You don't notice them at first sight and yet they fully participate in the Disney Parks experience. It's background music, which resonates in the four corners of Disneyland Paris, to better immerse us in its dream worlds.
Walt Disney and his Imagineers being first and foremost filmmakers, it was natural for them to design Disneyland Resort like a film, with its script, its sets, its actors (Cast Members and visitors) and its staging. And it was just as natural to imagine a soundtrack for it. This rather special soundtrack is background music, also known as BGM (Background Music), an essential element of the theming so dear to Imagineers.
Originally real orchestras
In the very early days of Disneyland Resort, this type of music was rather played live by different ensembles scattered throughout the Park. However, in addition to the music for attractions, there were already some background music recorded. Thus, visitors entering Fantasyland via the Sleeping Beauty Castle were welcomed in song, with "When You Wish Upon A Star", a true "once upon a time" musical. At the entrance to Frontierland, it was an old banjo tune that served as an introduction while at Adventureland, it was native drums and sounds of the jungle. These very short BGMs (of the order of a few minutes) turned in a loop (or "loop"), following the principle of "muzak", these background music broadcast in American businesses from 1934.
Then comes the “thematization”
Gradually, at the start of the 1960s, certain outdoor attractions and other queues at the Disneyland Resort were in turn equipped with their own background music produced especially for the occasion. So composer Buddy Baker ("Grim Grinning Ghosts") wrote a new arrangement of Snow White's song "I Wish" for the Wishing Well in Snow White Grotto (1961), embellishing it with bells. Some music could also change depending on the time of day or time of year. Thus, the organ of Swiss Family Treehouse (1962) which played most of the time the famous "Swisskapolka" of the film The Robinsons of the South Seas (1960) (also composed by Buddy Baker) started playing Christmas Carols during the Christmas period. This is also what happens today on Main Street, USA for the end of year celebrations, during which you can enjoy background music specially designed for this moment.
Over the years, the background music was gradually extended to the entire Park, starting with Main Street, USA But it was then that the question of their thematization arose.
As in a film, the choice of music is particularly crucial for the coherence of the stories and curiously, the first recordings broadcast in Main Street, USA were rather 1960s pop, such as the famous “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel, focusing more on emotion than on history.
Surprised by this discrepancy, the radio man Jack Wagner (who was for a long time the official voice of the Disneyland Resort) proposed in 1970 to the Vice-President of Disney Entertainment at the time Bob Jani to design background music more in keeping with Land theme. Relying mainly on Disney records of the time, and in particular arrangements for marching band, he designed a loop more in the spirit of the turn-of-the-century. So much so that Disney entrusted him with the design of the BGMs of more than 40 zones for Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World which remain, even today, references of the genre.
They also inspired the Imagineers for the design of background music for Disneyland Paris, some of which, as a nice twist, will be used in American parks.
And with us?
Disneyland Paris background music works like film music, except that it is up to the visitor to create their own sequences as they move around the park. And just as there are many forms of film music, there are many forms of background music.
There are those that serve to set the scene and transport us to another place or another time thanks to themes and sounds from another time. In cinema, this is particularly the case with The princess and the Frog (2010) or The Lady and the Tramp (2019) whose music inspired by New Orleans jazz takes us back to the America of the 1910s and 1920s. On Main Street, USA, it's essentially "ragtime", a style typical of the American turn-of-the-century, the period of inspiration of the Land. We can thus hear works by Scott Joplin or Arthur Pryor, or more recent music, taken from films like Pollyanna (1960) or up there (2009), arranged in the same style.
Music also has the power to make us travel around the world, in particular thanks to the choice of instruments. They may be Chinese, as in Mulan (1998), or Celtic, as in Rebel (2012). This same principle applies to Adventureland, which abounds in exotic music, played by African percussion at the level of Hakuna Matata Restaurant, or by oriental sets for the Adventureland Bazar area.
Other film scores proceed essentially by quotations or references. In Toy Story 2 (1999), when Buzz takes over Zurg's lair and jumps on suspended pieces, each jump sounds a note from the theme ofThus Spoke Zarathustra, obvious reference to the science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). And more recently, in The Incredibles (2004), composer Michael Giacchino plunged us back into the atmosphere of James Bond films, drawing inspiration from the classic arrangements of the famous franchise.
This is exactly what is happening at the Walt Disney Studios Park, whose BGM is enriched with dozens of film scores (at Place des Frères Lumière) and cartoons (at Toon Studio) and immediately situates us in film studios. And at Frontierland, the music of the great western classics such The Magnificent Seven (1961) immediately take us to the American West. But not just any: a mythical and hectic West!
But also, original music
Finally, film music is also very often original music, composed for a particular production. At Disneyland Paris, this is the case with the music for Discoveryland, a unique soundtrack written precisely for the occasion by pianist and composer David Tolley. Tailor-made!