It's the ultimate use of telling, not showing, but we forgive Disney because the music is catchy as hell. AND, despite the obvious purpose of the song, there's subtlety in the lyrics that gives us added depth.
After the song, the conflict is introduced, and it offers the character what he/she wants and names the price. Dun dun dunnnnn...
The Gist: I know there's more to life, and I want to seek it.
"Can I ignore that sound of distant drummingThe Conflict: Enter John Smith and the Englishmen, who offer the adventure she wants, but possibly at the cost of her tribe and the land she loves.
For a handsome sturdy husband who builds handsome sturdy walls
And never dreams that something might be coming?"
The Gist: I moved to a boring little stagnant town where no one understandssss me.
*Ok, Belle's my favorite, but that sounds a little bit like ... Bella. NOOOOOOOOOOO
"Every day like the one before
Little town, full of little people"
Townspeople: "But behind that fair facade,The Conflict: She can live in an enchanted castle... as a prisoner who's given up her only family.
I'm afraid she's rather odd,
Very different from the rest of us is Belle"
The Gist: I'd so rather be a human than a spoiled mermaid princess.
* There are like 50 million little girls who would totally disagree.
"What would I giveThe Conflict: Sure, she can have the hot human prince. If she gives up her voice. And possibly her life.
If I could live
Out of these waters?
What would I pay
To spend a day
Warm on the sand?"
The Gist: Stop telling me what to do. Being the boss would be awesome and sooo easy.
Simba: "I'm brushing up on looking down,The Conflict: He gets his wish... after his father's murdered by his evil uncle, and he thinks it's his fault.
I'm working on my roar."
Zazu: "Thus far a rather uninspiring thing"
Simba: "Oh I just can't wait to be king!"
The Gist: I steal 'cause I'm broke -- and thus nearly get killed by the authorities on a daily basis, but I take it in stride.
Quality Lyrics: (all of them. seriously.)
"I steal only what I can't afford.
People: "Oh it's sad, Aladdin's hit the bottomThe Conflict: He's granted three wishes, but none of them can win the heart of the girl he loves. Oh, and a badass sorcerer's trying to kill him.
He's become a one-man rise in crime
I'd blame parents, except he hasn't got 'em"
Aladdin: "Gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat
Tell you all about it when I got the time"
The Gist: I can't meet my family's expectations and be true to myself.
"Can it beThe Conflict: She can become who she wants... if she runs away and pretends to be a boy.
I'm not meant to play this part
Now I see
That if I were truly to be myself
I would break my family's heart."
Alright, so how does this help us as writers?
There's a clear pattern here that WORKS. Show what your main character wants, and put it in his or her reach ... while making that character sympathetic to your readers. Get the readers invested!
* It also helps if what the character wants is sooooo nearly impossible. Like, Ariel wants legs. Legs! And Aladdin wants to go from slum-poor to marrying a princess. And Mulan wants to overthrow cultural norms to be happy. No small things, here.
THEN throw every possible obstacle in the character's way, and make him or her sacrifice just about everything to achieve that dream. Voila! The beginnings of a great story.
What's your favorite Disney character intro song? I'm torn between One Jump Ahead and Just Around the River Bend.