Five Animated Musicals That Are Not Disney
Disney is not the only company to make showy musicals with the usual seven-standard formula. This formula consists of seven different aspects that make a Disney movie: The original storyline from which the work is adapted, a Princess or a simple male protagonist, a sort of relationship, the villain, the music, the setting and the side characters. When one speaks of a musical animated movie, one thinks of Disney and all the movies that came with it. It just so happened that the nineties and subsequent years gave rise to other musicals which, though lesser known, were movies that might as well have been Disney but are not Disney made. Looking at those movies, it gives a feeling of both the usual Disney enjoyment and surprise that another company could do just as well.
The reason for this is simple. Disney is so widely appreciated for having mastered the art of animated musical storytelling that when others manage to do it, some may be surprised. This does not have to be the case though. Making a successful Disney movie does follow a specific standard and those standards are not hard to meet at all. Once a writer has a story from which to work (The Little Mermaid, for example), it’s easy. Throw in a romantic partner, (Prince Eric, who she wants to join on the human world), a couple of side characters, (like Sebastian and Flounder), spruce up the setting (Atlantica and tour Eric’s kingdom), add a villain and bonus points for a back story (Ursala, who once lived at the palace), add musical numbers (like Sebastian singing about how great life is under the sea) and there’s the typical Disney film. It’s made.
There are many films besides Disney that follow this formula, and they too are well made. After all, Disney may own the rights to the princesses, but the idea of a musical animated film is not exclusively theirs and never was. Many companies, some small and some large, have contributed to the success of musically animated films. There is The Swan Princess by Nest Family Entertainment, Thumbelina by Warner Bros. Animation Studios, Anastasia by Fox Animation, The Prince of Egypt by DreamWorks, and Charlotte’s Web by Hannah-Barbara Productions. All of them were successfully made as animated musicals regardless of the commercial success they enjoyed upon their release.
The Swan Princess
The Swan Princess is a movie by Nest Entertainment. Its original storyline is the ballet called Swan Lake. It follows the meeting and betrothal of the young Prince Derek and his fiancée Princess Odette, a young royal couple engaged to be married in hope of a merger between two great Kingdoms. At first, they do not like this idea, but they slowly fall in love. Derek quests to prove his love to Odette by making a fabled Vow of Everlasting Love. However, this is made complicated by the actions of the evil Lord Rothbart, a sorcerer who recently regained the power Odette’s father took from him. He turns Odette into a swan until she agrees to marry him and give him legitimate kingship over her Kingdom. Making friends with a turtle, a puffin, and a frog, Odette tries to overcome the curse. In the meantime, Derek goes on the hunt for a fabled Great Animal, who he believes kidnapped Odette. This leads him to Odette, and he discovers the spell placed on her. He promises to break the spell on her by declaring his love to the world at a ball, but Odette is stopped and he declares love to a fake princess, resulting in Odette’s death. Derek chases after Rothbart to the lake, where he battles and defeats him, resurrecting Odette and allowing them to live happily ever after.
This movie follows the standard formula perfectly. It features a Princess named Odette, and like any Disney Princess, she has her unique qualities that set her apart from the rest. This Princess is a swan under a spell. Her romantic partner is Prince Derek, who was arranged to marry her and befriends her (or at least tries to) at a young age. It even has lovable side characters in Jonbob the frog (who thinks he’s a Prince), Speed the turtle, and Puffin the- well- puffin. The setting of this sad tale is, of course, Swan Lake and Derek’s Kingdom, and the villain is developed enough in Lord Rothbart who had his powers destroyed by Odette’s father King William and recently regained them and made his move. The movie even has memorable musical numbers, like “No Fear” and “Far Longer than Forever,” which actually plays the part of the duet song Disney is sometimes for.
This is just one movie that has little to do with Disney, yet it could have easily passed as a Disney movie. And The Swan Princess is not the only one either.
Thumbelina is movie by none other than Disney’s best competitor Warner Bros. Animation Studios, and is an adaptation of Thumbelina and Tom Thumb. The movie follows a tiny girl named Thumbelina, voiced by Jodi Benson (who voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid). Thumbelina was born within a flower, meets, and falls in love with the Fairy Prince Cornelius. The movie is centered around their love, but they meet many obstacles along the way. Thumbelina has not only won the heart of the Prince, but of Berkeley the Beetle and a frog named Grundel. Grundel kidnaps her and tries gaining her hand in marriage. Upon crying for help, Jacquimo the swallow bird rescues her, and jitterbugs agree to help her find the Prince. Just then, the beetle kidnaps her and the Prince asks his mother and father to hold off winter while he searches for her. During his search, he is frozen solid in freezing lake, leaving Thumbelina to fend for herself. Thinking him dead, Thumbelina takes refuge with a mouse and a mole, who also loves her. She is about to take him up on his offer when the wedding is crashed by Berkeley Beetle himself a well as Grundel the frog. Cornelius, who was freed by little bugs who befriended Thumbelina earlier, gets involved and defeats the beetle and the frog. They marry and upon the kiss, Thumbelina grows wings and becomes a fairy.
Once again, this movie follows all your typical Disney standards. Like Cinderella and Belle, the main female protagonist becomes a Princess upon her marriage to a Prince. Like all Disney Princesses, she is unique. She is tiny not to mention a fairy and she is the only Princess where the Prince failed in saving her. The romantic relationship is there but it needed to be realized and earned by both characters. Its lovable side characters include the mouse who sang of Thumbelina’s need to Marry the Mole and the mole himself, and her helpers and even Jacque the bird who attempts to help her too. The villains include the Beetle who frequently attempts to kidnap the little girl and the evil frog who frequently tries to force her heart. The setting is more fluid since, like The Black Cauldron, there is no single setting but more of an adventure. Nonetheless, the underground and the Beetle’s party are both memorable enough to remember and the musical numbers are right up there with any other, including your romantic duet “Let me be your Wings” which is truly beautiful.
Belonging to Warner Bros, which is a subdivision of the larger Time Warner, this movie is the opposite of Disney and yet just as good. Ironically, Disney veteran Don Bluth is responsible.
Yet another movie that could’ve been Disney is none other than Anastasia by Fox Animation. It is an adaptation of the Russian tale by the same name by Hans Christen Anderson. This is what actually makes it quite Disney. Disney had previously adapted The Little Mermaid and most recently The Snow Queen, both by Hans Christen Anderson. Anastasia is a movie about a young Princess whose castle is attacked, orchestrated by the villain Rasputin. In the fire, a young servant boy helps her out by means of a secret passageway (however, upon falling unconscious, she has no recollection of the events.) While she was saved, the boy disappeared and the royalty had not seen her since. She became a lost Princess. Ten years pass and rumor spreads of her survival and so a reward is offered by her grandmother. The servant boy by name of Dimitri, who had previously rescued her finds her (though he does not know it’s her at the time) and resolves to get the reward for himself. Rasputin, who is trapped in limbo, hears of her survival and sends demonic spirits after her. They foil the attempt and Rasputin travels back to the surface while Anastasia, under the name of Anya, is given over to her grandmother. Everyone realizes then that she is the real Anastasia, and subsequently, everyone discovers Dimitri’s original plan of faking her. Dimitri makes up for his mistake by presenting a music box Anastasia had lost before leaving. Anastasia is ambushed by Rasputin who she barely manages to defeat once and for all with Dimitri’s help. The two reconcile and marry.
Once again, this could very well have been Disney. Adapted from Anderson’s book of the same name, Anastasia is born a Princess but is the only one to have lost her memory. The loss of memory gives a sense of difference to set her apart from all other Princesses the audience is known to get from animated musical films. The relationship between her and Dimitry is also realized at the end like any other Disney movie and in spite of initial setbacks, they do get together. Anastasia even has musical numbers including your typical villain’s song “Dark of the Night.” The villain himself resides in the Underworld or limbo due to him selling his soul, which has similarity to Dr. Facilier (though Rasputin came first.) And then of course, there is the lovable side character in the Albino bat, and the general setting which is St. Petersburg, Russia.
Could’ve been Disney. In fact, with Thumbelina and Anastasia both directed by Don Bluth, who was a Disney veteran, this is not surprising.
Fern Gully is another movie that could’ve very well been Disney but was produced by Kroyer Films among two others. This movie has no original adaptation to draw from, however, except a concept of fairies living in a forest. It begins with a fairy named Chrysta who is apprenticed by the forests’ guardian Magi, who previously imprisoned an evil spirit named Hexxus. Chrysta believes humans were extinct until she meets one preparing to cut down trees. The human, Zak, is nearly killed by a falling tree when she shrinks him. Meanwhile, Zak’s superiors cut down a tree he marked for cutting. This releases a smog spirit demon named Hexxus who resembles pollution and impurity in an otherwise pure rainforest. A budding romance begins to blossom between Zak and Chrysta while Hexxus plots the destruction of Fern Gully rainforest. Once the rivers and trees begin getting poisoned, Zak’s true intentions are made clear. Mournful of his actions, he resolves to help save the forest by convincing Batty the Bat to help destroy the machine cutting trees down. The motherly fairy Magi gives her life to stop the machine, thus making Chrysta the new matriarch. Chrysta too seemingly sacrifices herself but instead uses magic from inside Hexxus to sprout him into a tree, entrapping him once more. The forest burns but Zak and the fairies accelerate a seed’s growth. Zak, however, must part ways with Chrysta and return to humanity with a promise to remember his adventures, learning not to cut down trees where fairies live.
This is probably one movie that does not have an original work. In fact, the purpose of this movie was not for adapting fairy tales. This movie is about fairies, it is a fairy tale in and of itself. The money this movie made (and it was a success) went as donations to protecting Rainforests. This movie was not made to compete with Disney, it simply exploited the Disney formula successfully and gave to a charitable cause. Chrysta is the closest we have to a Princess, being apprenticed to the guardian of the forest and ultimately taking that place she is by all rights a fairy Princess. The romantic relationship between her and Zak is explicit, they even share a musical duet common with Disney couples and even a villain song sung by Hexxus, who is the villain symbolizing pollution and smoke. Of course, there is also the lovable side characters like Batty and Magi, let alone Pip and the setting which is the rainforest itself.
Fern Gully could very well have been Disney. In fact, it would be quite easy to show someone this movie and believably claim it’s Disney. The music being that of Alan Silvestri, who did the music for Lilo and Stitch is a plus.
The Prince of Egypt
The Prince of Egypt is an adaptation of the Book of Exodus from the Old Testament and produced by none other than Disney competitor DreamWorks. The film tells the story of a Pharaoh of Egypt, who, fearing rebellion amongst the Hebrew slaves, has all baby boys in the Kingdom taken away. Only one boy survived this purge, a boy named Moses who was placed in a basket and went down the river, getting picked up and adopted by none other than the Pharaoh’s wife. He grows older as a sovereign Prince of Egypt alongside his brother Ramses. The two get up to mischief but their lives are generally happy until Moses starts getting troubled by a chance meeting with his sister Miriam (who he does not know is his sister) and is told of his humble origins. He accidentally kills a guard and runs away. He saves two young girls from bandits and befriends their older sister Tzipporah. He is welcomed into her tribe by her father and takes up their new culture quickly. While chasing a stray lamb, he runs into a burning bush that speaks with the voice of God, who instructs him to lead the Hebrew slaves to freedom. Moses and his new wife return to Egypt where he meets with Ramses once again and requests their freedom. Despite his attempts to show off his allegiance with God, Moses is rejected and is forced to send ten plagues onto Egypt. With all the first born who failed to paint the blood of a lamb on their door killed, Ramses relents. Moses leads his people to freedom, escape Ramses’ pursuing army, and settles with the Hebrews o Mount Sinai where he receives and delivers the Ten Commandments.
This movie is a little different than your typical Disney film when comparing it to the Princess films. However, many Disney movies are different to their own films in this manner and this particular film by DreamWorks still manages to hold up to the usual formula. It has its original storyline from the Old Testament, Tzipporah is effectively the Princess (in fact she’s the daughter of her tribe’s leader), she has a relationship with the main character who could fit the role of Disney protagonist if we exclude Tzipporah, there are memorable enough side characters like Moses’ brother Aaron and Jethro himself, a villain in Ramses and very good musical numbers like ‘There Can be Miracles’ and ‘Through Heaven’s Eyes.’
Even though it was made by DreamWorks animation, it alone can hold itself up and light a candle before Disney. And guess who did the music for it? None other than Lion King composer Hans Zimmer.
In fact, all three of these movies have someone related to Disney among the crew. It can be concluded that Disney was almost certainly an influence. The romance in the Swan Princess strikes anyone who is familiar with Disney just how similar the two can be and it does not end with these three films. It is no coincidence that the Sherman Brothers who did the music for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book did the music for Charlotte’s Web too. The Sherman brothers were in fact among Walt Disney’s closest friends. Charlotte’s Web based on the book by the same name may have lacked your usual Princess but it made up for it in a fulfilling protagonist (as most Disney films do) and lovable side characters. With its musicals scores, it is truly an underrated movie in regards to musically animated films. They all are, in fact. Thumbelina is better than it is given credit for and yet it wins a Razzy award for worst musical number.
Perhaps those who watched those movies as well as traditional Disney movies are loyal to Disney. Seeing other studios attempt to emulate them may strike some as pathetic attempts to jump on the bandwagon, perhaps desperate for some attention too. This is how competition works, though, especially in business. It should not strike anyone as a pathetic attempt as much as it should strike them as further proof that Disney is not the only one who can do musically animated films and proudly flaunt them.
With these films among others, it is important to note that Disney cannot and may never be able to dominate. Just look at the non-Disney animated musical Fern Gully to get an idea of what other companies can do. Fern Gully was a movie about a fairy princess meeting a human and trying to protect the forest and the music was superb. When entertainment companies like DreamWorks try to compete, they do well. In fact, DreamWorks competes magnificently with movies like Prince of Egypt not to mention Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon, films that did not need musically animated numbers. Though, Prince of Egypt has a fantastic musical score itself with songs like “There Can be Miracles” and “Through Heaven’s Eyes.” Speaking of DreamWorks, in fact, Shrek is what provoked Disney to focus more on computer and CGI animated films and so far, it has worked and it further proves that other companies still affect the film industry to this day.
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