Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Part Of Your World by Jodi Benson

Everybody has a dream.

Some picture a new car. Others think a life without work, and we all hope for a world in which we can understand each other on a deeper level to make us closer as human beings and diminish the conflict in our lives.

“Part Of Your World” is from the Disney animated film, The Little Mermaid. This film was released in1989 and marked the beginning of a new renaissance in Disney animation including the films, Beauty And the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. “Part of Your World” is the “I Want” song that is part of most musicals. The “I Want” song features the main character describing his or her motivation for the actions he or she takes within the story. Other well known “I Want” songs include “I Just Can’t Wait To be King” from The Lion King, “Up There” from The South Park musical and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. These are often the memorable songs from musicals because they provide a direct insight into the hopes and dreams of the main character that define their beliefs and actions.

I’m not saying that we all know what if feels like to be a mermaid, become infatuated with a guy you saved and want legs but I think we can all understand desiring something different in our lives and feeling misunderstood which is what “Part of Your World” is really about.

The Little Mermaid was the first Disney movie that felt like it spoke to my generation. The animation was more modern, the story was less predictable and the music reflected modern sensibilities. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman created a musical universe in The Little Mermaid that took the musical traditions of Disney and modernized them for a new generation. No longer was the singing a caricature of the human voice like in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves but the sound of real people singing. The background music, though orchestrated with tradition acoustic instruments melded effortlessly with synthesized colors reflecting the music of the 1980s.

Jodi Benson is my Disney Princess. She did the voice acting for Ariel in The Little Mermaid, the title character in Thumbelina, as well as Tour Guide Barbie in Toy Story 2 (if you haven’t seen that film in a while pay special attention to Benson’s work here, it’s a stroke of genius). Jodi Benson sings with a bright clear tone that at the beginning of "Part of Your World." She doesn’t have a lot of vibrato (a pulsating effect produced by rapid variations in pitch) which often makes trained classical music voice not as relatable to people’s ears. Her voice isn’t weak and you can hear her fill out tone when she holds the word “more” at the end of the first verse. In the chorus she pulls back her volume with “I want to be where the people are blurring the lines between singing and speaking. Her voice floats around the notes and has a weightless quality that propels the music along. She utilizes variation in her tone and dynamics as great speakers do, sometimes speaking loud, sometimes speaking softly, sometimes speaking quickly and sometimes taking time make sure that they are understood.

Bet'cha on land they understand
That they don't reprimand their daughters
Proper women sick of swimmin'
Ready to stand

We all know as landlubbers that female oppression is not exclusive to the undersea world. This level of hope through child-like ignorance is charming because we understand that Ariel feels misunderstood by her father. As much as the realist in us knows that Ariel’s dreams are preposterous, it is hard not to smile at the innocence and the hope that she embodies.

Almost all the melody lines have an upward direction. It’s like how we raise our pitch when we ask a questions. With Ariel, the melodies don’t so much question but rise to differenr possibilities. She idolizes the human life partially through ignorance but also because she doesn’t know how to make her mer-life better.

I have the pleasure of spending my days as a teacher with fourth grade students. And if you talk to fourth grader they share many feelings with Ariel. They wish for a recess that would last forever or a life where their parents can just get along. They just want to be like everyone else and can’t understand why their teachers seem to make their lives so difficult. It’s a time in life when dreams are so often crushed by reality, a time where the world becomes darker and a time when hope is so often disappointed by reality. The genius of this song is that it relates to children but also speaks to adults, because we remember how it feels to be a child and we so often see that hope in the children around us.

The inspiring part of the story of Ariel is that her unrealistic hopes come true.

There are people who fight through the doubts and the criticism and rise beyond reason to make the improbably a reality. They are people like Fred Rogers who was told that children would never watch a television show that focused on education with little song and dance to entertain. However, in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Fred Rogers created television show that has inspired generations of children to believe in themselves.

They are artist like George Lucas, who had to personally finance the first Star Wars film because no one else believed the universe he created would capture the imagination of audiences. More then thirty years later Star Wars has entertained millions of people and has become one of the most influential franchises in entertainment.

There are politicians like Barack Obama who after losing his 2000 bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives was left with little in his life savings and personal credit. When he went to the 2000 Democratic National Convention after the election he had just lost, his credit card was rejected he was not even able to get a floor pass. Eight years later, Barack Obama has done what many thought was impossible and is preparing to be inaugurated as the forty-fourth president of the United States of America.

What defines us? Is it our jobs or where we come from? Is it the people that we love and things that we believe? Or is it the dreams that we have and hold close to our hearts? We tell children that they can grow to be anything that want but we stop telling ourselves that somewhere along the line. What we hope for, what we desire reflects what we value in our lives. It informs our motivation and actions as well as the outlook we have in life.

When I listen to “Part of Your World” and it makes me want to part of Ariel’s world. A place where dreams come true, forgiveness and true love are around the corner, and crabs can conduct impromptu orchestras filled with sea animals. The great thing though is that my world isn’t that far away from Ariel’s (except for the crab part) and maybe the reason this song warms my heart is because it reminds me of the feeling of hope that makes each day shine with the potential to make our dreams come true.


  1. I like the reference to South Park--that made me laugh. In fact, may I be so bold as to suggest a whole post dedicated to the magic of that musical? :) Also, perhaps "I wanna rock" by Twisted Sister may be added to that list of "I Want" songs.

  2. South Park musical would be fun. I'm probably going to pick one of the songs in that musical to look at. It is some of the best musical comedy that is out there. Many people try to make funny music but few succeed.

    Twisted Sister? Good call.