Ever have a perky tune stick in your head like bubble gum? Well, if you pick up Disney’s new boxed set, The Music of Disney — A Legacy in Song, expect to be scraping your brainpan for weeks. A three-part, 78-track, three-hour sampler culled from 63 years of the company’s upbeat cartoon features, live-action movies, TV shows, and theme-park attractions, the package is an overwhelming onslaught of catchy hooks. And since most of the tunes last less than three minutes, it’s built even more than most anthologies to be sampled in bits.
The $50 CD list price ($35 for cassette) and the starkly elegant cover art of Mickey in tails at a grand piano signal that this is upscale Disney, marketed for Mom and Dad to buy. Inside there’s further evidence that the set is aimed at the adult baby boomers who’ve made rock, pop, and jazz boxed-set reissues big business: an LP-size illustrated booklet outlining the studio’s music history and a chronologically arranged playlist that puts songs in context rather than mixing them up for variety’s sake. The Disney archivists have done a solid quality-control job, too, lending even chestnuts like the 1933 ditty ”Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” as clean a kick as today’s remastering technology can provide (though there is the odd blunder, such as a stereo Sleeping Beauty track reproduced in mono).
Of course, the drawing power of these Monstro-scale boxed sets is that they unearth obscure material not easily found anyplace else, and that’s where Legacy really delivers. Especially in its last third, which focuses on TV themes (”The Ballad of Davy Crockett”), animal-comedy hit singles (”That Darn Cat”), and the expert Muzak piped into Disneyland and Disney World (”It’s a Small World (After All)”), the collection is a trove of oddball gems. Who’d have guessed how well Kirk Douglas could acquit himself singing about the girl who made him ”bubble up like molten lava” in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Better yet is Leslie Nielsen, intoning the lead-in to the 1959 miniseries The Swamp Fox, and Sean Connery wavering his way with real feeling (and no skill) through a vocal track dubbed out of Darby O’Gill and the Little People. This part of the Legacy set is bound to be a sentimental journey for anyone who spent childhood hours watching The Mickey Mouse Club (remember Jiminy Cricket’s ”I’m No Fool” safety lectures?) or The Wonderful World of Disney (dig that spacey ”World of Color” intro, hypnotizing viewers into replacing their black-and-white sets).
Not that there aren’t more musically sophisticated treats here. A dizzying array of high points is crammed into the first two segments, which survey Disney’s animated and partly animated movies. The finest songs — among them ”Heigh Ho” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Song of the South’s ”Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” Cinderella’s ”A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and especially ”Part of Your World,” with Jodi Benson voicing The Little Mermaid’s Ariel — rank with the most charming, perfectly melodic character-driven set pieces in any musical.
These two sections are also designed to touch on as many films as possible — which shows how often Disney reworked the same ideas. Just a few tracks after Cinderella’s dotty fairy godmother (Verna Felton) weaves a first-rate spell with ”Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” comes ”Higitus Figitus,” an uninspired knockoff by Disney’s house composers, the Sherman brothers, sung by befuddled sorcerer Merlin in The Sword in the Stone — and it seems weaker still compared with the Shermans’ own smash-ing retread, Mary Poppins’ ”Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
If it’s only Disney’s shining moments you want, not its whole up-down history, seek out a now-discontinued 1988 release, The Disney Collection. Jamming 48 tracks onto two tapes or CDs, this roundup had picture-drenched booklets and stuck to the best animated features, with a taste of TV and the theme parks. But beware the three-volume Disney Collection put out in stores three years later. It contains only six more songs than the original two-part set and eliminates booklets and historical information entirely. Considering that the three volumes together cost about the same as the Legacy package, you’d be goofy not to go deluxe. Disney Legacy: A- Two-volume Disney Collection: A Three-volume Disney Collection: B-