New Bedford resident/composer writes academic book analyzing Disney songs

July 24, 2017


“Some people will tell you that music was a key ingredient of Walt Disney’s success. Don’t you believe it. Music was the foundation of Walt Disney’s success.” Film historian Leonard Maltin

I can’t be the only ’90s kid who still knows every song on “The Lion King” soundtrack.

Or who once had those “Learn to Play Recorder” books featuring the songs of “The Little Mermaid.” (I played a jazzy rendition of “Under the Sea.”)

There are countless kids today — and parents... and grandparents — who know every word to the “Frozen” soundtrack.

Think back to any Disney movie you grew up with, from “Snow White” to “Mulan,” and I guarantee you still at least parts of the songs.

Because, as we learn in New Bedford resident James Bohn’s new book, music brought Disney films to life.

In “Music in Disney’s Animated Features: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to The Jungle Book,” Bohn writes:

The “composers, songwriters, lyricists and orchestrators who worked on Disney films contributed greatly to the art and function of these pictures. Their work establishes character, relates the narrative, drives the pacing, indicates character motivations, and provides emotional underpinnings. Composers at The Walt Disney Studios function as story men and gag men. They provide as much motion as any animator, as much suspense as any effects animator, and as much color as ink and painters.”

Bohn is a composer is a Faculty Fellow and Music Technology Program Director at Stonehill College and also teaches at Bridgewater State University. He’s also taught at Bristol Community College, UMass-Dartmouth and Rhode Island College.

In his book, the scholar and composer investigates and analyzes the role of music in Disney animations during the studio’s first three decades; from “Steamboat Willie” to “The Jungle Book” (Walt’s last film), Bohn analysis is meticulous: movie by movie, song by song, almost note by note.

To be sure, this book is not for casual fans of the movies — it’s for academics, musicians, composers, or hard-core Disney fans who want to see a melodic analysis of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” or an analysis of form on the score of “Bambi.”

If you fall into that category, you can’t ask for more than what Bohn delivers here. And for music students who have even the slightest inkling of wanting to learn to score for movies, or what makes a soundtrack work, this is a must-read.

Remember that Bohn is a musician, not a historian. So while he research is impeccable, the key to the book is his musical expertise, his ear, examination and original analyses.

For example, in the chapter on “Snow White,” after a well-researched backstory of the film, he brings his own original thoughts to examining each song. In discussing “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” he writes:

“Part of the dreamy quality of the song comes from its emphasis of the dominant, the fifth note of the scale... The prominence of a tone most typically associated with the tension of a Kopfton lends the melody an unresolved nature. This unsettled nature can be interpreted as complementary to the idea of dreams, that is, the anticipation of an as-yet unachieved objective.”