The Fantastical Sonic Ambience: Disney Creating Worlds With Music

Imagine if films had no music, would the cinematic medium survive the way it has today? While music can be used as an aesthetic component that enhances the film experience, is also a storytelling device and a language that serves similar purposes to the verbal language in the film context, although it is rarely perceived as such. Despite this, many directors such as Alfred Hitchcock claimed that, in some instances the music works better than spoken words. Both music and imagery are equal - but different - agents of story, which together unite to create a phenomenal end product or a film being. This is particularly demonstrated in the Disney animated films that influenced and contributed to the history of film music. This video essay explores how Disney created a unique form of art: a fantastical sonic ambience by integrating music into the narrative of their animated films. This also includes live demonstrations on the piano, to examine the different musical styles and techniques that Disney uses in cinematic storytelling, such as; Mickey Mousing, music as an invisible character, music as the sound of the atmosphere and the leitmotifs. 


Sadeen Elyas is a second-year PhD candidate in Film Studies—Film Musicology at the University of Hull. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Media and Screen Studies from the University of Hull, and her PhD builds upon research begun in her undergraduate dissertation. Her research interests are film music (including the early use of sound in Hollywood cinema) and animation studies, especially Disney. Her PhD research combines both of her interests, and looks at the use of sound and music as a storytelling agent in silent cinema and sound film, focusing on Disney films and Disney theme parks. Sadeen is also a composer who worked with different organizations in composing music for various projects that supported social issues. She is currently composing music for a stage musical, and for a national music video project about Saudi Arabia.