Animated Musical Films

Disney has done them since Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs, but are animated musical films outdated in the modern market? The answer is maybe.

Disney is often given huge amounts of credit for the renaissance that the company managed to go through in the late 80s and early 90s. Their success lay in not only excellent animation, relevant stories and rock-solid songwriting but also the acceptance of the movie-going public to the films in general, a pining perhaps, for the glory days. A further excuse could be baby-boomers rekindling their childhoods with Disney films, but I digress.

Musical films are as old as the hills and yet what makes them so ridiculous also attracts us to them. For instance, can you imagine in the middle of a decisive decision you instantly burst out in song? People would thing you’re nuts! Yet when it happens in the pictures, we go along with it.

Animation is perhaps in more need than live-action for song interludes. Showing a character’s emotions in animation occurs on a different level than a real, live person. Music has often been used as a way to express such emotions without all the extra work involved in animating the character’s movements.

Disney has long been recognized as the leader of the genre. It’s films have had far more success than any competitor. However, as we all know, their fortunes took a bit of a dive towards the end of the 90s and ended altogether with the release of Home on the Range.

So it was today, while reading the Facebook wall of a friend that got me wondering. Does the animated musical film stand a chance today? I have not seen the Princess & the Frog yet, so I can’t account for that film, but if the critics are anything to go by (yeah, I still don’t like them) the songs were just OK.

My point is that after 15 years of Pixar-inspired CGI dominance, where the films have very little, if any, songs, is the public still as receptive to them as the once were? I would hope so. The classic Disney films are still fantastic in their own right. Many people remember the songs from Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast and the Little Mermaid among others.

Of course all three of those movies share a common element in Howard Ashman, the songwriter behind the majority of those songs in conjunction with Alan Menken. Not to say that a hit songwriter is what we need, far from it. The public has to become more open to the idea of such films. The initial trailer for the Princess and the Frog alluded to as much, it was just the film itself that didn’t exactly keep the fire going.

With the revival of traditional feature animation at the Walt Disney Company we are quite likely to see more musical films in the future. I just hope that they are of a high-enough standard to make people realize what makes them so great.

Mickey Mouse’s Copyright Law

How old is Mickey Mouse? Well, he’s about 82 years if he’s a day. So why is he still under copyright while other early cartoon stars are not? Well, for one, plenty of companies from that era went out of business long ago and their associated copyrights are either forgotten about or expired.

Yet Mickey’s has not. He is still fully owned, and will continue to be owned, by the Walt Disney Company for the foreseeable future at least. Consistent enforcement of copyright is part of it. Disney is still very much in business, and is certainly enforcing its legal rights regarding infringement.

So why exactly does Mickey Mouse have his own copyright law? Well for one, it isn’t really his, its Sonny Bono’s (the guy with the bomb in Airplane, also he was a singer of some sort in the 60s). The act itself extended copyright terms in the US for 20 more years, on top of the life plus 50 years already offered. Corporate authorship is now 120 years, increased from 75 years.

The reason it’s called the Mickey Mouse law is the presumption, and possibility, that it was the looming date on which Mickey Mouse would enter the public domain, that coerced the Disney company to begin lobbying for such an extension.

What advantage does this serve? Well for one, it means Disney can continue to extract license fees for the old films for a start. It also prevents anyone else from making similar or derivative works based on the films.

Is this a good thing? Well for the copyright holder? Yes, they can continue to make money. Personally, I think this is a bad thing. OK, so you continue to own the character, but if he is freely available, then even more people can enjoy him, It may even push up demand for the films that are almost as old but still covered by copyright.

If you think about it, if the public domain was such a bad thing, publishers wouldn’t be publishing all those Jane Austin or Charles Dickens novels. Sure you can read them online for free, and yet people still buy the books, and publishers still make a profit from them, even though they aren’t covered by any copyright! Amazing isn’t it?

Do you think Disney would lose a ton of money just because a few films from the 20s and 30s enter the public domain? Unlikely. When was the last time you seen one of those films? For me it’s been a number of years.

So there you go. Mickey Mouse has his own law, and the company behind it is all the worse for it.