Romance and Disney.
Those two words seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper or pineapple and ice cream (OK, maybe that last one's not as common, but they are the perfect combination for anyone who's ever tasted an Adventureland Dole Whip.)
It's likely that more people have been proposed to, married in, or spent their honeymoon at a Disney property than any other place on the planet. (So long Niagara Falls, Las Vegas, and Paris, it was nice knowing you.)
There's just something about the magic of Disney that brings out special feelings in everyone.
So with thoughts of love in the air, here is a list of the ten most romantic moments in Disney history.
By "moment", we mean just that. This list doesn't cover entire films, TV shows or plays, just singular moments contained in those productions. These moments stand out, because we all feel them when they happen. They either make us sigh, go "awww", or sometimes even weep at two people dedicating themselves to the course of true love in the face of dire circumstances. The list also happens to be mostly princess free, so Anna and Kristoff didn't make the cut, despite the recent popularity of "Frozen."
Yes, some of these moments are sad or bittersweet. Throughout the history of the arts, great romances have often involved tragedy ("Romeo and Juliet", "Madame Butterfly", "Love Story", "Titanic", etc.) We've also tried to cover all areas (film, TV, Broadway, etc.) and eras of Disney's 92 year history.
So cue the violins, break out the tissues, here are Ten Romantic Disney Moments:
Lady and the Tramp (1955) - The Spaghetti Scene
Admit it, you've never had a plate of spaghetti and meatballs without thinking of this moment.
It is so famous and iconic that it was listed as number ninety five in the American Film Institute's Top 100 Love Stories/Scenes.
"Lady and the Tramp" is set in 1909 New England and tells the story of a pedigreed and pampered purebreed Cocker Spaniel named Lady, who meets a scrappy schnauzer mutt from the streets named Tramp (though there is some debate about that, as no character - in particular any human character -actually calls him by that name. It's only used to describe his general attitude, as in "He's a Tramp.")
Tramp decides to show Lady the way he gets by, so he gives her a night on the town, finishing in the moonlit back alley of an Italian restaurant.
Apparently Tony, the owner of the establishment, has no problems with dogs gathering outside of his place, even greeting Tramp warmly. Tony and his assistant Joe spring into action, providing Lady and her beau with a table, checkered tablecloth, breadsticks and candles. With a thick stereotypical Italian accent, Tony says "You take-a Tony's advice and settle down with this-a-one, eh?"
Following that, Tony and Joe break out the concertina and mandolin and serenade the dogs with an Italian style love ballad called "Bella Notte" (translated as "Beautiful Night" in English. Some people erroneously refer to the song as "This Is the Night.") The dogs are then served a single plate of spaghetti to share.
That's the key. Had it been two plates of spaghetti, the scene would be completely different. The animators had a field day coming up with sight gags involving two dogs sharing a single meal (pushing meatballs across the plate with their snouts, etc.) It was one moment that they stumbled on while brainstorming, however, that made the crucial difference.
While the dogs are devouring the spaghetti, they both pick up different ends of the same strand and slurp. Their minds are elsewhere, so they don't notice their faces getting closer and closer until - Jackpot! - their lips meet and they have their first (unplanned) kiss.
Without that moment, the scene would still be a nice one and "Lady and the Tramp" would continue to be listed among the best of Disney. It was the impromptu kiss, though, that launched this scene into iconic status.
The little known fact is that we almost never saw it happen.
Walt Disney himself, ever mindful of the attention span of his audiences, ordered the scene to be cut because he felt that it was extraneous and unecessarily extended the running time. His animators protested and Walt eventually relented, which was a fortunate break for movie lovers everywhere.
Curiously, Walt never raised a single objection to the culmination of the "night on the town" scene, which finds Lady waking up in a strange park cuddling with Tramp. She then decides to go back to her cushy life. It was the first - and possibly only - time that a Disney film implied intimate relations between two unmarried characters. The only thing missing was the cinematic cliche of lady puffing on a post-coital cigarette and hastily dressing.
"Lady and the Tramp" also has the distinction of being the one and only Disney animated feature film to be shot in Cinema Scope, an innovation/gimmick featuring wider screens that was used by the major studios in the 1950's to lure viewers away from their TV sets. As a result, the animators had to put more depth into the background to fill all that extra space, which explains all the business that is happening in Tony's back alley during the spaghetti scene.
The legacy of this scene has been felt in many ways. Several television shows, movies and video games have paid homage to it, including animated series ranging from Family Guy and Scooby Doo to South Park and the Simpsons, which has parodied the scene at least five times, at last count.
Live action TV shows like "Married With Children", "Glee" and "30 Rock" have poked fun at it, and even Disney has gotten in on the act. "The Princess and the Frog" and the remake of "The Shaggy Dog" copied the scene, as has "Phineas and Ferb" on the Disney Channel. In 2007's "Enchanted", the Italian restaurant that Princess Giselle has a meal in is called "Bella Notte."
The spaghetti scene also has the distinction of inspiring not one, but two restaurants at Walt Disney World. Both Mamma Melrose's Italian Ristorante in Disney's Hollywood Studios and Tony's Town Square on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom take their cue from the film. In fact the latter establishment has a statue of Lady and the Tramp inside of the restaurant itself, a stone's throw from the front entrance of the park, and just down Main Street from the famous "Partners" statue of Mickey and Walt.
That's a fitting tribute to a scene that, as memorable as it is, it deserves to start off our list.
Splash (1984) - Allen Dives In To Follow His True Love
In 1984, Tom Hanks was not yet a superstar and Ariel the Little Mermaid was still five years away, so it was a great risk for Disney to produce the mermaid themed "Splash" as its maiden voyage for the newly formed Touchstone Films division.
This cute "fish out of water" fable was directed by Ron Howard, and didn't have any major stars, with the exception of Canadian comedy regulars John Candy and Eugene Levy.
Even so, it was the surprise hit that year and made its money back tenfold for Disney, marking a successful launch for Touchstone. The film had been released under the new banner because of mild language and nudity, still a taboo in a Disney picture.
The plot is simple, Allen Bauer (Hanks), a successful produce marketer in New York, is depressed because he still hasn't found his true love. On a trip to Cape Cod, Bauer accidentally falls into the ocean. He is saved by a mysterious stranger who, it turns out, is the mermaid that also saved him from drowning as a little boy. The mermaid (Darryl Hannah) discovers Allen's wallet at the bottom of the sea and follows him to New York. She takes human form on land, adopts the name Madison (after the Avenue) finds Allen and starts a romance with him. Scientists, led by Levy, and the government are looking for Madison, and she is eventually captured, revealing her true self. Allen and his brother (Candy) stage a breakout to rescue Madison and, after a wild car chase through the Wall Street area, Allen and Madison wind up cornered on a pier in New York Harbor.
Madison tells Allen that she has to dive in the water to save herself and that she will probably never see him again. Allen's solution is that he will come with her, but Madison tells him that if he does go with her, he can never come back to the human world, leaving his brother and everything else he cares for behind. Allen agonizes over the decision for a minute. He finally realizes that Madison is, mermaid or not, his one true love. As the police and military close in, Allen jumps in the water to follow Madison to a new life.
Unfortunately, he's not such a good swimmer and starts sinking right to the bottom. Madison, who seemingly should be miles away by then, swims back to rescue Allen and fends off the divers who have given chase. Eventually she loses the divers and the film closes as the two lovers make their way to her underwater kingdom to presumably live happily ever after.
If you look closely at the scene on the pier you will see that it's actually two stunt divers that take the plunge, not Hanks or Hannah. Both actors said they would have willingly jumped in (Hannah actually did ninety percent of Madison's underwater scenes herself) but the company insuring the film refused to allow them to do so. Back in 1984, New York Harbor was much filthier than it is now. The insurer's fear was that both actors would be exposed to dangerous toxins, pollutants and medical waste with even a simple dive.
While it's hard to imagine any other actors in those roles now, Hanks and Hannah were not the studio's original choices. Allen was offered variously to Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Bill Murray, Christopher Reeve, Mickey Rourke and John Travolta, all of whom passed on the part before it was awarded to Hanks. Casting contracts for Madison went out to Jodie Foster, Julia Louis Dreyfuss, Brooke Shields, Michele Pfeiffer and Sharon Stone. Each woman declined, to Hannah's benefit. The role made Darryl Hannah a star.
There is a lasting real world legacy to this cinematic Disney love story. Prior to 1984, the name Madison appeared on not one list of the most popular names for newborn baby girls. Since then it has had a meteoric rise. In the last such poll taken, Madison is still in the top ten for female names, no coincidence as "Splash" is considered a modern romantic comedy classic and is discovered by, and has an influence on, each new generation that sees it.
Up (2009) - Montage of Carl and Ellie Fredricksen's Life
Many people went to see Disney/Pixar's "Up" expecting to see a nice story about a disgruntled senior citizen and a young scout thrown into a madcap 3D adventure (a first for Pixar) thanks to a floating house supported by balloons. That's what the trailers and posters seemed to promise, anyway.
Few expected to walk out of theaters with their heart strings completely pulled and tear stained cheeks.
That's exactly what they got.
The scene in question comes early on in the film. Not a word is said for almost five full minutes. Only a haunting musical theme plays as we watch two people build a life together. As short as it is, these five minutes are some of the most emotionally powerful ever committed to film, certainly in any Disney picture.
The scene resonated not so much with the young ones in the audience, but with those who had passed the teen years. No matter your age, Carl and Ellie's romance had a moment for you. Whether it was the optimism of a young couple falling in love and making plans together, the realities of life intruding on a middle aged couple' best laid plans and savings, or the spectre of illness rearing its ugly head and robbing senior citizens of vitality and precious time, we each could find something to relate to in those 300 seconds.
The most heartbreaking moment, perhaps, was the realization by Ellie and Carl that they could not have children of their own. We watch as they silently take in the news from the doctor, Ellie breaks down in tears, Carl tries to comfort her, and the room they had painted for a nursery gets slowly put to other uses. Inserting a moment like that in a children's film, with the certainty that parents would be sitting in a theater next to their own kids, contemplating what life might be like if they had not been blessed with them, was a bold move for the screenwriters and animators and they pulled it off brilliantly.
Ellie's death at the end of the scene is somber, no doubt, but it is also the engine that drives Carl to abandon his placid life and set off on adventure. When "Up" comes to its conclusion, Ellie is alive and well in our hearts and in Carl's. He honors her memory by bonding with his wayward scout Russell and by pinning the bottlecap that meant so much to Ellie on Russell's uniform as a reward.
"Up" was rewarded itself by the Academy by being only the second animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture Oscar. Curiously, it is also the only Best Picture nominee in the history of the Academy to have a two letter title.
Carl and Ellie would be proud.
Beauty and the Beast (1991) - The Ballroom Dance Scene
As early as the 1930's, Walt Disney was thinking of turning the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast into an animated film.
He never got around to it in his lifetime.
24 years after his death, Walt's company released a version of the tale that would set the bar for all animated features to follow.
Not only was "Beauty and the Beast" a critical and box office hit, it was also the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards (a feat not repeated until 2009's "Up" and "Toy Story 3" in 2010.) While it lost the big Oscar to "Silence of the Lambs", the title track of "Beauty and the Beast" did win Best Song, and the scene in which it is played has become the most iconic of the film itself and also one of the most romantic ever drawn by animators.
The plot concerns a selfish and narcissistic prince who has been placed under a spell by a witch, wherein he becomes an ugly beast. He is doomed to remain a beast unless he falls in love and is kissed before the last petal on an enchanted rose falls. Into his life - and castle - comes Belle, an independent young woman who becomes the Beast's prisoner to save her father. At first the two clash, but through the intervention of the Beast's servants, who were turned into household objects by the same spell, their attitudes soften, and they slowly fall in love, leading to the famous ballroom waltz.
There are a few scenes (Beast saving Belle from an attack by wolves and nursing her wounds, a quarrel that seems more like a lover's spat, etc.) that establish their budding romance, but the one that seals the deal is the dance.
The enchanted tea kettle Mrs. Potts sings the title ballad, which is both a narration and encapsulation of the couple's tale. As she describes their hesitation and surprise at falling in love unexpectedly, Belle and Beast dance around the ballroom staring rapturously into each others eyes. We are literally watching their hearts melt.
The romance of the scene works on its own, but what really sets it apart and adds more realism to it is the fact that this was the first Disney animated feature to utilize the CAPS (Computer Animation Production System) program. The artists successfully blended their hand drawn animation with backgrounds generated digitally.
This process allowed the artists to use more color, softer shading, multiple planes. Multi-Plane animation was a technique first developed by Disney in the 30's. Instead of using the old system of numerous cameras and gigantic expensive machinery to achieve the effect, however, now a few mouse clicks did the trick, causing an illusion of depth and simulated 3D imagery. The results were startling.
Seen on a big screen in theaters, it was almost as if you were looking at a real ballroom. The camera pans and zooms around Belle and Beast, giving us a variety of previously unavailable angles to take in their intimate moment.
As famous and groundbreaking as it is now, the animators were not sure the new use of computer images would mesh well in the finished film. Their back up plan was to keep the dance, but to have the couple lit by a single light in a dark room. Just Beauty, Beast and blackness. Luckily they never had to resort to that.
The beautiful Oscar winning theme song, written by Howard Ashman (who passed away shortly before the film was released) and Alan Menken, was also recorded as a pop song to be played as the end credits roll, the first time that had been done in a Disney film. This version, a duet sung by Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion, rose to the top of the charts, got huge radio play and remained in Billboard's Top Ten for almost a year.
Angela Lansbury, who played Mrs. Potts, initially did not want to do the song for that scene in the film. She felt that Mrs. Potts was not the right character for it. Co-Directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousedale convinced her to do one for safety, just until they could find someone else to do it. They never did, and Lansbury's one take version is what you hear in the film.
Following this scene, there are other moments in the film that confirm the couple's love for each other (Beast letting Belle leave his castle to help her father, though he knows it will mean his spell will not be broken, and Belle sobbing over the fallen Beast and kissing him just as the last petal falls, turning him back into a handsome prince.) The ballroom scene remains the one that truly symbolizes their adoration for each other. It's even reprised in a choral version at the finale, as Belle and her Prince dance one last time before the film ends.
The animators were running out of time to complete the movie, so they actually recycled a clip from 1959's "Sleeping Beauty" where Princess Aurora dances in the forest with her Prince. They simply traced the motions and inserted Belle and her Prince for this final scene.
Decades after the release of "Beauty and the Beast", it's still amazing to realize that in that one simple dance scene we are not watching real actors, just two animated characters. Without saying a word, their glances tell us all we need to know about falling in love. Another great example of Disney artists working their magic to move us.
The Sword and the Rose (1955) - Queen Mary Gives Up Her Crown For Love
Few film lovers, even ardent Disney fans, have seen "The Sword and the Rose." It seems to have faded into the dustbin of history.
Why then do I include a scene from this obscure title on this list of notable Romantic Disney Moments?
"The Sword and the Rose" earned its spot by virtue of the fact that it was Disney's first full on live action romance.
After years of animated princesses and pampered ladies searching for their Prince, Walt decided to film a live action love story using real characters from history, although the inaccuracies in this film are rampant. One critic said that it was as true to history as "Pinocchio." Ouch.
"The Sword and the Rose" is set in England, during the reign of corpulent King Henry VIII. The plot concerns his sister, Mary Tudor (Glynis Johns, who was later named a Disney Legend, more for her role as Mrs. Banks in "Mary Poppins" than for this film) and her scandalous love affair with Charles Brandon (Richard Todd) a commoner.
Brandon becomes Captain of the Guard to stay close to the King's Court, but Henry has promised Mary's hand in marriage to Louis XII, King of France. As Mary is being prepped to assume the throne and become Queen of France, she secretly follows Brandon as he sets off for the Americas. The evil Duke of Buckingham (Michael Gough, most famous for playing Alfred the Butler in Tim Burton's Batman films) who is in love with Mary, discovers her plot and has the duo arrested before they can sail away.
Mary is forced to become Queen Mary of France, and Brandon is sent to rot in the Tower of London. Fate intervenes and King Louis dies. Rather than continue on as the French Queen, Mary begs her brother to pardon Charles Brandon and allow her to renounce her throne and return to England so that she can be with him. King Henry, moved by her passion in this amazing scene, agrees and also gives Charles a noble title: The Duke of Suffolk, (The Duke of Buckingham, who attempted to kill Charles, dies in the battle, so he's out of the way) and the couple live happily ever after.
The film, the third one made on location in England by Disney, using profits that were ordered by the British Government to be spent in post-war Britain, was a dud at the box office. Audiences in America didn't really warm up to a love story about British royals, and moviegoers in England were turned off by the many liberties taken with their history in service of a romance picture.
Many people attributed the film's failure to the more mature subject matter. Children (Disney's primary audience at the time) did not seem to take to this film, as they had for the romances involving animated characters.
It would be another two years before Disney released their next animated romance, "Lady and the Tramp", which also concerns a high pedigree female falling for a male beneath her class, and five more years before they attempted a live action one, 1958's "The Light In The Forest."
For a first try, "The Sword and the Rose" succeeds in establishing a template for Disney live action love stories, it's just too bad that it doesn't get that much attention now.
Lost (2010) - Jin and Sun Perish Together
When Disney/Touchstone's "Lost" premiered on ABC in 2004, it became an instant water cooler hit.
Viewers were captivated by this strange drama, which followed the lives of plane crash survivors on an island imbued with mystical qualities.
Two of the more intriguing characters were a married Korean couple named Jin Soo Kwon (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun Paik Kwon (Yunjin Kim.) At first, they were the outsiders of the group, given that they did not speak English and seemed to want to isolate themselves from their fellow castaways.Eventually, they became an integral part of the show's many tangled storylines and flashbacks.
It was revealed, for example, that Jin worked for Sun's father, a gangster in Korea, as a thug. He and Jin carry out a forbidden affair and fall in love. Jin takes one last job from his boss, agreeing to make a delivery in Sydney, Australia and then head to Los Angeles to drop off another package. Jin decides that he will stay in America after the job is finished and run from his employer. He takes Sun along on the journey. They never make it to LA, as Oceanic Flight 815 breaks apart mid-flight over the mysterious island.
Through the course of the show's six seasons, it is revealed that Sun does speak English and Jin slowly becomes fluent in it as well. They begin to bond with their island mates. They're also separated several times, as the storyline skips back and forth, both geographically and through the space/time continuum.
The last season featured "flash sideways' scenes, showing an alternate universe (later revealed as the after-life) glimpse of what life would be like if the plane had never crashed on the island. Jin and Sun are living happily together. Unfortunately, that's not the time line that plays out in the main story.
After repeated mishaps, and a long time spent apart, Jin and Sun are finally reunited, but wind up as prisoners on a submarine owned by one of the show's main villains (or heroes, depending on who you ask.) A bomb is planted on board and it explodes while the sub is underway. The small compartment begins to flood.
As the occupants of the sub try to escape, Jin realizes that Sun is pinned under wreckage and will be unable to free herself. He desperately tries to get her out but, to his horror, quickly surmises that it is a lost cause. Sun begs him to leave her and swim to safety with the others. Faced with such a wrenching decision, Jin makes a heroic choice.
As the water rushes in around them, Jin takes Sun's hand and tells her in Korean how much he loves her. With their last breath approaching, Jin lets Sun know that it will be over soon and that after this, they will never be apart again. They share one last passionate kiss, and then drift slowly to the bottom of the ocean, hand in hand.
It was a heartbreaking scene to watch, and yet at the same time a great depiction and reminder of the comforting power of love and romance, even when facing certain death.
High School Musical (2006) - Troy and Gabriella's First Duet
For a generation of Disney fans, "High School Musical" remains their introduction to the wonders of falling in love.
In what's essentially a 21st Century version of "Romeo and Juliet" or "Grease" (in fact, internet rumors abound that the genesis of the story was a 1999 pitch for "Grease 3" , which was to star Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears as the children of the characters John Travolta and Olivia Newton John played in the 1978 film version of "Grease") high school juniors Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez (newcomers Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens) meet, fall in love, are divided by petty cliques and rivalries, and are reunited happily in the end.
There are so many scenes with puppy love glances and chaste embraces that it's hard to choose one as a romantic representative, but the one that seems to stand out the most is Troy and Gabriella's first meeting, at a New Year's Eve Party in the lounge of a ski resort.
They are thrown together onstage to sing a karaoke duet ("Start of Something New" ) and the sparks fly. After a brief conversation and getting to know you period, they exchange numbers, not expecting to see each other again. (Shades of the first meeting between Shakespeare's young lovers at the ball in Verona.) Both are shocked when they meet again in high school. (Gabriella transfers mid-year, not knowing that it's Troy's school.) The couple play it cool around each other, as Gabriella is a science and math whiz and Troy is the captain of the basketball team, two groups that should supposedly not mix. The plot, as described above, develops from there.
The film was a huge success for Disney. It was the highest rated Disney Channel Original Movie ever. It also spawned a series of sequels as well as a merchandising bonanza. The first film's soundtrack was the best selling album of 2006. The songs and characters even made occasional appearances in the Disney parks.
None of this would have happened if Efron and Hudgens had not sold that first scene at the ski lodge. Their budding romantic overtures to each other as the snow fell (actually a few pounds of potato flakes, standing in for snow, despite filming in Utah) set the tone for the whole series and led to the G rated union that shook the pre-teen world.
While the stars and original audience of "High School Musical" are older now, the impact of this modern teen love story can be seen all over the pop culture landscape ("Glee" and "Pitch Perfect" come to mind) and will probably be viewed with fond "coming of age" nostalgia like the beach party movies of the 1960's, raunchy teen comedies of the '70's and John Hughes movies of the '80's are today.
WALL-E (2008) - Eve's Kiss Saves Wall-E
Robots in love, not usually a recipe for a successful Hollywood film (the 1981 Universal Studios film "HeartBeeps" is an example of such a high concept flop.) That's why it remains so astounding that not only did the wizards at Pixar pull this tricky story off with "WALL-E", they created a masterpiece in the process.
Like the Carl and Ellie montage in "Up", this depiction of Earth 800 years from now is nearly wordless for long stretches of its 98 minute running time. The comedy and pathos in the film come mainly from its protagonist, the title character, a robot imbued with the pantomimic qualities of the greatest silent film stars like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
WALL-E (which stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth) is the last functioning robot created to clean up an Earth overloaded by garbage. Humans have left the planet to live on spacecraft until it is inhabitable again. (The film was originally called "Trash Planet") WALL-E has developed emotions and curiosity over the years, collecting items like a Rubiks Cube, Atari 2600 and old VHS tapes to amuse himself (Most improbably, the 1969 romance musical "Hello Dolly!", which he watches over and over again. This marked the first time Pixar ever used live action sequences in a film.) During one of his outings, he finds a seedling plant - proof that life can exist on Earth again.
Into his world comes EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) an egg shaped robot, sleek and clean, contrasting WALL-E's dirty look. The animators actually consulted the design team at Apple, those responsible for ipods and other futuristic yet modern products, to create her style.
WALL-E immediately falls in love with EVE, though he can't pronounce her name - as a result, many Disney fans still call her "Eva." She takes the plant back to be evaluated. When the light on her chest indicating that she's analyzing the plant comes on, it has a familiar look - it's the logo used by EPCOT's The Land Pavillion when it first opened.
WALL-E can't stand to see her go, so he stows away on her ship as it takes off and rockets through space.
Back on EVE's ship, the duo get into some scrapes and battle other robots and computers that want to destroy the plant and keep humans from returning to their home planet. In the final battle, WALL-E is badly damaged. EVE, who by now has returned WALL-E's feelings (courtesy of his persisitence and a few love scenes from "Hello Dolly!") realizes that the only way to fix WALL-E is to return to his home on Earth for replacement parts. She then commandeers the ship and brings everyone back.
EVE does fix WALL-E, but his memory has been destroyed, and the re-boot brings him back to his original task, cleaning up the planet with no distinct signs of personality. Eve is heartbroken that once she finally realizes that she loves him, WALL-E is lost to her forever. She leans in to give him one last kiss and the sparks fly.
That's no figure of speech, sparks really do fly.
An electrical connection happens with EVE's kiss and WALL-E returns to his former self. He and EVE are happy together at last.
This film looked like nothing that ever came before and gave solid proof that true love can defeat anything, even programming.
Disney's AIDA (2000) - "Elaborate Lives" Duet
Disney's Theatrical division has had a mixed history with adaptations of its classic films.
Some, like "Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast" have enjoyed record breaking runs on Broadway and in countless other cities around the world. Others, like "Tarzan" and "The Little Mermaid" didn't last so long.
Part of the problem is that live shows sometimes suffer in comparison to their animated counterparts. A mandate soon went out at Disney Theatrical to find properties that didn't originate from the company's film division. "Aida" was such a project.
Based loosely on the legendary opera by Giuseppi Verdi - it was actually taken from a children's book adaptation of that opera - "Disney's Aida" tells the story of two doomed lovers in ancient Egypt.
Disney stalwarts Sir Elton John and Tim Rice were asked to create the music for the play, which was originally called "Elaborate Lives" so as to avoid confusion with the opera. Tony winner David Henry Hwang wrote the book. With such powerful names behind it, the show ran for four years at Broadway's Palace Theater. "Beauty and the Beast" actually moved to a smaller theater so that "Disney's AIDA" could move in to the Palace.
Heather Headley, who won a Tony for her work in the original show, played the title character, a Nubian Princess captured by the Egyptians and forced to be a servant for the Pharaoh's vain daughter, Amneris. Tony nominee Adam Pascal played Radames, Captain of the Pharaoh's Guard, who is obligated to marry Princess Amneris and become ruler of Egypt, a title he does not want.
Aida and Radames meet and begin a forbidden affair. He has no idea that she is a Princess. He is not only cheating on his intended, Amneris, but also with a Nubian - the sworn enemies of Egypt. Aida and Radames share a passionate duet called "Elaborate Lives" commiserating the fact that circumstances in their world conspire to keep them apart despite their strong passion for each other. The song consists of heart wrenching lyrics like:
I'm so tired of all were going through
I don't want to love like that
I just want to be with you
Now and forever , peaceful, true
This may not be the moment
to tell you face to face
But I could wait forever
for the perfect time and place
At the conclusion of the duet, it is announced that Nubia has been conquered by the Egyptians and that the king, Aida's father, has been captured. This news upsets her, of course, but she still doesn't reveal her true identity.
Radames eventually learns the truth and helps Aida's father escape, an act of treason. Aida, who could have escaped, remains behind with Radames. The two are brought to trial and sentenced to die. Princess Amneris, seeing how Radames had powerful romantic feelings for Aida that he would never have for her, begs her father to show mercy and allow the couple to die together. As a result, Aida and Radames are sealed in a tomb beneath the pyramids to be buried alive.
As the light fades and their air supply dwindles, Aida and Radames embrace each other and reprise their duet of "Elaborate Lives", tearfully vowing to find each other in the next life, never to separate again, even if it takes them thousands of years.
When this scene was played out on Broadway, with one solitary light on the actors getting smaller and smaller on their tomb until the theater was left in total darkness. Audiences were stunned. It was incredibly moving and depressing at the same time.
This being Disney, they added an upbeat ending to soften the blow, unseen in previous versions of the tale.
The final scene of "Disney's Aida" takes place in a museum, as two strangers visiting the Egyptian wing stop and glance at each other. This turns into a lingering stare and then finally a deep embrace as we, and they, come to realize that they are the re-incarnations of Radames and Aida, together again after a few millennia.
True love wins again.
Cinderella (1950) - The Shoe Fits
This list will end on a happy note, and with - of course - a Princess.
The tale of Cinderella had been told many times, since the 1600's actually, before Disney's adaptation arrived in theaters in 1950. His version, though, is the one that will probably stand the test of time as the definitive one.
The studio was struggling in the post-war period of the 1940's and needed a big hit to start the next decade. Walt decided to gamble everything he had on what made his first feature film a success and started it all - a fairy tale princess.
The risk was a good one, because "Cinderella" put the studio back in the black, and was the highest grossing film, animated or not, of 1950.
Cinderella is a young lady trapped in a bad spot, with a wicked step-mother and evil step-sisters who treat her like a slave. When the royal court announces a ball in honor of the Prince, the step-sisters are excited to go, but Cinderella is forced to stay behind and do chores. Through the intervention of her Fairy Godmother, Cinderella is magically whisked to the ball, where she meets the Prince, who is smitten instantly. She has to leave at midnight before the spell wears off. In her haste to escape, with the prince in hot pursuit, Cinderella leaves one of her glass slippers on the steps of the palace.
The Prince, who is convinced that his one true love has slipped through his fingers, sends out a search party with the slipper to place it on the foot of every girl in the kingdom. Eventually he finds Cinderella.
By the way, there are two common assumptions about this scene that people make, both of which are wrong.
The first: that the Prince is the one who places the glass slipper on Cinderella. It is not. The Grand Duke, sent out to oversee the task, actually does the foot measuring.
The second is that the slipper Cinderella tries on is the one she left on the steps. Again, it is not. Her step-mother, sensing that Cinderella - who she despises - is indeed the girl that the Prince has been looking for, trips the Grand Duke and sends that slipper flying, causing it to shatter upon impact. Luckiliy, Cinderella has kept the other slipper and produces it as proof that she is the one.
So why add this scene to this list if the Prince is not in it? Because it shows his dedication to his love. If you are willing to send a search party out through your whole kingdom - who knows how many miles they covered, on horseback no less - to find one girl you met at a party, she must be special and it must be love. (Some guys wouldn't even get up from the couch to find their one true love.)
This Prince, who is popularly called "Prince Charming" though he's never identified by name in the film, is one of the few in the Disney canon that has scenes - walking around the palace in conversation on a moonlit night with Cinderella, their dance together in front of the gathered guests, etc. - that establish his link to his true love.
Others, like Snow White's Prince, are conveniently placed in their film to arrive on the scene and whisk the fair maiden away without any prior context.
Prince Charming actually had more scenes, which deepened the relationship between the two, but they were cut at the last minute to shave time off the film.
"Cinderella" is one of the greatest Disney love stories ever produced, and also one of the few that concludes with the couple getting married, loading up in a coach and riding off into the sunset to live..... well you know what comes next.