bella notte!

We've seen how love is created and celebrated. We've looked at how it is enduring and forever. Yet, for many, love is at its most powerful when used in the romantic sense. And the greatest example of this type of love is "Bella Notte" from Lady and the Tramp. I've always considered the song to be the most romantic song in the Disney canon. In the span of ten lines, the song paints a picture of enduring love, of magic in the making, of the fleeting-yet-eternal moment between two lovers. This is a song that shows how love is created and celebrated, how it is enduring and forever. "Bella Notte" is the love we all aspire to find.

Love is one of the guiding themes of nearly every Disney movie, and rightfully so. It is a phenomenon and an emotion that is hard to capture perfectly. It may elude even the most steadfast of believers. Sometimes, it is just not fair. Yet occasionally, in those rare moments, the stars will line up and decide today is that day. You'll find yourself next to that One, and it will only take a moment for the both of you to realize: it's love. It's a "Bella Notte" moment. Everything works right, everyone is where they are supposed to be, and the love just flows. It's a beautiful thing.

Postscript:


Giselle & Robert's "So Close" represents love that's worth the wait

Two weeks ago, I asked my friends on Facebook to list the fifty greatest love songs by Disney. The list only reached thirty-eight submissions, but they still managed to cover a wide range of songs about love. I narrowed down the list to seven songs plus "Bella Notte," which I always planned on writing about. Eventually, the list was then shortened to four songs plus "Bella Notte." In writing about the five songs, I realized just how well the four songs would lead into "Bella Notte," which was quite amazing given that the process for narrowing the songs down was by chance and random polling. The full list is featured below, in order of suggestion, with songs in bold being those that I covered or was considering covering:

01. "A Whole New World" - Aladdin
02. "Kiss the Girl" - The Little Mermaid
03. "Something There" - Beauty and the Beast
04. "I Won't Say I'm In Love" - Hercules
05. "If I Never Knew You" - Pocahontas - Love Unattainable, Forbidden, Forever

06. "I Bring You A Song" - Bambi
07. "Together Time" - Perri
08. "Heaven's Light/Hellfire" - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
09. "I See the Light" - Tangled
10. "Bella Notte" - Lady and the Tramp - The Greatest Love of All

11. "So This Is Love" - Cinderella
12. "Once Upon A Dream" - Sleeping Beauty
13. "Love Will Find A Way" - The Lion King II: Simba's Pride
14. "Stuff We Did" - Up - Love Without Words

15. "So Close" - Enchanted - Love Worth the Wait

16. "Part of Your World (Reprise)" - The Little Mermaid - She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
17. "As Long As There's A Moon" - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
18. "Love (It Seems Like Only Yesterday)" - Robin Hood
19. "I Love To Laugh" - Mary Poppins - Love of Life

20. The Juliana Theory's "On the Top of the World" - Motocrossed

21. "You'll Be In My Heart" - Tarzan
22. "Ma Belle Evangeline" - The Princess and the Frog
23. "Never Knew I Needed You" - The Princess and the Frog
24. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" - The Lion King
25. "I'll Try" - Return to Neverland

26. "When She Loved Me" - Toy Story 2
27. "Baby Mine" - Dumbo - The First Time I Loved Forever

28. "That's How You Know" - Enchanted
29. "The Unbirthday Song" - Alice in Wonderland
30. "I'll Make A Man Out Of You" - Mulan

31. "Reflection" - Mulan
32. "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" - The Lion King
33. "Beauty and the Beast" - Beauty and the Beast
34. "Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop (I Love You, Too)" - Pete's Dragon
35. "Candle on the Water" - Pete's Dragon - Faith, Hope, and Love

36. "Someday" - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
37. "Someone's Waiting For You" - The Rescuers
38. "Someday My Prince Will Come" - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

 

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