Monday, March 11, 2013

This seen recently on Facebook: "Music in Walt’s Animated Features: From ‘Snow White’ to ‘The Jungle Book’" is a forthcoming book by James Bohn.

I had a chance to interview the author. Here are his answers.

Didier Ghez: What is the exact focus of your book?

James Bohn: The focus is how music functions in the early Disney animated features ('Snow White' to 'The Jungle Book'), as well as the role that music plays in the success of these films.

DG: When and why did you decide to write it?

JB: Two and a half years ago I started teaching a course at Bridgewater State University entitled "The Walt Disney Company and Music."  When I proposed the course, I knew that there was really no suitable book on the topic, so I have been writing chapters for the class to read, and slowly compiling it into a book.  In fact, one of the main reasons I decided to teach the class was that I wanted to write the book.

DG: What type of research did you conduct before writting it?

JB: My background is primarily in Music Theory.  The bulk of my research involves watching the movies and shorts, and analyzing how the music functions in the film.  Some of this analysis involves legitimate music theory, and basic music elements like following leitmotifs in each film.  Some if it involves analyzing the lyrics, and considering how they work to relate the narrative of the movie and how they work to establish character.  It also concerns how the music and visual imagery work together to create an effective whole.

Unfortunately thus far I have not been able to do much research utilizing primary materials at library archives, as Disney would not give me permission to access any such materials until I procured a publisher, and I have only just done so.  I am awaiting word from Disney whether I will be given permission to access scores being held at several different University archives.

I also have not been able to do much primary research regarding interviews, as the individuals involved in making these films are nearly all gone.  I have been able to contact a few descendants of Disney composers, and gleaned some information from them.
DG: What were some of the most astounishing things your learned while writting it?

JB: Astonishing?  Not sure.  One of the things I've enjoyed doing the most is researching early Mickey Mouse novelty songs, and early Disney recordings on 78 rpm records.

DG: Could you open our appetite by mentioning a few things that serious Disney historians will learn while reading your book?

JB: Perhaps the best chapter in the book is the one on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  The major point of the chapter is that Snow White is essentially an animated operetta.  Furthermore, the techniques used to establish this are used and re-used in numerous Disney animated films.

DG: What will be the chapters of the book?

JB: Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies
[focuses on Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse Novelty Songs, The Skeleton Dance, Flowers and Trees, and The Three Little Pigs]
2  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Pinocchio and Fantasia
[note:  my coverage of Fantasia mainly concerns Fantasound and future plans that Walt had for the film]
Dumbo and Bambi
Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan
7  Disney Animated Features from 1955-1961
The Sword in the Stone and The Jungle Book

DG: How long is the book and does it contain any illustrations?

JB: Currently, the book is about 53,000 words.  It will include illustrations.  I am not sure how many.  I believe we may only have a budget for around ten images.  I am currently in the process for applying for copyright clearance for the images.  I am proposing many more than ten.  I am waiting to see what Disney gives me clearance to use, and considering alternate ways to increase the budget for images in the book.


James Bohn said...

Thanks for posting this Didier! Those who are interested in following the progress of the book can check out . . .

Anonymous said...

Here's hoping it has as much, if not more, to do with the scores than the songs alone. Looking forward to more info on Oliver Wallace and Paul J. Smith than I've already gathered.