Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman
This classic musical film, centering on the titular nanny who brings magic into the lives of a dysfunctional family, was a major box office hit in 1964. It also earned a great deal of acclaim, including thirteen Academy Award nominations (winning five), still the most nominations for any film in the Disney canon.
The Oscar-winning score by brothers Richard & Robert Sherman features numerous songs that remain audience favorites fifty years later. Among the highlights are “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the nonsense word that began appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986, and the Oscar-winning “Chim Chim Cher-ee”.
The Little Mermaid
In the 25 years since this film’s original release, it has cemented its status as a major turning point in the Disney animation legacy. After more than a decade of films that failed to achieve the combination of critical and financial success that fueled the studio’s ascendence, this returned Disney to its prior glory. In the process, it became the foundation for Disney’s modern renaissance.
The approach to the film’s structure is noticeably more ‘Broadway-esque’ than past Disney musicals, with a greater emphasis on show-stopping songs that serve as tentpoles for the film. The song score from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (also a producer on the film), continued a collaboration that had begun Off-Broadway in the late 1970s, culminating in the classic “Little Shop of Horrors”. The music won Academy awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (for “Under the Sea”), the first Oscars won by a Disney animated feature since “Dumbo” in 1941.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The first in an ongoing adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ epic fantasy books, “Wardrobe” spent nearly a decade in various phases of development before getting the green light in the early 2000s and being released in 2005. The massive success of the first ‘Harry Potter’ film made producers and studio executives more comfortable about maintaining the British locations and 1940s timeframe, as opposed to proposals that modernized the story and set it in the United States. Further, CGI effects technology had developed to the point where characters like Aslan (the Christ-like talking lion who serves as guardian of Narnia) could be accomplished while maintaining believability.
Harry Gregson-Williams composed the music for the film, having previously worked with director Andrew Adamson on the first two ‘Shrek’ movies. The score, primarily orchestral and choral in nature, also features a number of instrumental colors associated with ancient folk music, as well as some electronic elements. Gregson-Williams took a heavily thematic approach to his scoring, earning him comparisons to Howard Shore’s work on “The Lord of the Rings”. The score received a somewhat positive critical reception but was not nominated for an Academy Award. It did receive two Golden Globe nominations, for Best Original Score and Best Original Song. Gregson-Williams returned for the first sequel, 2008’s “Prince Caspian”, and was succeeded by David Arnold for the next installment, 2010’s “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”.
Beauty and the Beast
This musical romantic fantasy was a milestone in the history of animated features. In addition to a strong, positive critical reception, and global box office grosses in excess of $400 million, the film became the first animated feature to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Although it did not win (“The Silence of the Lambs” took home the Oscar), it remained the only animated film to receive a nomination until this category was expanded from five to ten films in 2010.
Alan Menken and Howard Ashman again collaborated on the song score for the film, which went on to win Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast”). Ashman’s health was quickly declining after being diagnosed with AIDS, and he ultimately wrote most of the lyrics from his deathbed. He died eight months before the film’s release, and it was dedicated in his memory.
“Beauty” was later adapted into a Broadway musical, the first Disney title to receive this treatment. Premiering in 1994, it overcame a tepid critical reception to run for thirteen years and nearly 5,461 performances. As of 2014, it is the eighth longest-running show in Broadway’s history.
The Lion King
The heart of the Disney Renaissance can be found in this modern classic. Although the story carried influences of various biblical tales, as well as “Hamlet”, “The Lion King” was the first Disney animated feature not explicitly based on an existing work. Future “Producers” co-stars Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane were among the top-flight voice cast that helped give life to the various animal characters. In the twenty years since its first release, the film has grossed nearly $1 billion at the box office, along with similarly large earnings from the many home video releases over the years.
The film’s music, which won Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (“Can You Feel The Love Tonight”), came from two sources. Hans Zimmer, who had already composed for films with African settings, brought elements of traditional African music and choral sounds to his compositions. Lyricist Tim Rice, who had been working on “Aladdin”, continued in that role, although his composing partner on the prior film, Alan Menken, was unavailable. Rice eventually partnered with Elton John, who sought to create top-flight pop songs that kids would love, but would also be enjoyed by adults. As the first and, to this day, only Diamond-certified (10 million units sold) animated soundtrack release, that mission was clearly accomplished.
The Prince of Egypt
Although not produced by Walt Disney Animation, this 1998 film features many of the elements and behind-the-scenes talent that had been involved in then-recent Disney productions. The debut feature from DreamWorks Animation, the musical component of the film featured a score by “Lion King” composer Hans Zimmer and songs by Stephen Schwartz (who was coming off of “Pocahontas” and “Hunchback”).
Continuing the connections, co-director Brenda Chapman had worked at Disney since the 1980s, becoming the company’s first female head of story with her work on “The Lion King”. Co-screenwriter Philip LaZebnik also wrote for “Pocahontas” and “Mulan”. And executive producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, a DreamWorks co-founder (the ‘K’ in the SKG seen on many of the studio’s logos) had served as chairman of Walt Disney Studios for ten years, helping guide the animation division back to success in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The film was more dramatic than typical animated productions, the screenplay having been based on the the Book of Exodus. Theologians and Biblical scholars served as consultants to maintain accuracy in the film’s execution. The film proved to be a solid success, earning over $200 million in global box office, and a generally positive critical reception. Although Disney was hardly the only active theatrical animation studio at the time, “Prince” was the solid foundation of DreamWorks’ ongoing development. In the years since, the studio has continued to compete with, and occasionally surpass, Disney’s dominance of the market.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Disney’s swashbuckling franchise was an unlikely blockbuster – prior to the release of the first film, “Curse of the Black Pearl”, the concept of an big-budget adventure movie based on a theme park ride was frequently derided – yet Johnny Depp’s ‘Captain Jack’ helped catapult the film to massive success in 2003. The sequels that followed have, unsurprisingly, struggled to maintain the creative magic of the initial film, but the box office response has remained strong, with global grosses consistently around $1 billion each.
This concert features highlights from the score for the third film, “At World’s End”. Hans Zimmer, who contributed most of the thematic elements to the first film’s score, credited to Klaus Badelt, took over primary scoring for the three sequels to date. Where the previous scores were criticized for being excessively simple and synthetic in nature, Zimmer’s work here is more complex. He integrated existing thematic elements with new ideas, all captured with a largely live orchestral and choral sound.