Rooster Revue #9 • Cave of Wonders
We go deep with a breakdown of Disney's "Aladdin."
In today’s issue we do an advanced Google search of the free musical offerings on YouTube and The Department of Cinemusicalization looks inside the lamp to examine the inner workings of Aladdin.
• Netflix dropped a trailer for Tick, Tick… Boom!, the highly anticipated Lin-Manuel directed movie adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical stage musical. It looks awesome. [YouTube]
• Central Park, the animated musical on AppleTV+ starring Josh Gad, Tituss Burgess, Daveed Digg, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Stanley Tucci, & Emmy Raver-Lampman drops a trailer for its second season. [YouTube]
• Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was sadly cancelled at NBC, but the creator is hopeful the show will find a home somewhere else, rallying fans and getting #SaveZoeysPlaylist to be the #1 trending topic on Twitter. [The Wrap]
• The Beauty and the Beast prequel we’ve heard murmurings about since 2019 has officially been greenlit, with original songs from Alan Menken and Glenn Slater. [Deadline]
• Watch James Corden and Ariana Grande celebrate the end of lockdown with this parody of “Good Morning Baltimore.” [YouTube]
• Lisa Kudrow Will Lead Movie Musical Better Nate Than Ever. [Broadway World]
And since In The Heights came out last week…
• Screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes, who also wrote the stage version, discusses the changes she made from stage to screen, as well as updating the story for a 2020 audience. [Observer]
• Cinematographer Alice Brooks explains how she creates some of those visually stunning sequences throughout In The Heights. [Variety]
• In The Heights disappointed at the box office and, supposedly, on HBOMax as well. As this article suggests, it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from this information, but hopefully it doesn’t mean less musicals. [Hollywood Reporter]
• “Where are the dark-skinned Black Latinx folks with a storyline?” In The Heights light-skinned cast caused a controversy over the last week that caused Miranda and Chu to apologize. [Slate]
• Rita Moreno defended the movie on Colbert, and then apologized for defending it. [Hollywood Reporter]
Mandrews did a deep dive to see what movie musicals are streaming for FREE on YouTube. Some are official, some are unofficial, some are public domain. Hope you enjoy!
Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993) [YouTube]
Mel Brook’s classic comedy musical is not as good as I remember it being—but I still love singing the title song.
The Last Five Years (2014) [YouTube]
It’s divisive, but it does a lot of things right for an indie movie musical. The charm and simplicity of “The Schmuel Song” is a personal favorite.
K-12 (2019) [YouTube]
Melanie Martinez’ psychedelic album film is filled with stunning visuals set to an electropop soundtrack, and does an impressive job connecting the songs through plot.
Nine (2003) [YouTube]
Rob Marshall and Daniel Day Lewis? What could go wrong? Well a lot actually. But that opening speech about killing a movie and bringing it back to life has always stuck with me.
Guys and Dolls (1955) [YouTube]
First experience with this material. Sinatra's not a great actor, and Brando's not a great singer—but I DON’T CARE, they’re perfect. I'm a sucker for colorful fake New York sets, the movie has a wonderful energy, and the story kept surprising me.
Royal Wedding (1951) [YouTube]
Starring Fred Astaire and Jane Powell, with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Is one of several MGM musicals that entered the public domain because the studio failed to renew the copyright registration. Cult Cinema Classics has a lot of public domain movie musicals.
The Gang’s All Here (1943) [YouTube]
The classic Busby Berkeley film with the infamous Carmen Miranda banana dance. This movie is not great in terms of story and antiquated gender stereotypes, but there’s something magical and lovely about it.
Phantom of the Opera (2005) [YouTube]
Oh God. No. Why? Make it stop. I’m sorry for even sharing this. From the director of Batman Forever and starring Gerard Butler, it’s about as bad as you’d think.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1965) [YouTube]
The made for TV Ginger Rogers version. Did you know this musical was written for Television? Originally in 1957 starring Julie Andrews, this remake is just as magical and IN COLOR.
Til The Clouds Roll By (1946) [YouTube]
Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, and Angela Lansbury?! Sign me up. It is a fictionalized biopic of composer Jerome Kern and was the first in a series of MGM biopics about Broadway's composers; it was followed by Words and Music (Rodgers and Hart, 1948), Three Little Words (Kalmar and Ruby, 1950), and Deep in My Heart (Sigmund Romberg, 1954)
State Fair (1945) [YouTube]
Did you know State Fair was the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written directly for film? Haven’t seen it, but that fact alone makes it worth featuring here.
For a Disney animated musical, Aladdin is very light on songs with only 15% singing. The movie famously had a tumultuous production, with Howard Ashman passing away, multiple rewrites, and what came to be known among the animators as Black Friday, when Jeffrey Katzenberg told the team to scrap virtually everything they had been working on for months and start all over again.
A true “Welcome to the World” song that sets up what to expect in Agrabah. An unsympathetic desert, flying carpets, and a culture that’s “barbaric”—an ill-chosen descriptor. Luckily that word was changed for the stage show and remake. Surprisingly, the lyrics were even more racist in the original theatrical release and were changed for home video. (source)
It’s difficult to justify this song’s existence. It’s more of a glorified opening credits song. It’s strange to use the Peddler as a plot device and never return to him again. Was it part of a bigger idea? As it turns out… yes. The original ending had the peddler return revealing that he was actually the Genie. The lost reprise was eventually used for the ending of the direct-to-video sequel Aladdin and the King of Thieves, with Howard’s original lyrics:
So it goes, short and sweet
They were wed down the street
May their marriage be truly blessed
Happy end to the tale
And tomorrow's a sale
So I'd better go home and rest!
Here's a kiss and a hug
Sure you don't need a rug?
I assure you, the price is right
Well, salaam, worthy friend
Come back soon, that's the end!
'Til another Arabian Night!
We’re calling it “Arabian Folk” but it’s more of an influence for pastiche purposes than any sort of reality. In fact we could argue that outside of the bubble of analyzing Disney music you’d simply call these songs “Disney-esque.” Or “Menkenian” even.
This the first Disney animated musical to break the 4th wall and have the Peddler talk directly to the audience, which we’ll see again in Hercules.
FUN FACT: This song was supposed to have been sung by Robin Williams, but his shortcomings as a singer showed when it came time to record and he was unable to hit some of the high notes, so the producers hired Bruce Adler (who had previously done some singing in 1991's "Beauty and the Beast") to fill in.
One Jump Ahead
We’re calling this a “Status Quo” song because it sets up our character, Aladdin. It’s similar to “Belle,” introducing us to the city our character lives in and how they fit into it. In this case, Aladdin is a “street rat” who steals to eat, and is really good at it.
This song introduces us to the pastiche of the film, which is a big band swing sound we hear again with “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali.” Of course there’s a sprinkling of the Menkenian light opera here as well.
The B section starting with “Just a little snack guys” introduces us to a variation of the melody of “A Whole New World,” preparing us to love the song when we get there in act 2. These are also the two songs that Rice wrote for the movie. Kudos to Tim Rice though, who seems to channel Howard’s lyrical cleverness and playfulness in this song.
One Jump Ahead (reprise)
Slower and more melancholic than the original song to match the sense of defeat Aladdin feels. This reprise kinda serves as the “I Want” song, but it’s confusing as to what Aladdin actually wants. The lyric that comes closest to encompassing this is: ”If only they'd look closer, would they see a poor boy? No, sirree.” This would imply he just wants someone to see him as more than his economic standing, as fully human. Aladdin’s line that follows the song is: “Someday [...] we’ll be rich, live in a palace, and never have any problems at all.” I’m not saying a character can’t have two wants, but c’mon, it’s a Disney musical. Pick a lane. This is why we’ve previously stated that Aladdin doesn’t have an “I Want” song and we’re standing by our decision. Forever.
Friend Like Me
In this Cab Calloway style big band song chock full of pop culture references, we learn along with Aladdin just what the genie can do, encouraging Aladdin to stretch his imagination to decide what he really wants to wish for. The lyrics are classic Ashman, with so much specific imagery and wonderful comedic elements.
This song takes the place of the big “Persuasion” number we usually see right about now (think “Under The Sea” and “Be Our Guest”). We have trouble classifying this as a persuasion song because Aladdin doesn’t need to be persuaded of anything at this moment—so we’re calling it a “Teaching” song because Aladdin is learning how the genie works and the huge potential of having the genie as a friend. It’s essentially Aladdin being introduced to a whole new reality.
This Anthem celebrating Prince Ali is just one big elaborate sales pitch. It’s very similar to the swing style of "Friend Like Me," but it’s even bigger. It does what only a big musical number can do, get hordes of people to love you instantly for no good reason.
We like to think of this as the brother song to "Gaston."
He's faced the galloping hordes
A hundred bad guys with swords
Who sent those goons to their lords?
For there's no one as burly and brawny
As you see I've got biceps to spare
That physique! How can I speak?
Weak at my knees! You yummy boy
These are both songs that celebrate hyper-masculinity, while at the same time exposing how ridiculous it is. Brains and heart always win out over brawn in a Howard Ashman show/movie, but clearly he loved playing with the trope, and exposing how toxic it can be.
A Whole New World
It’s become the go-to love song duet at karaoke nights, and for good reason. It’s a beautiful ballad about two people falling in love on a magic carpet ride. The lyrics in this song are very Tim Rice, and far more general/poetic than Howard’s songs. Still they are able to occupy the same movie seamlessly.
Howard famously believed songs needed to move the story forward. Does "A Whole New World" do that? Not really. Jasmine is pretty enamored with Aladdin before the song even begins. The line “do you trust me?” convinces her before she even steps onto the carpet. But the magic of this sequence is undeniable. It does accomplish a lot in turning what could have been a painfully boring date scene into a magical escape. It also tracks an internal change within Jasmine, who is seeing the outside world for the the first time. Something has inextricably changed and she can no longer “go back to where [she] used to be.”
I’d also like to take a second and consider the logistics of this song. Agrabah is loosely based on Baghdad, so if they took off from Baghdad, flew to Zeus’ temple in Greece, and then flew to the Forbidden City in China, and then flew back home, that’s about a 10,000 mile round trip. If let’s say they were out for 6 hours (which is a high estimate) they would have had to travel at a minimum of 1700 miles per hours, which is about 2.2 times the speed of sound. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but their hair would not be so well styled after a flight like that. More likely these were just allusions to their upcoming films, Hercules and Mulan, and we should just shut the hell up.
Prince Ali (reprise)
Jafar has co-opted Aladdin’s own song to be used against him. This “Celebration Song” is a false victory cry for Jafar, similar to Ursula’s reprise in The Little Mermaid, when she thinks she’s won. Musically, it’s a toned down return to the Arabian folk stylings of “Arabian Nights.”
It’s sad Jafar did not get a proper villain song, but there’s something poetic about using the song Aladdin used to dupe everyone, to instead expose and “defeat” Aladdin.
A Whole New World (reprise)
Brief, but reminds the audience they’ve witnessed a song that will be a part of the American canon of songs that everybody knows all the words no matter how young or old you are.
Stick with us as we dissect The Lion King in a future issue of Rooster Revue!
Shout out to Brett Ryback and Jeff Luppino-Esposito for fact-checkery and musical theory knowledge.
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Rooster Revue is edited by Matt Andrews and Jeffrey Simon with contributions from the entire team at The Barn.