The Screwball Case of ZAZ Parodies With Moxie

Today we have a very special guest! She hosts the awesome podcast, Your Brain on Facts. Please welcome Moxie LaBouche! 


We want to thank Moxie for coming up with today’s topic, screwball comedy parodies (specifically of the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker variety.)

What makes a screwball comedy? Well, to get technical, screwball comedies began as a sub-genre of romantic comedy in the 1930’s. They were known as satire of the traditional love story and included classics like, “It Happened One Night” and “Bringing Up Baby.” The term has become a little more broad over time, and movies that we consider to be screwball comedies today might not focus specifically on a love story, but have elements that still turn the classic romance on its head. 

[Bonus fact: “It Happened One Night” shaped the character of Bugs Bunny.  Bugs’ mannerisms were partially inspired by a scene where Clark Gable’s fast-talking character snacks on carrots while leaning on a fence.  Tangent bonus: Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, hated carrots, but had to bite into and chew them during recordings.  He spat them out the instant he could.]

The movies we will talk about today are a great mix of screwball, parody, and satire. We picked a few films from the 80’s and 90’s, a time when parody film was at its peak. Two of them star Leslie Neilsen, a man that became synonymous with farce. But before we begin, let’s talk a little about the history of film parody and where these movies might’ve pulled their influence!The Case of the Film Parody 


The Great Train Robbery (1903)

  • Parody (or spoof) film is a genre of comedy that comically imitates another genre of film or specific films. 
    • The first known film that we now refer to as a spoof was the 1905 12 minute short film called The Little Train Robbery. 
      • It parodied the 1903’s The Great Train Robbery, a Thomas Edison production and a groundbreaking early film.
      • The music for the Little Train Robbery is more jovial, to give it an obvious cue that it was a spoof and not serious.
        • It was directed by Edwin Porter at Edison Studios and contained an all child cast. The short was meant to be a funny little take on outlaws robbing a locomotive.

The Little Train Robbery (1905) One of the first known spoofs.

  • Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator
    • For the next few decades, parody films were a common part of the comedy genre with entries like: The Mystery of the Leaping Fish(1916.) This was a Sherlock Holmes parody that focused on the detective’s drug addiction.
    • Charlie Chaplin’s first talkie, The Great Dictator, was a funny yet powerful critique of the Nazi regime. This film showed that parody films could cross the threshold into talking pictures, and it made audiences and critics take notice of how the genre could be used for social commentary
  • The Three Stooges
    • Although the Three Stooges are known mostly for slapstick, they used their shorts for parody as well. They actually spoofed Hitler before Charlie Chaplin! 
    • Both Chaplin and the Three Stooges’ spoofs showed the social impact that these movies can have.
    • The Stooges have had influences in many comedic films since, including the Naked Gun which we will talk about today! Their shorts also featured classic bits, puns, and visual gags similar to ones in Airplane, The Naked Gun, and Hot Shots!
  • [Bonus fact: Curly Howard was an avid dog-lover and regularly rescued dogs in the middle of filming days, bringing them onto the set with him–dogs he just met five minutes ago.]
    • The Marx Brothers
      • The Marx Brothers were known for humor that was intelligent and character driven, but they were also no strangers to visual gags!
      • In 1946 they spoofed wartime dramas with “A Night in Casablanca,” and of course their masterpiece “Duck Soup” was also an influential entry to the satire and parody genres [I have soooo many facts about the Marx Brothers.]
    • Carry On series 
      • One of the longest running and most successful series of parody films is the Carry On series from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.
      • This set of 31 British films were low-budget and often used common comedy tropes and slapstick humor.
      • They hold an important place in the history of parody because at their peak in the 1960s, they proved that the general public had an appetite for parody filmmaking. 
      • These films made fun of everything from the James Bond series, to the Elizabeth Taylor epic film Cleopatra. 
      • They had a low budget and never starred big names in acting, though there was a general troupe of actors that resurfaced in the movies. 
        • This is a common practice with comedy films in general! Think about Monty Python and National Lampoon, and the fact that so many spoof movies had Leslie Neilsen! 
    • In the 1970’s, audiences took even more notice of parody with the arrival of filmmaker Mel Brooks. Movies like Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles showed that audiences would flock to see expertly acted films with clever screenplays, no matter how ridiculous the subject matter. These movies were silly–sure–but they were also respectable and sometimes lampooned taboo topics like racism and sexism. 
    • But in 1980, a disaster parody took flight and soared into the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. It launched the comedic career of Leslie Neilsen and is considered to be one of the most quotable movies of all time. “Airplane!” performed an incredible feat–it transcended a subgenre of comedy and is considered by all counts a classic film in general. 

Comparison between Zero Hour! and Airplane!


  • Summary
    • When the passengers and crew board an airplane, they are incapacitated due to food poisoning. A former fighter pilot with a fear of flying and a drinking problem must land the plane with the help of a stewardess who also happens to be his ex. 
  • Although Airplane is a parody of the disaster movie genre as a whole, it’s specifically a parody of Zero Hour! (1957)
    • The team: Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker had worked together on “Kentucky Fried Movie” in 1977, which had several sketches parodying disaster and kung fu movies. It was based on a live show called, “Kentucky Fried Theater.” 
      • The story goes: while they were researching material for their show, they stumbled upon Zero Hour! and found it to be unintentionally hilarious
    • As audiences would soon realize, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker had a special kind of style. Instead of actors constantly doing and saying funny things, their films had actors performing mundane tasks while the world fell apart around them. 
  • Although assured that it would be legally ok to parody the film, ZAZ (Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker) wanted to make sure. In order to completely avoid a lawsuit they bought the remake rights for just $2500.
    • A lot of the basic plot dialogue is the same between the two movies.
    • One major difference, however, is that in Zero Hour he was chasing his son and estranged wife. In Airplane he follows his girlfriend.  
  • Airplane is what really skyrocketed Leslie Nielsen into comedic roles and sent him into The Naked Gun Series and more.
    • By the time he acted in Airplane, Nielsen had about 25 years of acting under his belt. But, this was indeed the first time he was cast in a comedy! 
    • Nielsen had been acting since the 1950’s and even appeared in the type of movies that Airplane! poked fun at. He appeared as a Captain in The Poseidon Adventure, a notable disaster movie, and he was known to play dramatic parts. So in a sense, he parodied himself! 
    • He continued to play both dramatic and comedic roles until the end of the 1980’s when he made the full switch to comedy. He was known for his expert timing and dry delivery.
    • In a tribute to Nielsen, David Zucker said “Offscreen, he wasn’t so much of a joke or storyteller but a chronic prankster. The stories are legend about the fart machine, which he kept hidden and sprang on any hapless stranger who approached him. He used it on set, on talk shows, anywhere he could find a victim. One time, at a press junket in Charlotte, I remember watching Leslie let loose with the device on a crowded elevator, the other occupants squirming up against the walls in an effort to distance themselves. And just like the scenes we put him in, he never broke character, never let on that he knew he was being funny.”
  • This movie had such a cultural significance that in 2010 it was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. 
  • The movie starred: 
    • Leslie Nielsen/ Dr. Rumack
    • Julie Hagerty/ Elaine Dickinson
    • Robert Hays/ Ted Striker
    • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/ Roger Murdock
    • Lloyd Bridges/ Steve McCroskey
    • Peter Graves/ Captain Clarence Oveur 
    • Robert Stack/ Captain Rex Kramer


  • Based on Police Squad, a short-lived TV series in 1982 which was done by the ZAZ Team.
    • The series only lasted 6 episodes and then was cancelled. Even though it was short lived it was nominated for 2 Emmy Awards. The year of the show is referenced in the movie when Drebin takes a jar of mayonnaise out of the fridge and it has an expiration date of June 1982.
    • The Naked Gun movie was a way to continue the series in a way. Leslie Nielsen comes back as the detective Frank Drebin.
      • Although originally they wanted to call the movie Police Squad, it was determined that the name too closely resembled another popular funny cop movie named Police Academy. Naked Gun was chosen out of about 20 names because they said it “promised so much more than it could possibly deliver.”
    • Summary
      • After the attempted murder of his fellow officer, Lietenant Frank Drebin must find out who was behind this attrocity. While trying to uncover who the attackers are he becomes suspicious of a well known businessman Vincent Ludwig. Ludwig, who is revealed to be a criminal mastermind, is planning to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II while she is set to visit Los Angeles, California. 
        • This makes it particularly amusing that in 2005 Leslie Nielsen performed in front of 13,000 people at the Saskatchewan Centennial Gala in Canada with Queen Elizabeth II in attendance. 
    • The movie, while written by the ZAZ team, was only directed by David Zuckerman. When asked about Nielsen’s acting he said that “There was no improvising on set. He (Nielsen) knew where the joke was and knew better than to mess with the style, try to wink or be funny. He absolutely trusted me and never tried to gild the lily. We purposely used straight actors in all roles and the humour came from behind the camera.”
    • This was the only film in the series where the current President of the time was not impersonated.
    • Spoilers, but this was one of three movies from 1988 that featured a steam roller running over the villain. The others were Who Framed Roger Rabbit and A Fish Called Wanda.
    • When Nielsen passed away in 2010 at 84 the Naked Gun theme song was played at his funeral where he was laid to rest in Fort Lauderdale.
    • [His headstone reads “Let ‘er rip!”  And yes, it’s a fart joke.  Other famous funny people who got the last word in include Jack Lemmon, whose marker merely says “Jack Lemmon in,” Rodney Dangerfield – “There goes the neighborhood,” and Irish comedian Spike Milligan – “I told you I was ill.”]
    • Starring
      • Leslie Nielsen/ Frank Drebin
      • Priscilla Presley/ Jane Spencer
      • OJ Simpson/ Nordberg
        • Susan Beaubian, who played his wife in this movie, would go on to star in the first installment of FX’s series American Crime Story from 2016 entitled The People v. O.J. Simpson. 
      • George Kennedy/ Captain Ed Hocken
      • Ricardo Montalbán/ Vincent Ludwig 
        • He was chosen for this role specifically because of how well he did as the villain in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan from 1982.
      • Nancy March/ The Mayor
      • Jeannette Charles/ Queen Elizabeth II
        • She had been an impersonator of the Queen since 1971.
      • Weird Al Yankovic as himself
        • When the ZAZ team found out that Weird Al was obsessed with Police Squad they wrote a special scene just for him. While the movie was in theaters Al would bring dates with him to see it without revealing that he was in it. They would promptly freak out.
        • [Yankovic appeared in all three of the Naked Gun Films as himself in the first and third and as “police station thug” in the second movie.  Weird Al also sang the title song for Spy Hard which starred Leslie Nielsen.]


  • Before we get into our last movie, we want to quickly mention one more production by the Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker team. Although their style of comedy is considered ground-breaking, the team did not continue making movies long after Airplane!
    • Top Secret! 
      • Top Secret! was written and directed by the same ZAZ team behind Airplane! But the trio went their separate ways after this movie.
      • It was a spoof of WWII spy movies and the Elvis films of the 1950’s and 60’s. 
        • Elvis movies were referenced in the animated film Coco and spoofed by the 1960’s musical, “Bye Bye Birdie.” 
      • The film stars Val Kilmer as Nick Rivers, a rockstar that falls in love with a woman while performing in Germany and unwittingly becomes part of the French Resistance.
      • [The songs that Val Kilmer sings in the film are actually performed by Kilmer himself and were featured on the film’s soundtrack released in 1984 under Kilmer’s character’s name Nick Rivers.]
      • Although it made over 20 million dollars (twice it’s budget) the film was considered a flop and is a much lesser-known film in comparison to Airplane! and The Naked Gun. Roger Ebert said that the movie was vastly underrated. 
      • [In the restaurant scene, when Hillary places an order with the waiter in apparent German, she’s actually speaking in Yiddish for, roughly, “Go bash your head in.”  The waiter’s line translates to  the Yiddish curse “go take a s**t in the ocean”.]

HOT SHOTS (1991)

  • Hot Shots was the first solo director role for Jim Abrahams. It was co-written by Pat Proft who also penned the screenplay for Police Academy (and apparently the Star Wars Christmas special.) 
  • Hot Shots was able to take advantage of the now well established genre of the movie parody, and according to Den of Geek, the Hot Shots movies were the last great spoofs.
  • Summary
    • The story follows Topper Harley, a former pilot who left the air force because he couldn’t handle the pressure of living in his father’s shadow. But, the US brings him back for one last mission: to destroy Iraqi nuclear facilities. Among these challenges he must also face a rival pilot played by Carey Elwes. 
    • The movie was filmed during the gulf war, which reportedly made the cast and crew a little uneasy. Charlie Sheen reportedly said it was strange to be wearing a wardrobe that resembled what he was seeing on the covers of newspapers.
  • When taking a look at the cover it is overt that this movie is a parody of Top Gun.
    • While movies like Top Gun are allowed to use actual ships for filming, Hot Shots had to be inventive in order to make it look like  they were on a ship. An example of this is that they used a parking lot on a piece of land over a body of low water located in an old marine park in Palos Verdes, California. 
      • The cinematographer shot the boat at an angle to make it appear as if it were sitting on the water.
      • Another example of this is that there were many aircraft scenes taken and used from the 1991 movie Flight of the Intruder.
  • The character of Admiral Benson was originally offered to the one and only Leslie Nielsen but he reportedly told Abrahams that “I think I’ve done enough spoof movies with you.” The role was then given to Lloyd Bridges who had starred alongside Nielsen in Airplane! 
    • You remember, he was the man who picked the wrong week to quit smoking!
  • The film also parodies Dances With Wolves, which Abrahams saw while they were shooting. He came back to set and scrapped another prologue scene for one with Sheen living with Native Americans under the name, “Fluffy Bunny Feet” 
  • In the credits the laughs continue as Abrahams includes an unfinished brownie recipe and also suggestions on what to do after the movie. The suggestions are a nod to when the ZAZ team wrote for The Kentucky Fried Movie which also had suggestions on what to do after the movie.
  • Starring
    • Valeria Golino as Scarlett O’Hara, Lois Lane, and Ramada Thompson
    • Charlie Sheen as Superman, Rhett Butler, Lt. Sean Topper Harley
    • Lloyd Bridges as Admiral Thomas ‘Tug’ Benson
    • Cary Elwes as Lt. Kent Gregory
    • John Cryer as Jim ‘Wash Out’ Pfaffenbach
    • Ryan Stiles as ‘Mailman’ Farnham
    • Pat Proft as Lawrence Lipps and he also helped write the screenplay as well
  • Charlie Sheen, John Cryer, and Ryan Stiles would all be a part of the CBS show Two and a Half Men in 2003.
  • A reviewer named Widgett Walls said “Well, it’s not Airplane! but precious little is.”
  • On the set of Hot Shots! Jim Abrahams told Entertainment Weekly about his former collaborators: “I’m genuinely proud that we managed to go 20 years together and there were never any blowouts or drug rehabilitations. I count them among my best friends.” 
  • The writers, director, and cast all returned for Hot Shots Part Deux. While researching the movies it became very clear that many people prefer the second film! Maybe we should include it if we ever do a sequel to our sequels episode 😉 


  • Spy Hard (1996) which also starred Leslie Nielsen was written in part by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Since then they have done more parody movies. Do you remember them or like them? Probably not, because while most at least made their money back they pretty much are forgotten with only about 1 star reviews on IMDB.
    • Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, and Vampires Suck.
  • The Wayans Movies
    • The Wayans family is a comedy dynasty. Ever since Keenan Wayans created In Living Color, which starred other members of the family, the Wayans have made a lasting mark on the parody genre. 
    • Two of their most successful spoofs are: Don’t be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, and I’m Gonna Get You Sucka.
      • These films lampooned a series of Black coming-of-age films that take place in “the hood,” such as: Boyz n the Hood, South Central, and Menace to Society.
    • The Scary Movie Franchise is possibly their most prominent collection of movies in the mainstream. However, the Wayans family has also produced films like Dance Flick, A Haunted House, Fifty Shades of Black, and Blankman
  • Who is today’s equivalent to Leslie Neilson? 
    • Will Ferrell
      • Blades of Glory
      • Eurovision
    • Mike Meyers
      • Austin Powers
      • The Love Guru 

Judd Apatow is largely credited with giving new life to the R-rated comedy genre in the 21st century thanks to critical and commercial hits “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” But even though Apatow has found mainstream success with his films, he’s still very aware of just how far the comedy genre has fallen in Hollywood.  He believes the major studios are no longer “smart enough and funny enough” to make the kind of comedies that were once guaranteed blockbusters, such as Paramount Pictures’ “Airplane!”  Apatow explains:

“After the last writers’ strike, it felt like the studios decided not to develop movies. They used to buy a lot of scripts, and they had big teams of people giving notes, and they worked for years with people in collaboration on those scripts. I feel like the studios don’t buy as many scripts now. It used to be you’d open up Variety, and you’d see a movie studio had just bought a big high-concept comedy. Now it seems like they’d rather things come in packaged: a script, a cast, a director. As a result, a lot of great comedy writers are going to television instead of sitting at home and trying to write a script for a film, write the way I was.”

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The Case of Space Jam

In the 1990’s, there was no bigger star than Michael Jordan. He was everywhere and on everything. He was a hero, a God amongst men, “the greatest basketball player of all time.” Mix that with the iconic image of Bugs Bunny, a killer soundtrack, and state-of-the-art special effects, and you have the highest grossing basketball movie of all time: Space Jam!

Almost 25 years later, Space Jam is still somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. Young adults still wear jerseys from the movie, and parts of the soundtrack are still remixed by fans. Some think the movie was a defining moment of their childhood, while others see it as a mediocre cash grab. Today, we’ve got a real jam goin’ now as we look at the history of this Hollywood slam-dunk!


  • Though still popular today, there was a time when Bugs Bunny was the biggest cartoon character in the world. He was the second animated character to earn a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, and was voted to be America’s 2nd favorite character (real or imaginary) in 1976. He lost to Abraham Lincoln. 
    • Bugs started appearing in films in the late 1930’s, but it wasn’t until 1940 in a film called, “A Wild Hare” did the world meet Bugs Bunny in his full form. Although the idea of a rabbit character originally came from animator Ben “Bugs” Hardaway; Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, and Tex Avery are credited with giving Bugs his “wise-ass” personality. 
    • Avery was quoted saying, “His opening line was, ‘What’s up, Doc? …It floored ’em! …Here’s a guy with a gun in his face! …They expected the rabbit to scream, or anything but make a casual remark… It got such a laugh that we said, ‘Let’s use that every chance we get.’ It became a series of ‘What’s up, Docs?’ That set his entire character, He was always in command, in the face of all types of dangers.”
  • The final touch for Bugs was Mel Blanc’s voice which gave Bugs his trademark street-smart attitude. When animator Ben “Bugs” Hardaway showed Blanc the new drawing, Bugs reportedly said, “A tough little stinker, isn’t he?” Which suddenly gave Blanc the idea of a Brooklyn accent. 
  • After gaining a lot of popularity from his first starring film, producer Leon Schlesinger wanted to give the new rabbit character a name. The studio almost settled on “Happy Rabbit” while Tex Avery wants to name him “Jack E Rabbit.” 
    • A year earlier when Bugs Hardaway conceived the idea of a rabbit character, cartoonist Charlie Thorson drew up the original design and labeled it “Bugs’ Bunny.” While choosing a name, the drawing resurfaced and Schlesinger chose “Bugs Bunny.” Avery was angry because he thought bunny was too “sissy” for the character, but the name stuck.
  • Over the course of the next 50 years, the Looney Tunes went through many changes but maintained their place in American culture. Although compilations of their short films made it to the big screen, the characters never got the full-length Hollywood treatment. That was of course until 1996 with the premiere of Space Jam.
  • The only other full-length film made for the characters was “Looney Tunes Back in Action” seven years later.


  • Over the course of his career with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan led the team to 6 championships! Three of them were before he took a season off to play minor league baseball in the 1993-1994 season.
  • In the early 90’s, Michael Jordan was possibly the biggest star in America. He was loved by basketball fans and non-basketball fans alike. He had brand deals, and merchandise; all that was missing was a major movie. 
    • In 1995, the movie Hercules even parodied Michael Jordan’s megastar status in “Zero to Hero.” Pain and Panic are comically sporting Hercules’ sandals and soft drink, much like Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan sneaker and Gatorade endorsement.
  • Throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s, Michael Jordan and his manager David Falk were often approached for movie roles. Falk always turned them down simply because Michael Jordan wasn’t an actor, and he didn’t think it would be good for his career. He often would tell Jordan that there’s only one role for him: the role of Michael Jordan.
  • Michael Jordan would play himself in commercials, including a commercial that paired him with Mars Blackmon, played by Spike Lee.  One of these commercials can be watched in the video above.
    • The campaign was incredibly successful. It showed Spike Lee’s character from his debut film, “She’s Gotta Have it” as a foil to Michael Jordan. One of the minds behind the ad was Jim Riswold, who wanted to make a similar ad with one of this favorite characters of all time: Bugs Bunny.
  • Hare Jordan took about 6 months to shoot and was an incredibly popular Super Bowl ad. It featured Bugs and Jordan teaming up to face a group of baddies on the basketball court. It ends with Bugs quipping that “this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” He was right! There was another Hare Jordan commercial soon after, and Jordan’s manager thought of a feature film that he just couldn’t turn down. 


  • Space Jam introduces us to Swackhammer, owner of the amusement park planet, Moron Mountain. He is desperate to get new attractions and he decides that the Looney Tune characters would be perfect. He sends his underlings, the Nerdlucks, to bring them to him, whether they come willingly or not. Bugs Bunny and the gang tricks them into agreeing to a competition to determine toons’ freedom. Taking advantage of their puny and stubby legged foes, they select basketball for the surest chance of winning. However, using alien technology, the Nerdlucks turn the tables and steal the talent of leading professional basketball stars to become the massive basketball bruisers known as the Monstars. In desperation, Bugs Bunny calls on the aid of the recently retired Michael Jordan, to help give them a chance at winning their freedom.


  • You may find this hard to believe, but not everyone thought this was a great idea in the beginning. When David Falk pitched the idea to Warner Brothers, they turned it down. He then called the consumer products division and told Dan Romanelli who said, “that’s impossible, how can you not do something with Michael Jordan?” 
    • The reasoning was fair. Bugs Bunny is a valuable part of their brand and they didn’t want to change him or use him unless there was a very good reason.
    • Romanelli brought the idea to Lucy Fisher, the executive vice president of production, and she believed in the idea enough to fight for it. Her argument for the film was based on the fact that she herself was not a basketball fan, but a Michael Jordan fan. She knew that a film like this could bring in viewers whether they liked basketball or not. Her enthusiasm was enough to get the film green-lit by the chief executive. 
  • Ivan Reitman signed on to produce the film, and his team developed the idea of Michael Jordan helping the Looney Tunes characters win a basketball game.
    • Reitman is known for producing big comedies like National Lampoon’s, Animal House, and Ghostbusters.
  • The studio brought in Joe Pytka, the man who directed the two Hare Jordan commercials. He was known for directing commercials and music videos, and initially he turned down the job of the commercials. He thought that Bugs Bunny was too out-dated, and his team fought with Warner Brothers for months about updating the character’s design. Although he admits now that he thought Space Jam was a silly idea, he agreed to work on the film. 
    • Pytka faced a lot of hurdles with the film, for example he wanted Spike Lee to refine the script for him but Warner Brothers said no. According to Pytka, He also wanted to cast Michael J Fox or Chevy Chase as Stanley, Jordan’s publicist, but the studio said no. Other sources say that Jason Alexander also turned down the role. 
    • Beyond that, he had a difficult time finding actors for the more minor roles because it seemed that no one wanted to be in a movie with an athlete and a cartoon character. 
  • Just as the movie was getting started, Jordan announced his retirement and plans to play baseball. Although this seemed to be a complication, the producers decided to write it into the script. It became a plot point, and the film seemed to explain Michael’s retirement: he had to stop what he was doing and save the Looney Tunes! 
    • The script had a scene where the umpire would call all the pitches balls when Jordan was at the plate. When Jordan read this, he told them that something similar actually happened to him–that a catcher gave him all the signs and he struck out anyway. 
      • They rewrote the scene to be lifted from his actual experience as a baseball player. 
    • While filming, Michael Jordan also needed to train for his comeback season to the Bulls. Warner Brothers built him a gym as part of his contract. He would practice in between shoots and brought in players from the area to come play games with him. He would even play one-on-one with the director. Actors from the studio gathered around to watch his games, and producers were blown away by his dedication. They called the gym, “The Jordan Dome.” 
  • The biggest challenge of the movie was the mixture of live-action and animation. It had been done before a few years earlier in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” but even Robert Zemeckis told producers that it was the hardest thing he had ever done and that he would never do it again. 
  • Animation and computer graphics aside, Pytka had to take a non-actor leading man and get him to react to pieces of tape on a green wall for most of the film’s runtime. This would be a challenge for any actor, much less someone who has never acted before.
    • So, the studio brought in a group of comedic actors from The Groundlings acting troupe and dressed them in green suits, including some 7-foot-tall basketball players acting as the Monstars. 


  • According to its website, Space Jam combined more traditional animation, computer graphics, and live action than any other film.
  • Although combining live action and animation dates back to the very first animated films (like humorous phases of funny faces and Gertie the Dinosaur), “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was the first full-length feature to do it.
  • The animation was produced through Warner Brothers Feature Animation and directed by Bruce Smith and Tony Cervone. The effects were produced by Cinesite, the company founded by Ed Jones. Jones won an Oscar for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. 
    • Tony Cervone was quoted on the Space Jam website saying, “Roger Rabbit was the vinyl LP and [Space Jam] is the compact disc.” 
  • The film used traditional animation that was then colored using the computer, and the live action footage was also put in the computer, along with any 3D aspects of the film. Because all of it could be put together in the digital space, each individual piece was modified in brightness, color, and texture so it all fit together seamlessly. 
  • Warner Brothers recruited other studios of artists to help them with the traditional parts of the animation. For the crowd during the basketball game, it was impossible to create as many cartoon characters as they needed. At first, they started to duplicate characters and change their colors. When that wasn’t enough, they would have real people stand in with animated heads and brightly colored outfits. This way they could change the model of each one so they all appeared different for the scene. 
  • In order to track all of Michael Jordan’s sweet sweet moves on the court they filmed in a completely green walled and floored room except the hoop and backboard. The only other thing in there was a definite pattern of red balls and dots formed into a square grid. 
  • At times, the green actors would pass in front of Michael while he played. This wasn’t an issue at first as they wanted to capture the spontaneity of Jordan’s movements. After watching the film, they realized that Michael would disappear when that happened. So, they would add animated characters to those scenes to hide the problems.
  • Animators were also on set to watch the green screen action. When scenes were improvised with Bill Murray and Michael Jordan, they would print out a still of the scene and draw in where the animation would be placed for reference. 
  • The animators stored Michael Jordan’s digital image in the computer, making it possible to manipulate him just as much as the animated characters for certain scenes. They used this for the scene in which he gets sucked down the golf hole, and when he’s smashed into a basketball and thrown through a hoop. 


  • Voice actors
    • The voice actors were all recorded separately. This was partly because a lot of them played more than one character!
      • It took teams of voice actors to get the voices of all the characters that Mel Blanc had voiced in his career.
      • Kath Soucie/ Lola Bunny
      • Billy West/ Bugs Bunny/ Elmer Fudd
      • Bill Farmer/ Foghorn Leghorn/ Yosemite Sam/ Sylvester
      • Bob Bergen/ Tweety/ Marvin the Martian/ Porky Pig
      • Danny Devito/ Swackhammer
      • Dee Bradley Baker/ Daffy Duck/ Tazmanian Devil
      • Frank Welker/ Charlie Dog
        • The dog was just too sweet in real life that they needed a voice actor to make him sound meaner.
      • June Foray/ Granny/ Witch Hazel
        • A quick guest appearance but in the commentary on the DVD they praised her a lot. Calling her a legend and saying they were in love with her! She was at the time doing voices for the Rocky and Bullwinkle movie.
      • Maurice LeMarche/ Pepe Le Pew
      • Voices of the Nerdlucks and their Monstar counterparts
        • Colleen Wainwright, TK Carter, Jocelyn Blue,Darnell Suttles, Charity James, Steve Kehala, June Melby, Joey Camen, Catherine Reitman, and Dorian Harewood
    • Live action actors
      • Michael Jordan
      • Brandon Hammond as young Michael Jordan
      • The Basketball players that have their talent stolen;
        • Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bogues. 
      • Larry Bird
      • Theresa Randle as Juanita Jordan
      • Penny Bae Bridges, Manner Washington, and Eric Gordon play Michael’s children
      • Bill Murray
        • Bill Murray had only been contracted to be in the golf scene but when he shot that scene he had such a good time and was able to be his spontaneous self with the new technology. He was always afraid to do too much with technology because it was harder to go off script. This new technology helped him agree to be in more of the film.
      • Special appearances
        • Dan Castellaneta/ male fan
          • He is the voice of Homer Simpson
        • Patricia Heaton/ female fan
      • Wayne McKnight as Stanley Podolak


  • James Newton Howard wrote the score. 
  • Alongside the film, an additional album was released called Space Jam: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture. 
    • The soundtrack was released by Warner Sunset and Atlantic Records. 
    • The worldwide hit “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly was first released on the soundtrack.
  • Track list: 
    • Fly Like an Eagle
    • The Winner
    • Space Jam
    • Hit ‘Em High
    • I Found My Smile Again
    • For You I Will
    • Upside Down
    • Givin’ U All That I’ve Got
    • Basketball Jones
    • I Turn to You
    • All of My Days
    • That’s the Way
    • Buggin’


  • The movie was panned by critics, except for one notable name: Roger Ebert. He said, “‘Space Jam’” is a happy marriage of good ideas–three films for the price of one, giving us a comic treatment of the career adventures of Michael Jordan, crossed with a Looney Tunes cartoon and some showbiz warfare. It entertains kids at one level while giving their parents a lot to smile at, too.
  • In recent years critics have blamed the lasting popularity of the movie on nostalgia.
  • The film made 230 million dollars worldwide and 90 million domestically. It created a billion dollars worth of retail sales, and a sequel is now in development. So, if you look at popular opinion, this movie was and is, the JAM.


  • What we know
    • Space Jam 2: A New Legacy
      • To be released in the Summer of 2021; it is set to star LeBron James with music by Hans Zimmer. Supposedly all the live action sequences have been shot which is why the release date has not been set back.
      • Malcolm D. Lee, known for the movie Girls Trip, is Directing. 
      • Alongside LeBron will be Sonequa Martin-Green (she has starred on things like Star Trek into Darkness and The Walking Dead) as his wife.
      • And Don Cheadle as the villain!
      • Not many basketball players have been revealed yet but the ones listed online are Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. There have been rumors that Kobe Bryant may be in it but nothing has been confirmed.
      • The voice actors listed are Kath Soucie and Eric Bauza.


The Case of The Natural

Hey Cassettes and welcome back to The Black Case Diaries! We are three old friends learning as much as we can about movies and TV and hopefully teaching others in the process.                 


Happy July! Robin likes to refer to this month as the Saturday of summer! Summer means a lot of things: swimming, campfires, lightning bugs, and for some of us, baseball! Sure, baseball begins in the Spring, but by summer it’s in full swing. So today we are going to celebrate America’s Pastime by covering one of the most successful classic baseball films: The Natural. 

Before we launch into the movie, let’s talk a little about baseball and how it is represented in pop culture. In recent years, it is safe to say that Baseball is America’s Pastime in name alone, but it is not the financial juggernaut it used to be. Many people find baseball tedious and boring, as it lacks the physical action of contact sports. It also isn’t ruled by time, meaning that games can last much longer than crowds expect. 

Despite this, baseball seems to thrive in the American imagination. It’s a game tied up in history, realism, romance, and myth. According to Ron Fimrite in a 1984 Sports Illustrated article, there wasn’t a baseball film yet to capture this strange combination. Since The Natural pulled from real life stories and mythology, many hoped that it would be the film to truly represent baseball in all its glory. 

The First Baseball Movie

  • In 1898 Thomas Edison produced “The Game.” It is a silent short film that lasts about 28 seconds and was filmed behind the Home Plate. It showed an ongoing game between two new teams from Newark, New York. In it the pitcher has just let a player walk to first base. He gets ready to head to second as the next batter hits the first ball thrown to him for a double. The first baseman just misses getting him out. A man in the coaching area yells, the umpire runs to make a decision, and a young boy runs behind the catcher towards the stands where a commotion about the play has begun.

The Book

  • The movie is based on the 1952 novel of the same name by Bernard Malamud. 
    • His daughter said that he felt like an outsider in America, and loving baseball was his way of loving the country. 
    • For years, Malamud had difficulty getting published and found his first success with “The Natural.”
    • The story follows Roy Hobbs, a young man with an incredible natural talent for Baseball, and it is a perfect marriage of myth and realism. It draws from real life stories and several legends to create a story that encapsulates American baseball, a sport of: magic, wonder, tradition, and scandal.
    • When Roy is recruited as a young man to play for The Cubs, he shows off his talent by striking out a Babe Ruth-esque player known as “The Whammer.”
      • Roy is an anti-hero chosen by the Gods.
        • Like a classic myth, he’s been given a great gift (his ability and his bat.) 
      • He meets a mysterious woman on a train that tempts him to be unfaithful to his love, Iris. Later on, she lures him into a hotel room and shoots him.
      • His tragic flaw was that all he wanted to be was the best there ever was. 
        • In mythology, if you believed you yourself were better than your gifts, you were then punished. Roy voices that he wants to be the greatest there ever was, he therefore gets shot by the woman in black. 
        • The idea that Roy wants to be the greatest also comes from real life. Baseball player Ted Williams said something similar, that all he cared about was being the best hitter anyone had ever seen.
      • This story isn’t fiction in itself. It’s based off the story of Eddie Waitkus, a baseball player who was called into a hotel room by a strange woman in 1949. The woman, Ruth Burns, shot Waitkus. He recovered to become The Comeback Player of the Year in 1950. 
        • When Roy returns to baseball after a 16 year exile, his quest is similar to that of the Arthurian hero Percival. He joins the New York Knights, a team stuck in a literal drought as well as a figurative one. 
          • Hobbs immediately brings the team success, seemingly bringing with him a thunderstorm that solves the drought.  
        • Percival was meant to heal the Fisher King with the Holy Grail, and the coach of the New York Knights is no other than Pop Fisher. Are you seeing the connection yet? 
        • Roy’s Bat, the Wonderboy is meant to signify Excalibur! The term Wonderboy has been used a lot in the past to describe someone with lots of unexplained talent. Do you remember in Disney’s Hercules when they call him “Wonderboy”? That probably wasn’t an accident.
        • Wonderboy was also based on “Black Betsy” which was Shoeless Joe Jackson’s bat in real life. 
    • Hobb’s ultimate flaw at the end of the story is that he doesn’t learn from his mistakes, and therefore has suffered in vain. The story ends with Hobbs agreeing to throw the game to get a payoff from the judge. He strikes out, and is met by a young boy who calls out to him, begging Roy to tell him that it isn’t true, that he didn’t throw the game on purpose.
      • The 10k that the judge offers Roy is a direct reference to the money that was offered to Shoeless Joe Jackson during the black sox scandal of 1919.
      • A widely beloved baseball player, it was hard for fans to come to terms with the fact that Shoeless Joe threw the game, and one young boy reportedly cried out, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” 
  • It’s clear that Malamud paid close attention to baseball history, and he was able to weave together a lot of truths to create the tragic hero Roy Hobbs, an amalgamation of real and mythical men.

The Making Of: 

  • Phil Dusenberry was the first person to try to write The Natural screenplay. He visited Malamud and spoke about writing a screenplay for his book, Malamud told him he would not go to see the movie or read the screenplay. 
    • Malamud’s daughter said that her father understood that Hollywood would change the story, that books never really make it to the screen the same way they are written, and he was mostly fine with that. 
  • After 6 months, Roger Towne joined the team and eventually re-wrote the script.
    • He was the younger brother of Robert Towne who wrote Chinatown.
  • Roger Towne contacted Amy Grossman, who’s agency had just landed a big client looking for a new role. That client was Robert Redford, one of the biggest names of his time, a classic movie star in a post-classic era. Grossman passed the script to him and he was on board.
    • Redford had wanted to do a baseball movie for a while, and was excited about the project. The issue, however, was that studios weren’t very interested in the idea. Baseball movies were like the kiss of death, they didn’t make a lot of money and audiences just weren’t excited to see them. 
  • They found a director in Barry Levinson, who had just made his first film, Diner. He agreed to the job, though no one was shy about the fact that it was a risk for his career. He read the script and thought it was brave. 
    • Glenn Close felt he was good for the film because he had a sense of Americana, evident in Diner, that was necessary for a baseball film. 
    • He was a young director, and his style worked for the seasoned actors because he would direct by asking questions.
  • Instead of finding an existing studio to distribute the film, they signed on to be the very first film from TriStar studios! This added pressure and urgency to the production, and the team felt the heat in terms of delivering a timely film that would make or break the new studio. 


  • The filming started in the summer of 1983. 
  • They looked all over the country for the perfect stadium to film in, and they settled on War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo, NY because it was untouched from the time period that the film takes place. They brought in billboards and ads from the time period. The cast and crew felt like they were walking back in time when they stepped on the field.
  • A lot of research had to be done for the uniforms and equipment, and the playing that we see in the film was actually happening. So, it was somewhat dangerous, without helmets and with old-school gloves instead of the newer equipment from the 1980’s that Redford and the cast were used to.
    • For example the gloves did not use to have webbing and Redford said you learn quickly not to catch the ball in front of your face.
  • Sometimes things work in practice much better than theory, and Redford and Levinson discovered while filming one particular scene, that they didn’t like the dialog. So they asked Roger Towne to write up new lines on the spot! Towne didn’t have his notebook, so someone threw him a roll of toilet paper and he quickly jotted down lines for the scene. The pen bled through and it was hard to read, but it was all they had at the moment. Towne said Redford gave him a funny look when he handed it over, but they did the scene and it worked out well! 
  • The scene of the last ballgame was somewhat of a logistical nightmare.
    • To make sure the play of the game looked right, they had to piece together plays and they had a lot of continuity issues. There was no sense of a scene happening because of the way it had to be shot.
    • The 6,000 extras for the scene were getting antsy, it was cold out, and they started to sneak out of the stadium. 
    • People started booing, the crew said it felt like prison because everyone was held captive. At one point they had to bribe people to stay with free beer.
  • The lights in the final scene were a giant rig that took days to build. In the scene where the ball smashes the lights, there’s a shot of The Judge played by Robert Prosky, with a reflection of the lights in his glasses. The first time the scene was shot, he forgot to put them on, and they had to shoot it again!
  • There was a lot of down time on the film with the players going through the scenes, so Levinson had to stand in as the announcer to have that constant sound of a ballpark, when someone is always talking over the crowd.


  • Ellen Chenoweth casted the film
  • Starring
    • Levinson wanted it to be like a classic film with a full cast of big names
      • Robert Redford/ Roy Hobbs
      • Kim Basinger/ Memo Paris
        • Kim Bassinger was a newcomer but suited her role. 
      • Barbara Hershey/ Harriet Bird
      • Glenn Close/ Iris Gaines
        • Glenn Close was originally not available for her part, but she changed her mind when Robert Redford told her that he really wanted her. Close was then fired from her first starring role and was free to play the part.
        • Glenn Close’s first scene was in the hospital and she didn’t have the right wig. She was so nervous to do a scene with Robert Redford that she had broken out on her face, which she said was hidden by the lighting and the hat she wore.
      • Wilfhard Brimley/Pop Fisher  and Richard Farnsworth/ Red Blow
        • Wolfhard Brimley and Richard Farnsworth “played themselves.” 
      • Robert Duvall/ Max Mercy
        • Robert Duvall had just won an oscar and was a major movie star. No one else was thought of for his role.
      • Robert Prosky/ The Judge
        • Robert Prosky was a great character actor for the stage and that was how he was found for the role of the judge.
      • Darren McGavin(not billed)
        • Gus, the bookie, was the last major part to be cast and Darren McGavin, who ultimately chose not to be billed in the film rather than to have less billing than the other actors.
    • When it came to the players, they first looked for actors that could play baseball first and act second.
    • Ron Fimrite talked about how Robert DeNiro didn’t play baseball well in Bang the Drum Slowly.
    • Redford is a natural athlete and was able to play the game without practice.
      • Redford studied Ted Williams’ stance and style of hitting, and his character even wears the number 9 to honor Williams. He also bats left-handed just as Ted Williams did in real life.

Director of Photography

  • One of the most notable aspects of The Natural is the beautiful cinematography. 
  • A young man named Caleb Deschanel was hired as the Director of Photography, chosen by Redford and Levinson for his understanding of light–natural light especially.
    • Most of the film was shot in “magic hour” or “golden hour” and he would drive the crew crazy taking his time to get the shot when the light was fleeting.
      • Golden hour isn’t just beautiful, it’s symbolic. It exists for only a brief period, and is followed quickly by a long night, just like Roy’s initial career. 
      • The movie begins and ends in golden hour, signifying the magical moments of Roy’s time as a child playing catch with his father, and coming back to the time he has with his own son. 
      • The imagery and the light brings home the full-circle nature of the storytelling. For the final scene, the crew had to chase the light. They ran all over the hillside making Redford throw the ball again and again until they got an image that was just right. 
      • There is a scene where Redford is leaving on a train. They had missed the train that day when filming, so they had to go to Traintown and have Redford stand on a stationary train. The shot then tracks backward, to make the train appear as if it is moving. 
      • Another notable moment that uses natural light is when Glenn Close returns as Iris and stands to show her support for Roy.
        • Costume designers created a special hat to have light go through it (You’ll notice that it doesn’t have a top) and so when she’s backlight, she appears like an angel; this symbolism is meant to foil Kim Basinger’s character who causes Roy to lose games, while Iris reminds him of who he once was and gives him the push he needs to succeed.
        • In order to use the light the way they needed, Deschanel had extras walk in and out of the scene to light Glenn Close at specific moments.

The Score

  • Barry Levinson chose Randy Newman for the composer, which was a hard sell. He hadn’t scored a lot of movies at that point and Levinson knew that Newman was a good storyteller with his songs. He was intimidated by the film and he had to be convinced.
    • They were so under the gun to finish the music, they had him compose while they were editing.
    • Levinson talked about hearing the theme through the wall, and how cool it was to witness the birth of something so iconic.
    • The music was atypical of Newman, a big thundering, hardy score; he even wrote a lyric for the main theme because that’s what Randy Newman does.
    • Many believe that the film would not have been as successful without Newman’s score, and Newman has said that the film was much easier to score because it was shot so beautifully.
  • Levinson went to see it opening weekend, and he found people demanding their money back so he thought the movie was a dud.
    • It turns out that the reason people were leaving that particular theatre is that the film kept breaking.
  • The movie did well, but critics didn’t like it. They attributed this to the fact that it was so different from the book
    • Rob Edelman says in the documentary: This is not a critics film, this is not a film for lovers of the original novel, but what this film is, is a great audience film. 
  • Would the movie have been as successful with a sad ending?
  • It ushered in the new era of baseball films that likely would not have been made if not for this movie.
    • Examples are Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, etc.
  • In Frank Deford’s review of the film in Sports Illustrated, he lauded the first 30 minutes: “The first half hour of The Natural is simply beautiful, not only in the richness of the film and the texture of the story, but also in all that it evokes of the pastoral Americana diamondiana of our fathers.” He went on to say that he was disappointed in the film and considered that maybe non-fans would enjoy the film. To Robin the film represents the tradition of baseball and how it’s been passed down. The final ballgame with the falling lights is a magical and unbelievable moment, but one that we get lost in because we want to believe in it. The Natural is pure movie magic, and Robin says that as a long-time fan of baseball. 


The Case of Kenny Ortega

So far this month we rocked out with The Blues Brothers, learned about John Williams, and ranked some Disney villain songs. This week we’re closing out June Tunes with an episode not so much about music, but more about dancing. 

Today we are taking a look at the career of choreographer-turned-director, Kenny Ortega! Kenny Ortega is responsible for some of the most iconic dance scenes of the 80s, from the lift in “Dirty Dancing” to Duckie’s moves in “Pretty in Pink.” He went on to direct some of Disney’s cult classics that will be remembered for generations.

Movies He Choreographed

The Rose (1979)

  • Kenny’s first chance at a movie to choreograph. Since it was his first movie he was appointed as the assistant choreographer.

Xanadu (1980)

  • Kenny had been a long time fan of Gene Kelly. Although Xanadu did not do well in theatres or by critics’ reviews you would never guess by the way Kenny speaks about it.
    • “He mentored me, and when the movie was over he continued to,” Ortega recalls. “He would invite me to his home and we would look at his films together and he would talk to me about how he designed choreography for the camera which was the greatest education I had received up until that point.”

One From the Heart (1981)

  • This movie chronicles the five-year romance of a window dresser and her boyfriend that ends with a bad break up. After mutual nights away, they begin to regret their decisions, but it could be too late. 

St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

  • A group of recent college graduates embark on a series of misadventures in the real world. Together they grapple with adulthood.
  • Ortega was brought onto the set of the Brat Pack drama to make Rob Lowe look convincing as a saxophone-playing rocker. Ortega said “I worked with Rob and the band, helping them get into the physical side of their roles.”

Pretty in Pink (1986)

  • Andie is an outcast at her Chicago high school, hanging out either with her older boss who owns the record store where she works, or her quirky classmate Duckie who has a crush on her. When one of the rich and popular kids at school, Blane asks her out, it seems too good to be true. As Andie starts falling for Blane, she begins to realize that dating someone from a different social sphere is not easy.
  • Try a Little Tenderness
    • One of the most iconic moments in this John Hughes classic comes at the Trax record store, when John Cryer’s character Duckie commits to a spontaneous dance. However, it was partly choreographed courtesy of a young Kenny Ortega. 
    • Ortega said, “It was sort of put together after a spontaneous workshop that we did right in that record shop. I went in there in advance and played with some ideas, and Jonathan really took to them and was such a good sport and such a great collaborator and brought his incredible personality — Duckie times 10. It wasn’t traditionally choreographed. I showed him some things and he took hold of it. That was born of the moment.”

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

  • The Twist and Shout Scene
    • When Ferris Bueller played hooky, he went big. And his biggest, most over the top moment comes when he takes over the annual Von Steuben Day Parade in the streets, first lip-synching to “Danke Schoen” and then going for it with the Beatles. 
    • After Hughes worked with Ortega on Pretty in Pink, he called Ortega in again, this time to not only choreograph Ferris’ parade performance, but to direct it as well.
    • “The scene was all John’s (John Hughes) idea and then he gave me a lot of freedom in how I approached it and how I built it. He wanted Ferris to take over the streets of Chicago. We pre-shot some of the elements of that number, but we moved the float right into a real existing parade, so we had 10 to 12 cameras on it and we had one shot to get it right. If I remember correctly, I think it was sort of Matthew’s introduction to dance. I don’t think he’d ever done a musical performance in film before, and now look at him!”

Dirty Dancing (1987)

  • The famous lift
    • The lake scene where Patrick Swayze’s character lifts Jennifer Grey was tricky due to frigid lake temperatures that put Grey in the hospital for hypothermia.  Kenny is so dedicated to his craft that he was not afraid to wade out there in that freezing water with them. 
  • The influences for the dancing in this movie came from lots of different places: Street salsa, Colombian style salsa, Cuban rhythm step, R&B and street soul.
    • Ortega thought of dirty dancing as soul dancing, but with a partner. He based the moves on the original dancing of the early 60’s. 
  • He catered to specific people and would have them move in ways that complimented their own styles.
    • He hoped that Dirty Dancing would inspire people to go out and dance! Patrick Swayze himself thought that the dancing would “blow” audiences away.
  • What he did achieve with Dirty Dancing was an iconic film moment, recreated in films and TV shows for generations to come. The beloved film is considered to be a cult classic, and Kenny Ortega helped it gain that status.

The Great Outdoors (1988)

  • It’s vacation time for Chet Ripley along with his wife, Connie and their two kids, Buck and Ben. But a serene weekend of fishing at a Wisconsin lakeside cabin gets crashed by Connie’s obnoxious brother-in-law, Roman Craig, his wife Kate, and the couple’s two daughters.
  • Ortega has a way of finding the dancer in everyone, and the ending of The Great Outdoors was no exception. If you look closely, you might even notice Dan Aykroyd reprising some steps from his days as Elwood Blues!

Salsa (1988)

  • Robby Rosa by day is an auto-mechanic, but by night is drawn to the dance. He believes the title of Salsa King at the nightclub La Luna belongs to him. He proceeds to practice with three women in order to win the contest. 
  • In this movie Kenny was not only the choreographer but the associate producer. It was a grueling job but he wanted to be able to have more control over this movie than, for example, Dirty Dancing.
  • The album contained music by Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria, Michael Sembello and Miami Sound Machine, Celia Cruz and Charlie Palmieri. It was a beautiful merging of old and new music that Kenny was happy to be the executive producer for.
  • While he admits that the writing is not the best in this movie he feels that the music and  movement really give the characters depth as people.
    •  Since this is all about Salsa Kenny wanted passion in their dancing. He said “Like me, these young men and women are using dancing to flee the things in their cultures they don’t like. But they also love their families and their culture, too. That great contradiction makes me want . . . fire from my dancers.”
  • This movie gave him a chance to produce positive images about Latinos and because of this was given an award from the Nosotros Organization because of it.

Shag (1989)

  • A coming of age story that revolves around four young women who want a final adventure together after high school before going their separate ways in life.
  • Shag which is not in reference to a haircut or carpeting is actually a reference to a 60’s “cut the rug” southern dance craze. It was called the Carolina Shag and is rightfully displayed within the movie.
    • Scott Coffey, one of the stars, said that they practiced for three weeks, six hours a day, and six days a week for the final contest scene. 

Newsies (1992)

  • Newsies is a movie musical starring Christian Bale, David Moscow, Luke Edwards, Max Casella, and Bill Pullman.
  • It’s loosely based on the Newsboy strike of 1899.
  • The songs were composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Jack Feldman.
    • Ortega counts working with Alan Menken as one of his fondest memories. He said that Menken came in with an open mind and heart.
  • Newsies was his directing debut, and the gateway to his next film: Hocus Pocus!
  • He put the actors through two months of intense musical boot camp. They sang, danced, did gymnastics, martial arts, and spoke in New York dialects. 
    • In order to bond the young actors pranked Kenny with anything from squirt guns to filling his trailer with newspapers. 
  • It is reported that Kenny’s old mentor Gene Kelly stopped by and complemented the progress that the young actors were making in their dancing.
    • Kenny became really good at shaping young stars that had no dancing or singing background. For Newsies he had to convince the young Christian Bale to star as Jack Kelly. After seeing Bale in Empire of the Sun Kenny felt he would be perfect for the role even with no musical theatre experience. Although it took a lot of convincing and training Bale did a stellar job. Kenny Ortega has a way of seeing the talent in people and bringing it out to the forefront. He would do this again for the Descendants movies.
    • He was impressed with how Bale threw himself into the role and made Jack Kelly come to life. 
    • He says Newsies is one of the great experiences of his career in general. 

Hocus Pocus (1993)

  • We brought this movie up in our October episode last year.  This was Kenny Ortega’s second film, since he started in the industry as a dancer and choreographer, he wanted there to be a fluidity in the movie. He choreographed the musical number, but also just the regular scenes. 
    • Bette Midler pointed out that she had never acted as part of a “trio” before, and liked that she felt as if she was part of a unit instead of a single actor. 
  • When Kenny Ortega first thought of putting a musical number in the movie David Kirschner, who is the creator and producer of the film, did not like the idea. He had the thought that it would ruin the movie. He said that quote “This is a movie that puts you on the edge of your seat and you’re going to stop it for this musical number?” “And yet,” he said, “I’m a billion percent wrong. I love seeing how wrong I was about it.”
  • Ortega said of having Bette Midler in the film, “It’s the most fun that you could possibly imagine and it’s why I said yes before I even read the script.” 
    • He also said that he tended to stay out of the way, which he believed was the best thing to do when you work with such talented people.

High School Musical (2006-2008)

  • Kenny Ortega began as a musical theater guy at the young age of 13 by being in the professional touring production of Oliver as a teenager and a touring production of Hair. These beginnings led him to High School Musical (2006). The casting process was very similar to a live musical, as the actors had to have a variety of skills from basketball playing to singing and dancing. 
    • Zack Efron stood out and was cast in the star-making role of Troy Bolton at the age of 16.
  •  “I think what Disney and the networks are doing is a return to the beginnings of what made television so special.  Disney Channel — not only with High School Musical but with The Cheetah Girls & Camp Rock, and artists like Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez — and even before that with Brittany (Spears) — has found a young, family audience that really enjoys music storytelling that can suspend their disbelief.  I think adults have a little more of an issue with being able to suspend their disbelief of a story suddenly breaking into song.”
  • Get’cha Head in the Game
    • This was one of the first songs shot with the Wildcats team. It was an interesting and unique blending of sport, art, and dance.
    • This style was continued when he explored baseball and dance in the 2nd movie with the Song “I Don’t Dance.”
      • When Kenny explained why he used baseball for the second movie he talked about how Frank Sinatra had used baseball as a way to become familiar with movement. 
      • They used a combination of dancers and ball players. Both groups reported improvement in their respective fields the following year after this scene was shot.
  • Fun Fact: His dog Manly was Sharpay’s Dog in the High School Musical Series.
  • In an NPR article Efron said, “Kenny is the kind of mentor and sort of friend that never shows any limits. He never lets you know your limits.” 
    • He really impacted a lot of the kids and so there is a thank you video where a lot of the cast said their personal thank yous to him.
  • Kenny recounts that when the first High School Musical was released to TV it would bring opportunities for him to be given another chance to do a movie set for the theatre. He never thought it would be High School Musical 3 that would bring him back.

This Is It (2009) (The Michael Jackson Movie)

  • Kenny Ortega worked with Michael Jackson on a few of his tours such as Dangerous and HIStory. He also collaborated on his This Is It tour which abruptly ended when Michael Jackson passed away in 2009.
  • Ortega went on to direct this movie, which was a compilation of rehearsal footage from the This Is It tour. 

Descendants 1,2, and 3 (2015-2019)

  • Peter Pan was Kenny’s favorite movie as a kid so being able to do the musical number from the second called “Going Down” on the ship with all the pirates was like reliving childhood for him as he choreographed the sword battles.
  • “Chillin Like a Villain” was tricky because they did not have long to shoot it. The last day they were on set to film this dance number a typhoon was happening. They had to try to keep everyone calm and safe. It was shot in Vancouver and as they were dancing props and sets were flying away and the rain was coming down immensely. 
  • He made the conscious decision to have Mitchell, who plays Ben, the son of Beauty and the Beast, not be an experienced dancer in order to give him an everyman charm.
  • Sofia Carson who plays Evie from Descendants “Kenny’s Choreography is just out of this world. He really has stepped us up to our game. He has this passion that he gives us every single day.”

July 24, 2019 he was given a Hollywood Walk of Fame star by the Pantages theatre. In his speech he honored the young Descendants actor Cameron Boyce who died earlier that month. “Cameron said we can’t take it with us, so it’s about what you leave. With this, I promise Cameron that I will carry this goodness with me in all the days of my life.”

He was also honored with the Disney Legends Award in 2019 alongside Bette Middler 

“Not everyone is blessed in this world to be given choices but those of us that are given choices, those choices can determine, you know, who we become, what our destiny is and the choices that I’ve made have landed me in some pretty fantastic places, places that have been fantastic enough to keep my fire burning, to keep me excited, to keep me wanting to continue doing what I’ve been doing for all of these years.”


The Case of Disney Villain Songs

106495420_644917256122319_263674084724207274_nHello and welcome the Black Case Diaries! We’re in week three of June Tunes, and this time we’re bringing you a ranking of some of our favorite songs in the Disney songbook. 

It’s undeniable that Disney music is an iconic element to the studio’s best animated films. Disney songs have permeated American (and sometimes world) pop culture throughout the last 70 years. Some songs are tender moments between characters while others are show-stopping power ballads that we belt out in our cars. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the most fun and interesting entries in the Disney songbook: The villain songs. 

These songs are incredibly important in terms of introducing the audience to the main antagonist, giving us a look into the mind and motivations of a character. A good villain song is fun to listen to and perform, and it brings (sometimes) much-needed depth to these intriguing characters!

We’re bringing you a top 10 list of our favorite villainous tunes, with some background and history on each. 

  1. The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind (1986)

  • Although it came from Disney’s Bronze or Dark age, The Great Mouse Detective was a fairly successful film
    • Based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the film takes place in the world of mice living beneath the city of London within the Sherlock Holmes universe.
    • One of the stand-out features of this film is its score by the legendary composer Henry Mancini.
      • He was so prolific and meaningful to American music that we have unintentionally mentioned him or his work in all three of our June Tunes episodes so far–we didn’t mean to, he’s just that important
      • He was known for creating The Pink Panther theme, Moon River, and Peter Gunn.
    • Although there is only one character-sung arrangement in The Great Mouse Detective, it’s incredibly memorable.
  • The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind was composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Larry Grossman and Ellen Fitzhugh.
  • If Henry Mancini isn’t enough to get you excited, it was performed by the one and only Vincent Price with an accompanying chorus! 
    • Interestingly Vincent Price’s character, Egghead, in the 1966 Batman was referred to as “the world’s greatest criminal mind” by the narrator.
  • This song introduces the audience to Basil’s archnemesis: a rat named Ratigan who refuses to believe he is a rat. He rules over his minions, singing gleefully about his exploits as a villain with a supportive chorus of animal cronies. 
  • This song made our top 10 because it effectively captures the whimsical nature of a classic cartoon villain, while demonstrating Ratigan’s evil persona. It’s one of the most upbeat songs about murder and crime we’ve ever heard, with some gaslighting and power-hungry pieces to-boot! 
    • The song features Bill the Lizard as an Easter Egg for Alice in Wonderland! 
  • Notable lyrics: Even Meaner? You mean it? Worse than the widows and orphans you drowned? 
    • Earlier in the song, Ratigan mentions the “Tower Bridge Job.” In an earlier version of the song, there was a lyric that explained this crime further. Apparently Ratigan threw mice into the Thames, and shot the ones that came up to the surface. 
  1. Mother Knows Best (2010) 

    • The next entry on our list is from Disney’s first 3D animated princess film, Tangled!
    • This is also the first song on our list composed by Alan Menken, who was one of the architects of Disney’s Renaissance with his memorable melodies that perfectly matched characters and actor voices.
      • Menken spoke on the uniqueness of Mother Gothel’s character and theme music because she was not only a villain, she was a mother and very much loved by her protagonist daughter. 
      • The song is styled after a classic broadway number, and contrasts musically with the pop-oriented songs in the rest of the film.
      • Alan Menken noted the similarities between Mother Gothel and Frollo from Hunchback–the parallels in how they both held someone captive and brainwashed them into believing that they were good.
    • Glenn Slater wrote the lyrics, and had worked with Menken before on Broadway, as well as on the films “Home on the Range” as well as “Sausage Party.” 
    • Performed by Tony and Emmy winning actress Donna Murphy.
    • The song comes within 15 minutes of the film’s opening, and does a great job conveying the relationship between Mother Gothel and Rapunzel. The audience is aware that Mother Gothel is evil and kidnapped Rapunzel, so the context that we view the song is different from how Rapunzel would. Her lies, backhanded compliments, and little digs at Rapunzel give us a glimpse into how she has maintained control over this strong character for so long. Mother Gothel simply raised Rapunzel to not have confidence in herself, so she never thought to stand up to Mother Gothel or question her motives. 
    • Notable lyrics: 
      • Mother knows best, Take it from your mumsy
      • On your own, you won’t survive
      • Sloppy, underdressed, immature, clumsy
      • Please, they’ll eat you up alive
      • Gullible, naïve, positively grubby
      • Ditzy and a bit, well, hmm vague
      • Plus, I believe, gettin’ kinda chubby
      • I’m just saying ‘cause I wuv you

  1. Gaston (1991) 

  • When we first meet Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, we see him more from Belle’s perspective as he unsuccessfully tries to woo her. After she turns down his (frankly disturbing) offer to be his “little wife,” Gaston’s friends cheer him up with a song about how great he is. Imagine every jerk who has ever been turned down getting his own musical number sung by his drunk buddies and you have “Gaston”!
  • Beauty and the Beast’s songs were written by the legendary duo of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The melody is reminiscent of a jaunty bar tune, while the lyrics achieve a level of comedy not quite reached in other villain songs.
    • The song was compared to the work of Lerner and Loewe, which Menken has cited as an influence to his music before.
    • It is later reprised in the film with one of the funniest lines in any Disney song: 
      • “Lafou I’m afraid I’ve been thinking,”
      • “A Dangerous pastime–”
      • “–I know” 
    • Some of the song lyrics were meant to be test lyrics, but were so popular throughout development, they ended up being in the final recorded song.
  • Performed by Richard White, Jesse Corti, and Chorus.
    • Richard White is an opera singer and his only acting credits on IMDB are for roles in which he voiced Gaston, even as late as the early 2000’s.
    • Jesse Corti, who played Lafou, is a prolific voice actor for video games and movies.
  • Notable lyrics
    • No one shoots like Gaston
    • Makes those beauts like Gaston
    • Then goes tromping around wearing boots like Gaston
    • I use antlers in all of my decorating!
    • My what a guy, Gaston!
  1. Cruella De Vil

  • One Hundred and One Dalmatians is from 1961 and a part of Disney’s Silver Age.
    • Walt Disney based this movie on the children’s novel by Dodie Smith titled The One Hundred and One Dalmatians. 
    • The film follows Pongo and Perdita, two lovely dalmatians that bring their human masters(Roger and Anita) together. Perdita then has puppies that incidentally are coveted by Cruella De Vil. She kidnaps them and the parents must find them before she turns them into fur coats. 
  • Written by Mel Leven.
  • Performed by Bill Lee.
  • This song is sung by the character Roger who introduces us to Anita’s old “devoted” school mate as she has pulled up to their home. He had just finished the melody and when he saw her approaching was inspired by her name for the lyrics. His expressions and body movements during the song help to clearly illustrate her evil and menacing nature. What is neat about this is that once Cruella is in the house Roger has moved to the upstairs where he continues to play her theme with musical instruments such as the piano and trumpet. He finally mocks her after she has left by wrapping a sweater around his upper body and holding something similar to her cigarette and holder.
    • It is one of only two villain songs made by protagonists in mocking. The other being The Phony King of England in Disney’s Robin Hood.
  • Notable lyrics: 
    • If she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will
    •  She’s like a spider waiting for the kill
    • She ought to be locked up and never released 
    • The world was such a wholesome place until Cruella, Cruella De Vil
  1. Friends on the Other Side

  • Princess and the Frog is from 2009 and a part of Disney’s Revival.
      • While Princess and the frog took inspiration from classics like The Brothers Grimm Frog Prince and E.D. Baker’s The Frog Princess, it also used the life experiences of Leah Chase whose life story was used for Tiana’s background and goals.

    • The film follows Tiana, who is a hardworking young woman that in life just wants to make her dream of owning a fine dining restaurant a reality. Life becomes a bit more challenging when she happens upon Prince Naveen who has been turned into a frog by the evil Dr. Facilier. Believing that she may become a princess by kissing him she is then also turned into a frog unexpectedly and they must find a cure together.
  • Music and lyrics by Randy Newman.
  • Performed by Keith David.
  • This song introduces us to Dr. Facilier and his friends on the other side. It also serves the purpose of letting us know how Naveen has come to become a frog before he is to meet Tiana.
    • The evil character Dr. Facilier, AKA The Shadow Man, begins by telling Lawrence (Naveen’s valet) to not disrespect him.  From there he proceeds to make Lawrence and Naveen feel welcome enough to have their fortunes read by tarot cards. Once he has done this and convinced Naveen that his future is rich, and Lawrence that his fortune in life will be switched with Naveen’s, he proceeds to change Naveen to a frog and gives Naveen’s appearance to Lawrence.
  • The song takes after The Little Mermaids “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” considering that both songs elaborate on the villain’s capabilities and lures the protagonists into a trusting and false sense of security. This provides the villains with willing subjects in their evil plans. 
    • In order to falsely lead Naveen into the trap he reveals a tarot card that shows Naveen as wealthy but if you look closely there is a lilypad underneath him that signifies the unstable truth. The lyrics during this reveal are “And when I look into your future it’s the green that I see.”
  • Notable lyrics: 
    • You do have have a soul, don’t you, Lawrence?/ Make your wildest dreams come true
    • I got voodoo, I got voodoo/ I got things I didn’t even try/ And I got friends on the other side
    • It’s the green that I see 
    • I hope you’re satisfied/ But if you ain’t, don’t blame me/ You can blame my friends on the other side 
  1. I Wanna Be Like You

  • The Jungle Book is from 1967 and a part of Disney’s Silver Age.
    • It is very loosely based on The Jungle Book written by Rudyard Kipling in 1894. They reconstructed it into a fun feel good family film with wonderful music.
    • The animated classic follows Mowgli, a young boy who was abandoned and raised by wolves, and now must be convinced to leave the jungle for fear of his life. He is joined by Bhageera the panther and Balloo the carefree bear.
  • Music and lyrics by the Sherman Brothers.
  • Performed by Louis Prima and Phil Harris.
  • In this song we are introduced to King Louis and his desire for the secret of fire. We see what a smooth talker he is and how hypnotic his personality can be. Bagheera sees right through this act and tries to rescue Mowgli with the help of Baloo as a distraction.
  • Richard Sherman said he and his brother aimed for a jazz sound, with a Dixieland-like melody. He said “when we first got an idea for ‘I Wanna Be Like You,’ we thought, an ape swings from a tree, and he’s the king of apes. We’ll make him ‘the king of the swingers.’ That’s the idea, we’ll make him a jazz man.” 
    • The “scat dialogue” between Baloo and King Louie came from two recording sessions. Louis Prima recorded first, with the intent that Baloo would simply repeat after him, but Phil Harris decided not to and made up his own.
  • Notable Lyrics: 
    • What I desire is man’s red fire to make my dreams come true
    • Ooh-bi-doo, I wan’na be like you/ I want to walk like you, talk like you, too
    • You see it’s true, an ape like me/ Can learn to be like you, too
  1. Mine, Mine, Mine (1995)

  • The fourth film scored by Alan Menken for Disney was Pocahontas, with lyrics by the Broadway great Stephen Schwartz. 
    • After Disney suggested the two men work together, Menken felt that Schwartz’s lyrics were the perfect combination of classic, theatre, and folk influences.
    • Schwartz is most known for his contributions to Broadway with Pippin, Godspell, and Wicked.
  • Sung by Governor Ratcliffe, “Mine, Mine, Mine” is a heavily European influenced song that introduces the audience to the intentions of the British settlers, and their lack of respect for the land they have invaded.
    • It contrasts the idealism of John Smith’s character with Ratcliffe, and plays on the double entendre of the word, “Mine.” 
    • The upbeat melody and joyful singing of the chorus gives us a look into how the settlers see themselves, despite the damage they intend to do. We can’t help but be drawn to the loud, happy sounds of a full orchestra pounding out an upbeat melody, climaxing with one of the best musical breakdowns in Disney song history.
    • In the original version, the song was meant to end with a wide shot showing the destruction of the land, bringing the audience back to the harsh reality of what they just happily watched.
      • This did not do well with test audiences, so Disney changed the scene to end with Ratcliffe’s maniacal smile instead.
  • Performed by David Ogden Stiers, Mel Gibson, and Chorus.
    • Stiers was a prolific voice actor in films like Lilo and Stitch (he played Jumba) and on TV shows like Teacher’s Pet and The Regular Show.
    • Before Pocahontas he played Major Charles Winchester on MASH.
    • Mel Gibson voiced John Smith.
  • Notable Lyrics
    • So go for the gold; We know which is here; All the riches here; From this minute; This land and what’s in it is Mine!
  1. Be Prepared (1994)

  • The Lion king is from 1994 and a part of Disney’s Renaissance.
    • This movie is known to be an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. 
    • Simba is meant to inherit Pride Rock and all the lands surrounding it but when his Uncle Scar’s dastardly plan succeeds Simba must run away for fear that everyone will blame him for his father’s death.
  • Music by Elton John (uncredited).
  • Lyrics by Tim Rice (uncredited).
  • Arranged and Produced by Hans Zimmer.
  • Performed by Jeremy Irons, with Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings.
  • In this song Scar points out the stupidity and faults of the hyenas and even before the song had pointed out their failure to kill Simba. He then proceeds to persuade them that if they join with him and follow his lead that they will rule the Pride. The second half of the song he tells them to prepare and lays out his plan to kill the King.
    • A reprise of the song was cut because after Mufasa’s death they felt that it was inappropriate.
      • The first was an attempt to seduce Nala to be his Queen.
      • The second was to the lionesses after Simba’s departure to persuade them to allow the hyenas on the Pride. 
  • Jeremy Irons reported that after the line “You won’t get a sniff without me!” his voice gave out and so they had to have Jim Cummings finish the song.
  • The beginning lyrics “I never thought hyenas essential/ They’re crude and unspeakably plain/ But maybe they’ve a glimmer of potential/ If allied to my vision and brain…” was cut for the movie but are in the musical and on the official soundtrack. 
  • During this song the hyenas perform a goose step which was fashioned after footage of the Nazi troops marching in Berlin with Hitler observing them.
  • Scars character in Kingdom Hearts II is named Groundshaker, which references that there is an earthquake that reshapes all the terrain during the song.
  • Notable lyrics:
    • Shenzi and Banzai: No king! No king! La-la-la-la-la-la!
      • Scar: Idiots! There will be a king!
      • Banzai: Hey, but you said, uh…
      • Scar: I will be king! Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!
    • A shining, new era/ Is tiptoeing nearer
      • Shenzi: And where do we feature?
      • Scar: Just listen to teacher
  1. Hellfire

  • If we laid out all the plans of Disney’s villains, Frollo’s intentions are quite possibly the most evil. This song is unique from some other Disney villain songs, because it doesn’t exactly introduce the audience to Frollo. The soundtrack of Hunchback hints at Frollo’s personality with his sung piece before “Out There,” which gives “Hellfire” a bigger payoff. 
    • Starting just after the sweet and soft theme of “Heaven’s Light” sung by Quazi Moto, Hellfire stands in stark contrast. The song begins with love and idealism, and leads into a dark ballad of lust and conflict.
    • In this song, we get a grotesque look into the mind of Frollo, a man who sees himself as right and just, and blames everyone around him for his own faults.
      • More specifically, Frollo doesn’t understand his lust for Esmerelda, referring to her as a siren. Knowing that sex without love is a sin, Frollo arrives at the grim ultimatum that he will burn her at the steak if she doesn’t choose to love him.
    • At the end of the song, God answers Frollo’s prayers when a guard alerts him that Esmerelda has escaped, giving him one more chance to let her go and choose heaven over hell.
    • Frollo exhibits some form of each of the seven deadly sins in the song, most notably lust, pride, and wrath.
  • Alan Menken, the film and song’s composer has pointed out the similarities between Frollo and Mother Gothel. While he used Broadway music elements in Mother Gothel’s song, Menken relied on the choral tones and instruments often used in church music to drive home the song’s theme of religious hypocrisy. 
    • Throughout the film, Frollo exercises his holier than thou attitude, using his position in the church to commit atrocities that the church itself would condemn.
    • The priests that appear in the song sing, “mea culpa” which means “My fault.”
  • Stephen Schwartz returned to bring words to Hunchback of Notre Dame.
  • Performed by Tom Hulce, David Ogden Stiers, Tony Jay, and Chorus.
    • Hulce is a tony-winning musician and actor. He was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Mozart in Amadeus.
  • Notable Lyrics
    • It’s not my fault; I’m not to blame; It is the gypsy girl; The witch who set this flame; It’s not my fault; If in God’s plan; He made the devil so much stronger than a man
    • Hellfire; Dark fire; Now gypsy, it’s your turn; Choose me or Your pyre; Be mine or you will burn
  1. Poor Unfortunate Souls

  • The Little Mermaid is from 1989 and a part of Disney’s Renaissance period.
    • It is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen Danish Fairy Tale.
    • We follow the young mermaid Ariel and her fantasy to live on the surface of earth where she can walk and be free. In order to obtain this life she must make a deal with Ursula the sea witch.
  • Music by Alan Menken.
  • Lyrics by Howard Ashman.
  • Performed by Pat Carroll (Ursula).
    • Howard Ashman recorded a version of the song with himself in the role of Ursula, to send to Carroll to convince her to take the role, which it did. Carroll admits that she even borrowed some of the inflections she used in the song from Ashman, and that he was delighted she had done so.
    • Before this song was written, Ursula was originally going to sing a song called “Silence is Golden”. The lyrics of this were partly reused in “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
    • The song combines Broadway theatre with Burlesque and serves as the leitmotif for Ursula throughout the film.
  • Notable lyrics:
    • But on the whole I’ve been a saint/ to those poor unfortunate souls
    • It’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man!
    • I’m a very busy woman and I haven’t got all day/ It won’t cost much. Just your voice!

Honorable Mentions


  • Savages (Part 2) (1995)
  • Music by Alan Menken
  • Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
  • Performed by David Ogden Stiers, Jim Cummings, Judy Kuhn, and Chorus

Kill the Beast

  • Music by Alan Menken
  • Lyrics by Howard Ashman


  • Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Siamese Cats

  • Music by Oliver Wallace
  • Lyrics by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke

The Elegant Captain Hook

  • Music by Sammy Fain
  • Lyrics by Sammy Cahn

Headless Horseman 

  • Performance by Bing Crosby

The Phony King of England

  • Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
  • Performed by Phis Harris

Heffalumps and Woozles

  • Music and Lyrics by the Sherman Brothers

Mad Madam Mim

  • Music by George Bruns
  • Lyrics by the Sherman Brothers
  • Preformed by Martha Wentworth