For some of us of a certain age, the songs are buried in preconscious life. They are known without ever having been taught. Songs like "Whistle While You Work" or "Give a Little Whistle," "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" or "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo," "Lavender Blue" or "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" For others, the memories may be less distant -- of "Chim Chim Cher-ee" or "Beauty and the Beast."
Now that videotapes and laser disks are commonplace, there is not even a need for memory; the songs are easily and always available. Many have become an indelible part of American musical culture; some, like "It's a Small World," have been translated into other languages.
All were created by the Disney studios and are the aural counterparts to images of Mickey and Company. They are being celebrated by Walt Disney Records in a new set of recordings, "The Music of Disney: A Legacy in Song," containing 78 Disney songs.
This is not just kids' stuff. Many of these songs became pop hits. ("Big Bad Wolf" sold several million copies in 1933; Perry Como recorded "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes"; "Beauty and the Beast" reached the Top 10 on the Billboard charts last year.)
They were recorded for various Disney enterprises by major pop artists. Peggy Lee wrote at least five songs for "Lady and the Tramp" and sang three of them (she has been successful so far in her lawsuit to obtain royalties from Disney's video release of the film); Roger Miller sang "Oo-De-Lally" from "Robin Hood"; Pearl Bailey was heard in "The Fox and the Hound"; the Beach Boys backed up Annette Funicello in "The Monkey's Uncle," and Scatman Crothers gave life to "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat."
These disks present the singing of Maurice Chevalier, Angela Lansbury, Kirk Douglas and even, in a 1959 demo mercifully never used on screen, Sean Connery. And of course, Leopold Stokowski conducts in "Fantasia."
The songs are also representative of genres. There are evocations of the English music hall ("Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious") and surf rock ("The Monkey's Uncle"), of Broadway romanticism ("Part of Your World") and calypso ("Under the Sea"), of scat singing (I Wanna Be Like You") and Western folk ballads ("Davy Crockett").
There are even more specific resemblances: the song "Beauty and the Beast" has the character of a Stephen Sondheim lyric.
The entire score of "Beauty," written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, could come out of a Broadway musical.