Over the past few months and culminating in an avalanche of news and content at this past weekend’s D23 expo, Disney has released a steady array of trailers, confirming to us that the trailer remains the chosen vehicle for the promotion of moving images. The latest bunch are for properties exclusive to its upcoming Netflix competitor, Disney+, which launches in North America on November 12th. To that end, it’s worth investigating how the campaign fits together on an aural level. Here are four of the most notable-sounding trailers released this past weekend.
In two words, this Bill Hader-headlined holiday hilarity could be summed up as “Christmas casual.” Co-star Anna Kendrick is introduced singing to herself as one might at one of Disney’s animated entries, only for the music to pause in service of some slapstick humour. The frequent pauses to set up a punchline, a hallmark of comedy trailers, are in full effect here. Christmas carols are liberally laden throughout, such as “Joy to the World” at 0:20, and subsequently a more fateful interpretation of the “Carol of the Bells” at 1:09 as the plot deepens. Kelly Clarkson’s hit “Underneath the Tree” rounds it out as we find that Kendrick’s character’s innocent and aloof interactions away from the North Pole remind equally of Will Farrell’s “Elf” and Ellie Kemper’s “Kimmy Schmidt.”
Much like the trailers for other adjacent-entries in the Star Wars universe, the music for the upcoming series The Mandalorian doesn’t rely on the John Williams oeuvre. Instead it opts for brassy cluster chords underpinned by a persistent synth bass motif that hums around a chromatic enclosure—three notes, all adjacent keys on the piano apart. Werner Herzog gets the only dialogue, and the music stops for it.
Lady and the Tramp (2019)
Presumably because it’s still a safe bet, Disney continues to mine its past in animated features to produce polished, if not particularly inspiring, live-action takes. For Disney+, we’re served a 2019 edition of Lady and the Tramp. Of interest here is that the music for this relatively brief trailer is entirely uninterrupted, taking a central role in eliciting nostalgia. “Bella Notte” is the song that played during the iconic spaghetti dinner scene, and a new version is introduced here. For the trailer, it builds its arrangement slowly and mostly does without lyrics while toning down the schmaltz—at least a little bit.
Overall Disney+ Service Trailer
Notably, epic music is saved for the trailer promoting the overall service. Gentle strings in a minor key, shifting and ending on the Lydian mode, swell while other strings provide a lilting, propulsive undercurrent. Characters from various universes from the House of Mouse string together a collective monologue, promising “the future.”
At the midway mark, Homer Simpson interrupts with his trademark “woohoo”—a way to acknowledge how we haven’t typically associated The Simpsons with Disney, opting for humour by breaking the mood deliberately set by the trailer so far. The trailer ends on a rapid-fire montage, obviously meant to illustrate that Disney’s offering can compete with Netflix on sheer numbers, in addition to quality.
Of course, this isn’t all of the trailers that Disney released for its upcoming streaming service, but they are among the most notable in terms of the use of music and sound. It’s unusual for a single company to release such a diverse range of trailers for high-budget properties in a single day, but such is the format of the subscription service and such is Disney’s commitment to making a priority in their entertainment strategy going forward.
As a result, one can hear the variety of distinct approaches the trailers adopt in terms of musical selection and sound editing to properly convey the variety of content on offer. Sometimes the main selling point is the promise of unexplored territory in a well worn story universe, as the mood in the The Mandalorian’s trailer music elicits. Sometimes it’s unapologetic nostalgia, as in uncompromising focus on the new version of “Bella Notte” in the trailer for The Lady and the Tramp. It could be variety and fun, to the attestation of Noelle’s three holiday songs. Or, as the raucous percussion heart-tugging strings profess in the overall Disney+ service trailer, it could be a claim to magic.
— Curtis Perry