Walt Disney Records Presents Superstar Hits

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No small part of the reversal of fortune enjoyed by the animated-film division of the Walt Disney company starting in the late 1980s and continuing through the '90s and into the 2000s was the decision to make movie musicals using proven writing and performing talents from the worlds of musical theater and, particularly, adult contemporary pop. The renaissance really started in 1989 with show music writers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's music for The Little Mermaid, which resulted not only in a box-office hit, but also a multi-platinum soundtrack. An important next step occurred with Menken and Ashman's Beauty and the Beast (1991) -- the title song sung by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson -- producing a Top Ten pop hit. The rest was history, and that history is reprised on this disc, which presents the work of pop stars on subsequent Disney animated features including The Lion King (1994; Elton John's "Circle of Life," written by John and show music veteran Tim Rice); Pocahontas (1995; Vanessa Williams' "Colors of the Wind," written by Menken and show music veteran Stephen Schwartz); Mulan (1998; Christina Aguilera's "Reflection," written by Matthew Wilder and show music veteran David Zippel); Tarzan (1999; Phil Collins' "You'll Be in My Heart" and "Strangers Like Me"); and The Emperor's New Groove (2000; Sting's "My Funny Friend & Me"). All of those tracks reached the pop and/or adult contemporary charts, and they are accompanied by the work of such distinguished and venerable pop figures as Lyle Lovett, Sarah McLachlan, Randy Newman, Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and Wynonna. While the likes of John, Collins, and Sting no doubt wrote with a sense of the film characters and plots in mind, for the most part these songs do not seem tied specifically to those elements to the same extent that songs in the average Broadway musical are. Rather, they sound like the same kind of pop/rock these artists write and perform generally. The great exception here is the work of Newman, who has more of a movie background. True, from the first note his songs ("When She Loved Me," "You've Got a Friend in Me," "If I Didn't Have You") sound like Randy Newman songs, but the lyrics also relate to the characters in the films Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and Monsters, Inc., especially "When She Loved Me," in which McLachlan sings touchingly in the voice of a doll abandoned by a little girl who has outgrown her. Still, for anyone unfamiliar with the use of these songs in the films with which they are associated (if there is such a person in existence), this album would sound more like a collection of 1990s to early-2000s adult contemporary/lite-FM rock than anything related to animated children's movies. (Oddly, Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle's "A Whole New World [Aladdin's Theme]" is missing from the collection.)

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