You've Got a Friend in Me at Pixar Festby Todd Pickering, contributing writer
Pixar Fest runs from April 13 through September 3, and while Paint the Night, the Pixar Play Parade, and Together Forever- A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular are taking the spotlight most of the musicians around the resort are playing Pixar tunes. The most common song is "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story. After hearing this fantastic Randy Newman song throughout the day, I couldn't help musing that this tune is to Pixar what "When You Wish Upon a Star" is to Disney.
I have rated the musical performers from my least favorite to my favorite. It was fun trying to get to see all of these groups, and it reminded me why the parks of the Disneyland Resort are such special places to have so much live musical talent. (The Bootstrappers, Red Car Trolley News Boys, and Five & Dime have not added any Pixar tunes to their repertoire due to their thematic styles, and are not included in this review.)
If seeing a group is high priority for you don't get discouraged like I did when I could not find this group anywhere for two whole sets. They have been known to play at the ticket gates, Town Square, in the middle of Main Street U.S.A. or even closer to the hub. In the afternoon they were playing with Donald Duck, Mickey, and Minnie. If they were playing a Pixar tune I missed it.
I returned another day and caught the whole set of highly enjoyable old time classics such as Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band" and "After You've Gone." Although the group is high energy with lots of brass and banjo, however since there were no Pixar tunes I will have to put them in a solid last place.
Royal Street Bachelors
These gents are the antithesis of smooth and silky. They play jazzy tunes and always take turns with solos. During the day you can usually find them tucked away in the side streets of New Orleans Square, and at night on the stage of The French Market. If you are not dining you can sit along the wall directly behind them facing the plaza in front of the Haunted Mansion and enjoy their set.
I caught them in both places, and they never played a Pixar tune. Their great renditions of Disney classics such as "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "I Wanna Be Like You," or some standards like "Up a Lazy River" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" are favorite tunes., but by default they have to tie in last place with the Staw Hatters.
Over at Disney California Adventure at the Pacific Wharf, the Grammy Award-winning Mariachi Divas are one of my favorite acts out of both parks. Not only are they talented musicians who sing in both English and Spanish, they also really know how to work a crowd. Their rendition of "You've Got a Friend in Me" was too much like the original. The Divas didn't put a Mariachi spin on it or even sing in Spanish.
Despite this tepid version of the Toy Story tune, I am pleased to report that the rest of the set was high energy and beautifully played. Maybe with some more practice and fiddling around (get it?) the Divas will make this tune their own.
Jambalaya Jazz over in New Orleans Square opened with a lovely rendition of "If I Didn't Have You" from Monsters, Inc. This tune is inherently jazzy to start with so it was a natural choice for this talented sextet. These guys really have fun; the trombone, trumpet, and saxophone players in the front row seem to have been playing together for a very long time. They are intuitive and truly seem to enjoy each other's company as much as each other's musicality.
Each member of the group took turns with solos, and even though they I didn't hear the tune "You've Got a Friend in Me," their delightful rendition of the Monsters, Inc. song puts them a step above the Divas.
The Dapper Dans opted for a barbershop quartet version of "You've Got a Friend in Me." I have to say, I saw that coming. I was hoping for something different,—perhaps in eight-part harmonies—but no such luck. Considering there are only four of them I suppose they chose well. The barber shop version of this song was absolutely spot on and they would have had to work very hard to mess that up. It was a very nice rendition with lots of solos, and the bass kept a solid foundation with "ba-boom-ba-booms."
I thought I wasn't going to get to hear the Dapper Dans when they encountered some audio issues with their microphones. Instead of quitting, they decided to do one quick number unplugged. It was a real treat hearing them up close and personal; it was also apparent why they have microphones these days—it helps them rise above the din of Disneyland. The Dapper Dans never seem to disappoint.
The Dapper Dans can be as elusive as the Straw Hatters, and are often found in many locations on Main Street U.S.A., so keep a sharp eye out. They almost always do a set over at Coca-Cola Corner with the piano player, so check over there also.
Main Street Piano Player
One of my favorite things about the Main Street Piano Players over at Coca-Cola Corner is how gregarious and approachable they are. They all play by ear (without music) and the piano's front piece is missing so you can see the hammers hit those strings in rapid fashion. Don't hesitate to visit up close as all of them I have ever encountered are happy to converse with you as they play.
The piano player Noel played some delightful classic ragtime. He performed "Married Life" from Up, which sounds like it was written in the ragtime era with a lovely fast-paced waltz time. "La Festin (Colette)" from Ratatouille was an unsuspected treat, and his version of "You've Got a Friend in Me" was nice and straight forward at first but he took liberty to do ragtime variations on the tune making this a sheer delight. (Note: the piano schedule is currently not listed in the Entertainment Schedule but can be found online; they are now coming in later and staying later, which gives you more time to enjoy the music.)
The Disneyland Band has it in brass, and I mean it. Their rendition of "You've Got a Friend in Me" is worthy of a big late night talk show opening with the blaring trumpets, the groovy trombones, and a smooth and jazzy saxophone solo. The choreography, though simple, is perfect with a lot of kitschy side stepping, group jamming, and finishes off with a kick line. This tune converts wonderfully to a marching band sound; the group really makes it their own and has fun with it. It lingers in the air, and the crowd seems to love it. Do not miss this.
TripleDent Gum Presents The Pixarmonic Orchestra
Back at Disney California Adventure is a brand new group called The Pixarmonic Orchestra. Chris Utley, The Show Director for Disney Parks Live Entertainment, says "the inspiration for The Pixarmonic Orchestra came from a lifelong appreciation and love of the music of Spike Jones and His City Slickers."
The TripleDent Gum jingle from the film Inside Out is so catchy it gets stuck in your head (watch out they play it three times). This is a fantastic addition to the musical acts at the Disneyland Resort, and they play nothing but Pixar tunes over at the Paradise Garden Bandstand. A woman in fun red spectacles plays a mean saxophone and licorice stick (clarinet). The bass player is charming with a lovely singing voice. The headliner of the band plays the guitar and has a mellow-yet-in-charge demeanor worthy of that cowboy Woody. However, the star of the show is at center stage with all of the bells and whistles. And I mean she has bells and whistles, and gongs and castanets, and can really jam on the xylophone and cowbells.
They do a delightful version of "If I Didn't Have You" sung by the bass player and the master of ceremonies. Their rousing version of The Incredibles high-energy theme song complete with blasting brass is thrilling. You feel completely transported to the Highlands of Scotland when they play music from Brave. They close their set with a sweet little, simple version of "You've Got a Friend in Me". They bring the gardens to a standstill when they double-time it; our Lady of the Xylophone would make Dash himself proud with her dynamic speed.
I saw one of their first sets when there seemed to be a lot of Disney producers; the band were a little late and seemed a bit nervous and unsure. However, shortly after introducing themselves it was pure magic watching the crowd and the band realize that they had what it takes to make a great act. Moments into their first number you could see their energy change as they relaxed and got into a groove.
A band with the word Pixarmonic should be the most worthy of having the number one spot on this reviewer's list of tunes from Pixar Fest. Let me know which group is your favorite when you visit this summer.