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Show me a fully functioning human adult who says they don’t have a soft spot for Disney and I’ll show you someone whose rhinoplasty bills would be through the roof if Uncle Walt’s rules applied IRL.
Because if you sweep its checkered history of casual racism, misogyny and shady real world business dealings under the proverbial rug, the Mouse House has been filling our lives with magic and enchantment since a pasty princess first shacked up with seven midgets.
And, like you and I, all of the big-name artists who’ve leant their talents to this new Disney-themed compilation album also love Disney. There’s Fall Out Boy, Ariana Grande, Gwen Stefani, NE-YO, Jessie J, Jason Derulo and loads more.
I love Disney, you love Disney, they love Disney, and the album is actually called We Love Disney. So yeah, what’s not to love?
Sadly, a few things. The biggest problem with this record is that the standard of quality across its 15-song tracklist dithers and dips like a nervously aerodynamic elephant.
It takes flight from track 1 with NE-YO’s rendition of the Aladdin showpiece, Friend Like Me.
Arguably one of Disney’s greatest musical triumphs, the ostentatious Robin Williams-inspirited showstopper is an ambitious choice to kickstart this album.
But rather than attempt to keep pace with Williams’ iconic and arguably inimitable bombast, NE-YO chills it right down, transforming everyone’s favourite Genie jam into a smooth, finger-clicking piano lounge jazz number.
Tunes from Aladdin actually bookend the album, with bonus track A Whole New World – easily the most romantic song ever written about carpet – bringing it home at track 15.
Now, this could have gone cringe-worthily wrong. But thankfully, rather than going down the big, swooning orchestral route, Malaysian singer Yuna gives us a dreamy rendition featuring just naked vocals and a ukulele, turning the (literally) out-of-this-world love power-duet into a charming, whimsical indie gem.
Similar can be said of Tori Kelly’s take on Colours Of The Wind. The US singer-songwriter’s largely acoustic rendition of the soaring Pocahontas ballad almost wrings more emotion from Stephen Schwartz’s heartbreakingly powerful lyrics than the original.
But Disney covers aren’t always better when they’re stripped back. Proof of that lies with Fall Out Boy’s take on The Jungle Book classic, I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song), which is the point where the album touches the sky.
“Jungle Book goes pop-punk” is one of those concepts that sounds utterly monkeynuts in theory, but in practice works so well it’s almost disturbing.
FOB have preserved key elements of the original number, from the gibberish primate backing vocals to King Louie’s random scatting and his hand-flute lead-break (which has wisely been replaced by a guitar solo), and yet, they’ve somehow managed to make this song completely their own.
In the face of its George Of The Jungle style drums and singer Patrick Stump reciting its chimp-themed lyrics with faeces-hurling gusto, a person who’d never seen Disney’s The Jungle Book before could be forgiven for mistaking this song as a FOB original.
We Love Disney is at its best when these classic tunes from the Mikey Mouse songbook are transformed to become more like something you’d hear on the radio today.
The disc’s biggest problem is that, for every song that does this successfully, there are two or three that don’t.
You may be excited, for instance, to hear popstar Jessie J’s take on the The Little Mermaid‘s aching “I Want” ballad, Part Of Your World. Don’t be. The Price Tag hitmaker lazily drapes her own vocals over an arrangement near-identical to the original. And what’s the point in that? We all know that nobody’s voice will ever measure up to Ariel’s IT’S ONE OF THE BIGGEST PLOT POINTS IN THE ENTIRE FREAKING MOVIE FFS.
And as much as it pains me to say it, ditto for Ariana Grande’s Zero To Hero from Disney’s Hercules. While this was apparently a passion project for the young popstar, who hand-picked the song and obviously had a blast recording it, her version is way too similar to the original, without ever quite measuring up.
Especially when compared to those sassy urn ladies. Me-ow.
Perhaps in the hands of a more powerful female vocalist like Bey or Christina this might have worked, but Grande’s sugary sweet bubblegum-pop vocals just don’t hold this one up strong.
The rest of the songs on the album range from moderately enjoyable (Jason Derulo’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight, Jhené Aiko’s In A World Of My Own/Very Good Advice, Charles Perry’s Ev’rybody Wants To Be A Cat) to painfully cutesy (Lucy Hale & Rascall Flatts’ Let It Go, Kacey Musgraves’ A Spoonful Of Sugar) to downright terrifying (the all-in brawl that is It’s A Small World, which – let’s face it – is just a creepy song to begin with).
And let’s talk about Gwen Stefani. Her talents would have actually suited something a bit more theatrical than the norm (I’m thinking Heigh Ho from Snow White or Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo from Cinderella because they both have a bit of that “This shit is bananas” vibe). And don’t tell me she couldn’t have done it. Remember that one time she turned a song from Fidler On The Roof into a really annoying but nonetheless chart-scorching pop hit?
Gurl can appropriate.
But, sadly, she covered The Rainbow Connection , and the results are ironically beige.
But by far the worst malady that We Love Disney suffers from is an overabundance of syrupy, string-drenched token efforts, such as Jessie Ware’s A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes or Brenna Whitaker’s It’s Not Easy Being Green, both of which would have been predictable masterpieces in the hands of someone like Lana Del Rey.
So there’s a lot not to love about We Love Disney.
But look, I can sit here and pile pooh on this disc until Christopher Robin screams bloody murder, but at the end of the day, it’s still Disney.
So if you listen to this album and at least a small part of you doesn’t swell with joy and childlike wonderment, then chances are you’re a cold, handbag-faced socio who likes to murder puppies.
We Love Disney will be released on Friday, October 30th.
Listen: Fall Out Boy – I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)