Sounding Off: Whatever happened to the epic animated power ballad?
My first experience with soundtracks came from Disney animated films. As these were the films I was allowed to watch as a young lass, it makes sense, but back when I was growing up it seemed that each of these films also came with a major ballad sung by a popular singer of the time.
Animated features released these days still have stirring scores (HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON was one of my most well-reviewed scores this year), but while driving around today, “Here I Am” by Bryan Adams from SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON (2002) came on and I thought, “whatever happened to the power ballads from pop artists that used to go along with these films?”
Big names such as Elton John (THE LION KING, 1994) and Phil Collins (TARZAN, 1999) created original songs for the entire soundtracks of these films, but I'm talking about the ballads they themselves actually sing (usually played over the end credits). John did so with “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” and Collins with “You’ll Be In My Heart.” Long before she became famous for TITANIC (1997), Celine Dion joined Peabo Bryson on the duet “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) and the master of the power ballad, Michael Bolton, gave us “Go the Distance” for HERCULES (1997). Even Christina Aguilera first broke onto the scene with her rendition of “Reflection” for MULAN (1998) with her first hit, “Genie in a Bottle,” not hitting the charts until the following year (1999).
These songs did not just work in the context of their animated film framework, they were songs that could stand alone as big-scale ballads that could be enjoyed even without their home film. Why are audiences not treated to the same type of songwork these days?
It seems that the only time animated features get songs of this nature anymore is when the singer themselves is providing the voice to one of the characters in the film (Miley Cyrus as Penny in BOLT, 2008; Mandy Moore as Rapunzel in TANGLED, 2010). Disney is known for rolling out current pop stars (particularly of their own making) to re-record the classic songs from their best animated hits, but why not bring these stars on to record new hits for their current releases?
Songs like these added so much heart to these films and, even when I fell out of the films' age demographic, I distinctly remember these ballads. These were not songs only adults and parents could appreciate, and the music videos that usually ran on Disney with the artists singing along with the animation only drove that point home further. Marketers know kids have allowances to spend, so what happened to giving them (and us) something decent to spend their money on?
There's no question that people are going to watch these films - I just wonder what happened to the epic ballads that used to go hand-in-hand with them?