, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hi. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? I’ll level with you, on top of the usual burnout, every time I’ve done a By The Cover post, I’m always struck by some kind of bad luck immediately, or something bad happens in the world that affects me personally. Don’t believe me? The last time I did this was in February 2020; do I need to remind you how things went after? Still, I couldn’t resist dragging this series out of mothballs to honor the 30th anniversary of something that’s very much the reason why By The Cover exists at all.

On September 27th 1991, Disney released Simply Mad About The Mouse, a 35-minute collection of music videos featuring some of the most popular artists of the time covering, what else, Disney songs. It’s not the first time a well-known musician has taken Disney classics and made it their own, but none of them ever made a high-profile music video to go with it. These videos were exclusive to the Disney Channel and I remember occasionally hearing the songs on Radio Disney (yeah, remember when Radio Disney was a thing?) The CD version comes with two more songs; En Vogue’s “One Song/Someday My Prince Will Come”, which I already discussed in the first By The Cover, and an instrumental jazz version of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” titled “Mad About The Wolf” by Kirk Whalum – but we’re not here to talk about the CD. I had the VHS tape when I was a kid, and it had me spellbound. Without realizing it, I was introduced to singers who would go on to be some of my all-time favorites. As great as these covers are on their own, each video is a unique experience perfectly tailored to its artists’ genre and style. That tape I had disappeared ages ago, but an acquaintance gifted me a brand-new one after hearing me rave about it, and another friend even ripped me a higher-quality laserdisc copy for my birthday.

As of writing this, the individual songs are available for purchase on most online music stores, but the videos, either as a whole or individually, haven’t been re-released since 1991; it’s not even on Disney Plus. Thankfully, fellow Disney enthusiasts have kept the memory of Simply Mad About The Mouse alive through the magic of YouTube. So come with me as I explore this unearthed musical corner of Disney history and see what makes it worth going mad over.

I’d like to talk about the framing device of these videos because it’s well worth mentioning. It all starts with a view of a warehouse filled with crates.

Place your bets, which of these holds the Ark of the Covenant?

At the back of the room is a massive vault. You know that mythical Disney Vault are certain movies were kept until they’re given a new home media upgrade? This is what I used to imagine it looking like, full of Disney memorabilia and artifacts from the films themselves like Cinderella’s glass slipper and Captain Hook’s pirate treasure. We pan over these valuables as well as glittery sheets of music belonging to the featured songs all while the music builds up to something exciting, something magical.

And then, a drawing of Sorcerer Mickey comes alive and unleashes colorful CGI musical notes that brings the room to life. It’s so early 90s that I can’t help but love. I couldn’t be more nostalgic if someone hooked an IV of pure unleaded nostalgia right to my veins. The vault opens up and Mickey releases one of the music sheets, titled “Simply Mad About the Mouse”, out into the world – which happens to be the forest from Sleeping Beauty. This computerized sheet is our through-line, carrying us through a variety of familiar animated scenes from one song to the next, changing its title as it goes on. As it floats past Gepetto’s sleepy little village and Peter Pan’s London, it leads us into our very first video:

“When You Wish Upon a Star” – Billy Joel

Yeah, did I say the opening made me nostalgic? I forgot take what follows it into account. An animator (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Gene Shallit) creates a rotoscoped Billy Joel who proceeds to wander through iconic Disney moments that are in various stages of the animation process. The lines between hand-drawn fantasy and reality blend as a rotoscoped trumpet player enters the studio to accompany Joel, ending with the animator leaving for the night and becoming an animated character himself. I know what I just said sounds like a nonsensical clusterbomb, but that’s what happens when you try to describe a high-concept music video. There’s something about seeing traditional animation at work that I love, and having the song that defines classic Disney play through it really ties everything together.

As for the song itself, the music is great and the trumpet solo raises it above most other interpretations of this standard (I unfortunately couldn’t find out who’s behind it). But is it just me or does Billy sound kind of…bored? I don’t know, compare this to other songs of his at the time and it feels like he’s going through the motions. It’s still good, just not “Why Should I Worry” good. If you’re jonesing for some really classic Disney, however, this’ll get you in the mood. I can see why it got Grammy nominations in both the song and the video categories.

“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” – Ric Ocasek

This was my favorite of all the videos as a kid. Upon revisiting it I realized, yeah, it’s still my favorite. While the movie it’s from seems likely to stay buried in the Disney Vault for quite some time, and the song itself is starting to become controversial by association, this is still an upbeat rock version by Ric Ocasek from The Cars (RIP to a legend). It captures all of the whimsy and fun of the original with none of the negative implications. Ric and other live-action people play around in scenes from Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia, and assorted Silly Symphonies (and also one freaky scene from Dumbo’s “Pink Elephants” where the three-headed elephant comes towards the camera wearing masks of Ric’s face). I suppose that’s why I’ve always enjoyed it so much; the possibilities of animated characters and real people mingling in the same world have always fascinated me, ever since I first saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit, so watching Ric and friends have fun in some of my favorite Disney movies was exciting and made me happy.

“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” – LL Cool J

We go from colorful classic rock to stark black and white rap and hip-hop. It’s one of the songs that definitely feels like a product of the 90s; how you feel about that depends on your tastes. A song as cute and peppy as “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” shouldn’t work in rap, but LL Cool J is so self-assured and charismatic that he pulls off telling the whole story of the Three Little Pigs as both the Pigs and Wolf. The cinematography and choreography are tight, and the rhythm and hook are infectious. Also, listen carefully and you’ll hear the “whoo whoo” from “Billie Jean” in the background.

“I’ve Got No Strings” – Gipsy Kings

Back when I did a By The Cover of the songs from Pinocchio, I listed this as the best cover of “I’ve Got No Strings” for good reason. The flamenco flourishes breathes new life into the song. Once again the video has little to do with Pinocchio, but the bright colors, patterns and dancers make it a fascinating watch. It reminds me of some of animated segments that I grew up seeing on Sesame Street for some reason.

“The Bare Necessities” – Harry Connick Jr.

The Jungle Book is not one of my favorite Disney movies, but it’s impossible to dislike “The Bare Necessities”. Harry Connick Jr. sells the hell out of it, playing a cocky millionaire throwing a lavish party as everything he owns gets repossessed and taken away, even the guests. It’s no skin off his back though. He just goes about singing about how he’ll get by on the bare necessities of life and hitches a ride with the last of the party-goers because he’s that damn cool. This is the most elaborate of the eight videos, shot on location in Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills with a whole dance team and a ton of elaborate camera work to make it look as though most of it was done in one take. The Jungle Book has some of the jazziest songs in the Disney canon, so Harry and this tune go together like peanut butter and jelly.

“The Siamese Cat Song” – Bobby McFerrin

Didn’t think the previous videos were trippy enough? I would seriously love to know what was going through the minds of whoever assembled this one.

Bobby McFerrin, for those who don’t know, is the artist behind “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, the first acapella song to reach Number One on Billboard’s chart. He’s proven time and again how one person can make their voice into an instrument, from his entertaining interactive concerts to single-handedly providing the soundtrack to the charming Pixar short Knick-Knack. His music always uplifts me…but I have no clue what to make of this. There’s multiple hims floating through abstract space, then actual space, then a primordial earth and ruins with random objects floating around. It’s the most CGI-heavy of the bunch, which helps to entrench it in the uncanny valley. I recognize the images of space and volcanoes from Fantasia’s Rite of Spring segment, as well as flashes of the Soundtrack on some of the weird floating top things, and the row of blue oval satellites comes straight from a space-themed episode of Disneyland; apart from those there’s very little in this video that has anything to do with the lyrics or Disney in general (though considering how the song’s (ahem) “origins” haven’t aged all that well, I think that’s a good thing). While the multiple layers of his voice in his other songs are soothing and inviting, here it’s bizarre and unearthly…it kind of works with the vibe of this video if I’m being totally honest. You can take it or leave it, but don’t take any drugs while watching unless you want to experience a bad trip.

“Kiss The Girl” – Soul2Soul feat. Kofi

The most contemporary song of the bunch gets a contemporary island treatment. Blending clips from The Little Mermaid, the underwater scenes from Fantasia and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and some cleverly-implemented green screen shots of real tropical fish, this video feels like a natural companion to the film this song came from. The Little Mermaid was one of the Disney movies that was locked on replay in my home; add the fact that View-Masters play a part in this and revisiting this video is like looking back in time through a colorful toy box. I only know Soul2Soul from one other song, but they know what makes this song work and roll with it. It’s playful and alluring, and a highlight of this collection.

Fun Fact: On the lower-quality version I uploaded in YouTube’s halcyon days, Kofi and Eddie Man (the tallest dancing sushi chef with Eraserhead hair) commented to say thanks and shared a bit of their experience filming this.

“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” – Michael Bolton

Our final video is very much like one of those that was made to tie in with the latest end-credits Oscar-winning song that closed out Disney’s animated fare in the 90s; it’s heartfelt, but I can see why some might call it cheesy. Michael Bolton belts it out against a backdrop of ballet dancers and a recording studio backed by a full orchestra. Like with the first video, animated clips (mainly romantic scenes from Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White) play behind our singer; combined with this soulful anthem it evokes what classic Disney stands for: of fantasy and dreams coming true through hardship. Call me a white old fuddy-duddy, but I always had a soft spot for Bolton primarily thanks to his version of Hercules’ “Go The Distance”. Though his popularity nowadays is leaning towards ironic thanks to his comeback with The Lonely Island, it’s good to see he’s in the limelight again.

And with that, Simply Mad About The Mouse draws to a close. Everything flies back into the vault as the instrumental for “When You Wish Upon a Star” plays, the magic dissipates, and the camera backs away to show the vault is part of an Arcadian paradise.

First chance I get I’m remodeling my backyard to look like this.

Simply Mad About The Mouse is a time capsule in all the best ways. It captures a moment where every artist was at the top of their game and Disney was ruling the entertainment world (if not at the same level it does today). Each video and song has something to offer; if one’s not your thing, then chances are the next one will be. If you want something with a little more musical variety, I also recommend the album “Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films”, a compilation with even more talented performers that deserved its own video as well. Regardless, this tape and all these songs have aged amazingly well, and I hope they’ll continue to entertain, enthrall and delight the next generation of Disney fans.

Happy Anniversary, Simply Mad About The Mouse. Thirty years later, it’s easy to see why I’m still mad about you.

Thank you for reading! I’ll be back on October 6th when I look at An American Tail: Fievel Goes West!