While I continue to watch the new Happily Ever After fireworks show on YouTube (as I anxiously await my next trip to Disney), my favorite scene continues to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame scene. More specifically, the song “Out There.”
This is a perfect example of an “I Want” song- a song where the main character of the movie expresses their heart’s desire. It’s their reason and motivation for pushing the story along. “Out There” is Quasimodo’s way of telling the audience how much he wants to leave his bell tower and be looked upon as a normal human being, even if just for a day. We can see, through song, that he has a sweet and kind nature underneath his “monstrous” exterior.
What makes Disney musicals different from other films is that they give these main characters “I Want” songs- it’s a fun way to introduce the character and give the viewer a basic idea of their personality. It is soon after this song that the character is either forced into action, or that they themselves make the choice to go into action, thereby moving the story forward.
Here a few of my favorite “I Want” songs:
- “Part of That World” from The Little Mermaid
We learn before this song that Ariel likes collecting human stuff- I mean, she almost gets eaten by a shark while retrieving a fork from a sunken ship- but in this song we learn just how much she desires to see the human world. She has a lot of forces driving her- she doesn’t feel like she belongs under the sea, she has a father who doesn’t understand her, and she just has this great, burning curiosity for humans and their way of life.
And, I have to add, this is all before she even lays eyes on Prince Eric for the first time; therefore, any feminist who claims Ariel gives up everything for a man, is mistaken. Sure, Prince Eric was a means to an end, but ultimately it was her father destroying all of her precious treasures that drives her to follow Flotsam and Jetsom and seek out the sea witch Ursula. Sure, there’s a bit of teenage rebellion involved in this decision, but the fact that she makes this choice based on her wants and desires sets her apart from previous Disney princesses, like Snow White and Aurora, who usually just went along with whatever they were told.
- “Reflection” from Mulan
This is another song about a protagonist who feels out of place within her home. She’s expected to make a perfect bride and bring her family honor, but that’s just not who she is. She doesn’t necessarily want to be a warrior, and she doesn’t necessarily want freedom, but she does want to make her family proud in a way that doesn’t sacrifice who she is on the inside. Eventually, she makes the choice to take her father’s place in the army, thus saving his life, but it is this song that lets us know what’s truly in her heart (oddly enough, the finale song of this movie is “True to Your Heart”).
- “Go The Distance” from Hercules
This is another song that plays a big role in Happily Ever After, and a song which also surrounds the theme of a character feeling like an outcast. In this case, Hercules doesn’t just want to find out where he belongs, he wants to be celebrated- he dreams of cheering crowds and warm welcomes. Little does he know that he’s actually a God, which makes this song even more poignant. At this point of the movie, he thinks he’s just a normal guy, albeit one who wants to make a difference, to “go the distance.” He dreams of a hero’s welcome, and that’s what he sets out to achieve by going to the temple of Zeus. An actual God would probably just take all this “hero” business for granted.
- “When Will My Life Begin?” from Tangled
In this scene, and through the lyrics, we learn about Rapunzel’s everyday life, and that even through her positive outlook (and the alarming speed at which she finishes her chores- all before 8 in the morning!), she knows there is something missing. She wants to see these mysterious lights, but she’s unable (and at this point, a little unwilling) to leave the safety of her tower. It isn’t until she realizes that she can take on “ruffians” like Flynn Rider that she tries to convince Mother Gothel to let her outside, and when her request is denied, she actively decides to take the leap and leave her tower. She’s determined to see these floating lights, and so are we.
- “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana
The first song in Moana establishes the culture of the local village and Moana’s desire to see the ocean, but at the end of that opening scene, it seems as though she’s accepted her role to stay and act as village chief- after all, “you can find happiness right where you are.” However, she quickly realizes that in order to save her island from starvation, she must go “beyond the reef,” which, like Ariel with the leaving the ocean, her father doesn’t allow. He wants her to stay, and she has conflicting desires. She loves her people, yet she also loves the sea. She knows that if she leaves, there’s no telling how far she’d make it, or if she’d even come back.
We get this awesome song that puts these conflicting desires into words, and even though her “want” is established in the opening number, this song is the beginning of her decision to act on that want.
I hope all this made sense! Other good examples of “I Want” songs are “Belle (Reprise),” “Just Around the Riverbend,” and “Almost There.” It’s hard picking favorites!
Hugs and Fishes,