In my last piece dedicated to my insane venture of pitting Disney songs against each other in a march madness style bracket to determine the greatest song of all their animated movies, I mentioned that I would look at the second part of the Golden Age for my third piece.
Technically, I’m going to hold myself to that. I’m just going to jump ahead to part four before I write part three. If you’re going to complain, save it, I heard enough of that from all of the Lion King stans after I apparently “disrespected” it in said piece. Unless you’re Elton John or Johnathon Taylor Thomas, I’m not all that concerned. If you are Elton John, you killed it in Kingsman II: The Golden Circle and I’m really looking forward to Rocketman later this month.
This piece is going to be a different speed than the last one, because we’re looking at the new stuff, and though a lot of it is really good, there are only three songs here that actually matter. The good news for you? Less to read. That said, here’s the bracket.
First things first, I understand that including Enchanted breaks my own rule of only including animated movies, but I have two items in my defense. First, I have a huge crush on Anne Hathaway. Second, though a lot of these songs are really good, it’s a pretty thin bracket overall and it really didn’t matter what I included. I tried to represent a lot of different movies here, and I’m not confident I included the best song for a lot of them. The music in Tangled, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana get some high marks and gave me a bit of trouble, but ultimately only three of these tunes count.
I don’t want to spoil my analysis of the songs for later, but every other song on the bottom received zero consideration, because Remember Me cruises all the way to the regional finals. I’ll write about it soon. On the top half, it’s a two song, one movie race.
1. Let it Go (Frozen) vs.
13. Do You Want to Build a Snowman (Frozen)
Frozen is, arguably, Disney’s biggest hit of hits. It stands as the highest grossing animated movie of all time (1.2 billion dollars), it won two Oscars, and it took Disney’s animated division off of life support and put them back on the map. Frozen was nothing short of a sensation, and the sequel is a good to smash any records its predecessor put in place.
Let me get a potentially hot take out of the way – as a movie, Frozen is, at best, pretty good. The story, outside of the emotional depth of the relationship between Anna and Elsa, is pretty paint by numbers. The villain twist is pretty standard Disney stuff (see: Zootopia, Wreck it Ralph). The animation is good, but not groundbreaking. The cast, by Disney standards, is bare bones. This movie, at a glance, should not have made a billion dollars.
But at first listen? The box office take makes a lot of sense.
The soundtrack is arguably the best one they’ve ever made, and it’s assuredly the best of the last twenty years. The music in this movie is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. I don’t have any data to support this, but I feel like there’s a disproportionate amount of the population that knows all the words to the songs in this movie. The movie got re-released with a sing-a-long version. One of the top attractions in Disney’s Hollywood studios is the Frozen Sing Along.
And the song that really pushed this movie all the way to the top is “Let It Go”. If you’ve somehow literally been surviving under a rock, feasting on bugs and drinking rain water, give it is a listen:
It is, no doubt, a home run of a song. It reached number five on the billboard chart. It won the academy award for best song. It won a Grammy. It went double platinum and was the fifth highest selling song, of all the songs, in 2013. By any quantifiable metric, that this is the biggest commercial and critical hit in the history of Disney.
It’s easy to understand why. Idina Menzel, the singing voice behind Elsa, is both an established Broadway actor (winning a Tony award) and Disney performer (in the aforementioned Enchanted). She’s the perfect mouthpiece for this brilliantly written song. And, musically, it is big and brash. There are some very ambitious sounds here and everyone involved, from Menzel to the very last chair in the string section, absolutely nails it.
The song has a lot of themes: finding ones inner self, coming to grips with changes in your body, not caring what other people think… there’s a lot going on. Like most great art, it’s ambiguous. You can read it however you want, and that obviously appeals to a lot of people. It doesn’t matter how old you are, which gender you are, how much you do or don’t have, there’s something in this song for you.
But every home run needs a pitch to knock out of the park. Every success, nearly without exception, needs to be built on something else. This song is no different. It doesn’t work without a set up. And the set up, in this case, asks a very simple question. Do you want to build a snowman?
Past wiping the mist out of my eyes I’m not sure where to even start; there’s so much to cover here. Let’s start with the facts and go from there. Though this song doesn’t have anywhere near the cultural impact of Let it Go, it has some bona fides of its own. It’s the second highest selling Christmas/Holiday single of all time (behind Mariah Carey’s GOAT All I Want for Christmas is You). It’s certified Platinum in the US. It charted all over the world. Hell, it even got a solid joke in Deadpool 2.
But this song isn’t stacked up against Let it Go because of its commercial success. No, it’s stacked up for a number of reasons, chief among them, is its depth. This song, in the span of about three minutes, tells a comprehensive story that spans ten years featuring both the major characters. It creates the major conflict in the movie (Elsa’s need to move to the throne). It sounds magnificent and Kristin Bell, though not half the singer of Mendel, delivers an emotionally charged verse that, unless you’re some sort of soulless zombie, should at least rattle your emotional cage.
‘Snowman’ does so many little things well too. The progression of a secret knock in verses one and two between the sisters turns to three hollow raps by its end, and we can sense the relationship between the girls has changed. And though they change, they’re parallel characters. Both locked away from everyone else. The imagery in the final shot of the two sisters, having no one else but each other, but both physically and emotionally unable to do so, stands out as possibly the iconic shot of the movie. There are a few little melodies that this song uses that get recycled in Let it Go.
It creates a really compelling allegory, too. When Anna and Elsa are together, when Elsa is happy, she creates a fun little snowman sidekick named Olaf. If you haven’t seen Frozen, he’s pretty vital to the story. He even gets his own musical number. In contrast, when Elsa gets a hold of her powers after Let it Go one of the first things she does is to build snowman to protect her. But he’s no Olaf. He’s a giant, roaring, unsightly brute ironically named Marshmellow. It goes to show what her magic does when she’s happy and safe versus the destruction she’s capable of when she’s angry or scared.
Let it Go is obviously a smash, it deserves its spot in the pantheon of Disney’s top songs. But, like some of the other greats on the list, it isn’t even the best song on its own movie. That honor goes to Do You Want to Build a Snowman. But, like I said earlier, neither of these songs is going to make it out of this bracket. Because both of them have the unfortunate fate of running into a freight train.
13. Do You Want to Build a Snowman (Frozen) vs.
2. Remember Me (Coco)
Like Let it Go, Remember Me also took home the academy award for Best Song in a particularly stacked 2017, topping the likes of This is Me from The Greatest Showman and Mystery of Love from Call Me by Your Name. It also charted on the top forty. It doesn’t have the cultural cache, but I’m not sure any song outside of When You Wish Upon a Star can say that. What it does have, emotional impact and duplexity, it has in spades.
What do I mean by duplexity? Let’s start with the first version of this song we see in the movie, the version sung by the self-important Mexican mega-star of the film, Ernesto de la Cruz:
This scene happens very early in the movie, and like Snowman, it tells a lot. Ernesto is Mexico’s biggest star, perhaps of all time. Ernesto is dead, crushed by a comically large prop dropped by a fawning stagehand. This is revealed to us through the eyes of the movies star, a boy named Miguel, who watches this performance on and endless loop in a room hidden away from his family, who, perhaps not all that ironically, hate music after their matriarch was abandoned by her cad of a husband who made his living as a traveling troubadour. It’s reveal that said cad, Miguel’s great-great-grandfather, was De La Cruz himself. Miguel sets off to the shrine in town dedicated to the singer, and ends up in hot water after stealing a guitar from it.
The song also ties in the importance of being remembered, which is a crux of the movie. Essentially, if you’re forgotten by the living, you cease to exist in the afterlife. It’s not the most subtle title in the world, at least not at face value.
Plus, it is an absolute smash. It sounds great. It feels like the magnum opus for a huge early century star. Big horns. Catchy vocals. It really hits the mark, and it’s just short enough to have near infinite replay value.
De La Cruz (voiced by the mullti-talented Benjamin Bratt) nails the big sound of the song with boastfulness and bravado. The stage behind him is set for a showstopper, with giant set pieces and row after row of women that De La Cruz reminds not to forget him. This song is happening for one purpose: it’s there to remind the public who they should admire, whether it be in life or death. And, as it turns out, that song served it’s purpose very well. EDLC is going to be just fine in the afterlife. Miguel finds this out firsthand after grabbing the guitar sends him into the land of the dead. He sees a party thrown by De La Cruz in the center of it all. A ghoul named Hector, who claims to know Ernesto, offers to take him there.
Except, like most Disney/Pixar movies, there’s a twist, and it turns out (SPOILERS FOR A TWO YEAR OLD MOVIE) that Ernesto De La Cruz isn’t related to Miguel at all. When the two of them find this out, De La Cruz banishes them to a pit, resigning them to a slow painful “death”. This is particularly grizzly when you remember that the only way to die in the afterlife is to be forgotten about and, for Miguel, this process could well take like, a few decades.
Anyways, after they’ve fallen into the pit, the second twist is revealed. Hector is actually Miguel’s great-great-grandfather, and he wrote the original song for Miguel’s grandmother, the titular Coco. He reveals that he He then sings the song, the way it was meant to be sung:
You see the song in it’s true form. It was never meant to be a chart topping hit. It wasn’t meant for the ears of adoring fans. It wasn’t meant to remind women to swoon over the man they’d lost. No, it was a simple song, written for a little girl, to remind her that her daddy is always going to be with her, no matter how far away he might seem. It’s a completely different song. And, as it turns out, Hector wasn’t lying. He did know Ernesto. Very well. De La Cruz murdered Hector and stole the credit for it.
This song does a few things, aside from making me almost cry in the theater. It very clearly establishes the duality in the characters who act as mentors or father figures to Miguel. One of them, as we’ve covered, is a selfish villain who is willing to kill the same guy twice to protect his stolen legacy. The other is a family man. A man more concerned with his family than with fame. One wants to sing the song to every woman on the planet. The other only cares about two.
Though it’s the big twist in the movie (again, not sorry for spoiling a two year old movie, did you know that Rosebud is a sled?), it’s so obvious in hindsight once you see the two songs. They tell us so much more about the characters, especially in the case of Hector, than the film could have shown us if it were ten hours long. Sometimes less is more.
But not always:
And with that, we get three different performances of the same song, and they all tell a different story. We have a showstopping, sensational, smash. We have a struggling, but competent musician serenading his young daughter. And we have a soulful boy pouring his heart out to his lifeless great-grandmother, in a frenzy to keep the memory of his family’s disgraced patriarch alive. This song accomplishes something that no other Disney song has been able to do. It, and it alone, tells the story of the movie.
Don’t get me wrong, Let it Go is an all timer, and Do You Want to Build a Snowman is even better, but when you get down to it, neither holds up against our boy Miguel and his skull guitar. Remember Me moves on to the final.
Next up: region three in all of its weird late golden year glory. Some weird stuff is going on, but one song is going to go the distance and complete the final four, along with the other three winners. If you’ve got a problem with that, well, I think you know what to do with it. Let it go, man.