The Vacation Kingdom of the World: The Walt Disney World Bandby Tom Richards, contributing writer
Some of you may remember the "Walt Disney World Forever" music-on-demand system that was once available to guests visiting Main Street U.S.A.. Visitors were able to choose from hundreds of musical tracks featured in Disney attractions—current and historical—to create custom compact discs. For a Disney music geek like me, it was pure heaven.
When this system was removed, it was replaced with another custom music program that made countless albums from the storied Disney vaults available for the first time in years. There were two locations—one on Main Street U.S.A. and one at Once Upon a Toy in the Disney Village Marketplace. A wide range of offerings included everything from "Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland" to Annette albums, to the soundtrack from the 1980s "Disney Afternoon." Pure Disney bliss.
One of my favorite albums purchased at Once Upon a Toy was the "Walt Disney World Band." From the classic 1970s-era logo to the vintage Mickey Mouse to the vacationers’ colorful apparel, this album screams early Walt Disney World.
The music, however, is the very best part. It captures the optimism, the anticipation, and the pure fun of the Magic Kingdom’s "opening act"; namely, Main Street U.S.A.
"King Mickey" (Mickey Mouse March)
Familiar to every single guest who enters the park, 1955's "Mickey Mouse Club March" is presented here in a brief, but unforgettably upbeat, arrangement. Featured on just about every Walt Disney World music compilation since the 1980s, this version sets pulses racing with anticipation for the classic Disney adventures yet to be discovered. It is interesting that it is this very version that is still played on Disney buses as they approach the Magic Kingdom.
Walt Disney Melody
One of the very best tracks, the Walt Disney Melody merges several upbeat Disney classics bound to send spirits soaring and feet tapping. The first song, "Hi to You" is another favorite Jimmie Dodd song form the original Mickey Mouse Club. A clever bridge leads to another Disney standard: "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" from Song of the South. Always popular and always recognizable, this Academy Award winner has become a more prominent part of the Magic Kingdom experience since the arrival of Splash Mountain. Next up: "Whistle While You Work" from the very first Disney animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Arranger James Christensen creates a medley of favorite songs that is just as memorable as the original versions. Just try to listen to this collection of songs and not smile. It’s impossible.
It’s a Small World
The Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman classic gets the marching band treatment here and the result is a memorable, and very brief, interpretation of an attraction favorite. The counter melody plays well in the marching band style, and there are plenty of clever music references to the international feel of "It’s a Small World." Lots of fun.
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
Reaching far back into Disney history, the Walt Disney World Band includes a nod to the very first hit Disney song from The Three Little Pigs. Clever, funny, and original, it’s a welcome addition here that helps remind today’s guests that the richness of the Magic Kingdom experience owes a great debt to the artistry and creativity of the very first generation of Disney animators, composers, and Imagineers.
Songs from Winnie the Pooh
At just under three minutes, this medley clocks in as one of the longer tracks on the album. Three Pooh classics—"Winnie the Pooh," "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers," and "Hip Hip Pooh-Ray"—are blended in a jaunty little medley that takes listeners back to the Hundred Acre Wood. The substantial presence of A. A. Milne’s beloved bear of little brain should come as no surprise: this album was recorded in 1971 in the midst of Disney animation’s adaptations of the Pooh stories. These bouncy melodies conjure images of the old-style Pooh himself, bouncing along Main Street, pot of honey on his head.
The Old Home Guard
From the live-action/animated classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks, this march captures the patriotism and hope that swept England during the Second World War. In the film, this song appears twice: once near the opening of the story and then once again at the film’s close. Here, it is played with great faithfulness to the film—for the first minute or so. It segues in to an uncomfortably jazzy interpretation that to my ears, makes it almost unlistenable. My advice: listen to the first half and then press fast-forward.
Grim Grinning Ghosts
An all-too-brief but appropriately spooky version of the Haunted Mansion favorite. Played in low, minor keys, this little gem captures the dread—and the humor- of one of Walt Disney World’s all-time favorite attractions.
A Marching Band
This number sounds just like the "We’re the Mouseketeers" number from the original Mickey Mouse Club, and it very well may be. Here, it’s called "A Marching Band" and is a snappy, upbeat song guaranteed to set your toes tapping.
Mary Poppins Medley
A sweet little collection of familiar tunes from the 1964 classic, actually based on the original Irwin Kostal arrangements made for the film. Much of the music featured here is from the "Jolly Holiday" sequence wherein Mary Poppins wins the horserace. It contains all the hallmarks of the Academy Award winning arranger’s style: original interpretations of melody and interweaving of songs (in this case "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "A Spoonful of Sugar"). This arrangement captures the whimsy of a memorable day in the English countryside riding upon merry-go-round horses.
America the Beautiful (Circlevision Theme)
An appropriately patriotic version of a treasured American song captures the excitement and nostalgia of a Fourth of July parade. It’s also nice to see the world "Circlevision" again.
Strike Up the Band
A rousing version of the Gershwin classic begins a collection of American favorites especially appropriate for a Main Street U.S.A. parade.
This Meredith Wilson tune from The Music Man also captures that nostalgic turn-of-the-century feel for which Main Street U.S.A. is so universally loved. Listening to these standard tunes again, I’m reminded of the optimism, the energy, and the vigor that characterized so much of America’s past and that were embodied in Walt Disney himself.
Old Favorites Melody
This collection is quintessentially Main Street, incorporating many of the themes that still play instrumentally on the Main Street loop. "The Band Played On," "In the Good Old Summertime," and "While Strollin’ Through the Park One Day" embody the jauntiness and "feel good" atmosphere of a small hometown in the summer.
Toot Toot Tootsie
In the spirit of the great Spike Jones, this zany number is genuinely funny.
With A Flair – with the "Dapper Dans"
Another selection from the 1971 film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, this is the only vocal selection on the collection. Sung by Main Street’s Dapper Dan’s, it’s a fast and furious take on the song originally sung by Professor Brown in the film. It’s not surprising that two songs from Bedknobs and Broomsticks appear here, as it was Walt Disney Productions’ big film release for 1971. This version is fun and conjures images of Riverside, Iowa, the small town featured in The Music Man. A nice piece of Disney—and Magic Kingdom—history, preserved here forever.
Reminiscent of pep rallies and homecoming parades, these rousing numbers recreate the excitement of Friday night football games and bonfires. One of the selections—"You’ve Gotta Be A Football Hero"—was written by Al Sherman, father to Disney composers Richard and Robert Sherman.
"Slidin’ Saints" (When the Saints Go Marching In)
This track seems somewhat out of place here: it would be more appropriate at Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. Nevertheless, it’s a fun, infectious number that features some first class work from the brass section.
King Cotton – March
No American parade could be complete without a John Phillip Sousa march, and this one is particularly effective in capturing the long lost tradition of gathering in the town square on a Sunday afternoon to a band concert.
I Got Rhythm
The closing track is another George Gershwin favorite. The band is obviously having a lot of fun with this jazzy number, and throws in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. Like what? There are honking horns from Main Street U.S.A. vehicles, a little riff on the 1955 "Mickey Mouse March", and some unexpected vocals from band members themselves. This number captures that sense of fun and professional enthusiasm that marked Walt Disney World’s early years. Cast Members—in this case musicians—were chosen with utmost care, were treated well, and shared an unspoken sense of pride of being a part of the Florida Project. A fun, fitting conclusion to this memorable collection
Taking a Bit of the Disney Magic Home
While the Wonderland Music Company and the Walt Disney World Forever cd programs are no longer available for park guests, there is a bit of good news. This "Walt Disney World Band" cd is available for download on iTunes. Take a listen and I am confident that every fan of the Vacation Kingdom of the World will find something to love about this distillation of Walt Disney World’s magical music.