‘Encore,’ on Disney Plus is a bit of a weird show, and it (mostly) works for me. It’s part musical, part reality, part bizarro. The premise – basically a reunion show for high school theater kids who have to re-mount a show they did in their youth, with them reprising the roles they played then. This produces odd reactions – for the most part we get a bunch of middle-aged people trying to recapture youth, as they try to reconcile with what might have beens, and then add to that the pressure of mounting a show in five days. Of course, a lot of them are out of shape, so there is a bit of a struggle there, but by golly you are with them and triumph as they persevere. At times, there seems to be too much going on, and even other times, it feels a bit cruel – as we see them realize that a lot of their dreams have not been fulfilled, and they try to redeem themselves for performance, but you know (and they say) they have to go back to their boring hum drum life. I like the musical parts in different ways, although, it was odd to see a middle aged person play ‘Annie’ int hat red laced costume. When a Hackensack high School reprises ‘Grease.’ we see now a fat and balding Danny Zucko doing a hand jive. The musical nerd in me is satisfied, and there is enough reality drama there. But, some episodes are tough watches, as you can tell their musicalities have faded. but, I like this show quite a lot – I feel invested in all these people, and want them to succeed. I wish they released all in one, so you can binge, instead of releasing them week by week – I am four episodes in and want more, more, more.
‘A Whole New World,’ in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful songs in the Disney canon. It certainly is one of my favorites. I am certainly not alone in thinking this, as it is the one and only Disney theme song that has won the Grammy for ‘Song of the Year.’ Moreover, it has the all the elements of what a perfect songs is for a musical. I always love songs when two people first meet each other, and this song captures that moment precisely, and Tim Rice’s lyrics open up two fold: on one end, it’s a literal (magic carpet) ride akin to a lovers’ ‘first date,’ but at the same time it is also a metaphor to a start of a relationship: it’s a whole new world, we are falling in love. Lea Salonga and Brad Kane sing the song flawlessly, perfectly expressing the exhilaration, the anticipation, the promise of a first romance. I don’t think I am wrong if I declare their version will be listened to long after I am gone. And while the original ‘pop’ version is a lesser, Regina Belle and Peabo Bryson both were able to capture in their own way the essence of a song.
Cut to 2019, and we are about to get a new ‘live action’ version of the movie, directed by Guy Ritchie. I will reserve judgement on the film till I see it, but everything I have seen and heard about it points to an (artistic) failure. And then we get this: the new ‘pop’version of this song, played at the end credits, and sung by Zayn Malik and Zhavia Ward (the old fogey me says ‘who?’ regarding the latter) Malik is completely wrong for the song – his ’emo’ sensibility is the opposite of what the song needs. He sounds sad, moping, detached. He mumbles half of Tim Rice’s lyrics, and when Ward comes in, you barely notice in the difference in their voices – I had to listen in to make sure another person was dueting with him. They have zilch chemistry, and I feel like she was only chosen because their names start with the same letter. And never mind lyric interpretation and sense of character – never for one minute did I sense that the song is about two characters about to fall in love. They sound like they are singing about cat food.
So, no. As afar as I am concerned, this version is an affront to the song’s legacy. No thank you, please.
Whenever someone asks me what my favorite Disney cartoon is, I always say ‘Beauty And The Beast,’ and when asked why, I always say that it is because I think it is the most romantic of all the titles. So of course I have been interested in the ‘live action’ version of it that’s coming up, although really, there’s a part of me that thinks the original must be preserved (and I am not even the biggest animated film fan) But Disney will always be the money hungry Disney, so recycle recycle, recycle!
But, for me anyway, the score is the real star of the film. Alan Menken’s music and Howard Ashman’s words are perfect together, and whenever I hear the title track, I am reminded of the rumour that Ashman wrote that as an AIDS allegory (they say the same thing about ‘Part Of Your World’ from ‘The Little Mermaid’) That core is in perfect hands based on the soundtrack – all the principals sing the songs well, and give textured aural performances. Emma Watson is great as Belle, in ‘Something There,’ and ‘Belle,’ and Emma Thompson gives a wise reading of Mrs. Pott’s version of the title track. Based on this recording, the movie is perfectly cast. The additional songs here, written by Menken with Tim Rice, are fine, although I suspect they will fare better after seeing the movie, which i am, now more than ever, desiring to see.