Disney at 100: Forging the Filipino connection through music and magic | Inquirer Entertainment

Disney at 100: Forging the Filipino connection through music and magic

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:30 AM October 16, 2023



Exactly 100 years ago today, Walt Disney and his brother Roy signed a contract with New York cartoon distributor Margaret Winkler that launched the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. That providential meeting would in turn jump-start what we all know now as the entertainment behemoth Walt Disney Co.

As biographer Neal Gabler noted in his book, “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination,” the media mogul and animation pioneer didn’t just build a robust and self-sustaining global business empire, he and his team also ended up “reshaping culture” by bundling “television programs, animated features, live-action films, documentaries, theme parks, books, comics, brand merchandising and music under one corporate shingle.”


Disney’s passion for meaningful storytelling, creativity and innovation changed the course of how people consume entertainment, piling up one career-defining milestone on top of another.


To mention just a few: There’s 1928’s “Steamboat Willie,” the first-ever animated short with synchronized sound—which turned Mickey Mouse into an overnight sensation. In 1937, Disney released “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the first feature-length animated movie ever made.

Another highlight is its first foray into live-action filmmaking via Byron Haskin’s 1950 adaptation of “Treasure Island.” Five years later, the Disneyland theme park opened its gates to 161,000 visitors in its first week alone.

And in 1995, Pixar released the first fully computer-animated feature film, “Toy Story.”

‘Most passionate fans’

But there’s one crucial element that helped move the narrative needle on the aforementioned endeavors: Music. It establishes the rhythm of a scene as much as it helps shape viewers’ emotional reactions to it. This partly explains why many of Disney’s productions continue to resonate well with music-loving Filipinos.

After all, which karaoke-loving Pinoy doesn’t know, among many others, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” (from “Cinderella”), “Baby Mine” (“Dumbo”), “Go the Distance” (“Hercules”), “We’re All in This Together” (“High School Musical”), “Part of Your World” (“The Little Mermaid”), “Let It Go” (“Frozen”), “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” (“Encanto”), “A Whole New World” (“Aladdin”), “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (“Toy Story”), “Reflection” (“Mulan”), “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” (“The Lion King”) and “You’ll Be in My Heart” (“Tarzan”)?

And that isn’t us just paying lip service to that bold pronouncement.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”—PHOTOS COURTESY OF WALT DISNEY STUDIOS

Halle Bailey as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”—PHOTOS COURTESY OF WALT DISNEY STUDIOS

“Filipino consumers are among the most passionate Disney fans in Southeast Asia (SEA),” said Vineet Puri, vice president and general manager of The Walt Disney Company SEA, when we asked him in an email interview last week how the company has maintained a long and successful connection with its Filipino fans through music.

Explaining further, Vineet disclosed, “Our brand study, conducted in late 2021, revealed that consumers in the Philippines are the most knowledgeable about our brands, with close to 100 percent reporting that they know a lot about Disney, Marvel, ‘Star Wars’ and Pixar—the highest percentage of all Southeast Asian markets.

“Recognizing Filipino consumers’ strong affinity for Disney’s storytelling and passion for music, Disney has explored a myriad of musical consumer engagements with local talents to sustain our connection with fans and tell stories that inspire hope and wonder in a locally relevant way.”

Music, a key draw

He isn’t talking about building a connection with just one platform, Vineet pointed out:

“As music is a key draw for our Filipino fans, we have worked with local influencers to incorporate music in our social campaigns, effectively creating anticipation for our theatrical releases.

“For example, to drive engagement for ‘The Little Mermaid,’ we created a branded TikTok effect that featured ‘Part of Your World’ and worked with content creators to kick-start a TikTok campaign. In just six days, the campaign gathered 10 million impressions and over 167,000 engagements.

Mirabel (left, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) and Bruno (John Leguizamo) in “Encanto”

Mirabel (left, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) and Bruno (John Leguizamo) in “Encanto”

“Witnessing the sustained demand for ‘The Little Mermaid,’ we also released the sing-along version of the film in select cinemas in the Philippines.

“Meanwhile, to drum up excitement for the release of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ we collaborated with Globe Philippines to kick-start a fan campaign, rallying the country’s top 25 influencers alongside their followers to participate in a ‘Star Wars’ a cappella video of ‘The Imperial March.’ A video resulting from that collaboration has over 3 million views to date.

“Through the launch of Disney+ in the Philippines, we’re also making our musical content more accessible to Filipino audiences than ever before. Be it timeless classics like ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ from the ’90s or the latest music documentaries like ‘NCT 127: The Lost Boys’ or ‘BTS: Permission to Dance On Stage–LA,’ Filipino families can enjoy an incredible library of musical content anytime, anywhere.”

What is it about Filipino singers that makes them a snug fit for Disney songs?

Vineet asserted, “We have worked with a wide range of musical artists in the Philippines not only because of their strong, unique vocal talents, but also in recognition of the unparalleled Filipino pride that consistently drives great success for the musical soundtracks or remakes.

Hong Kong Disneyland music director Ceejay Javier

Hong Kong Disneyland music director Ceejay Javier

“Consumers in the Philippines are amongst the most supportive fans when it comes to their local musical talents—from celebrating Lea Salonga’s Filipino representation as Princess Jasmine in ‘Aladdin,’ to uplifting local remakes of Disney soundtracks like Janella Salvador for ‘How Far I’ll Go’ (‘Moana’), Morissette and Darren Espanto for ‘A Whole New World’ (‘Aladdin’) and KZ Tandingan for ‘Gabay’ (‘Raya and the Last Dragon’).”

The rest of our Q&A with Vineet:

In what way has Disney uplifted local talents through musical collaborations?

We are continuously identifying new forms of collaborations with musical artists so that we can connect with our Filipino fans and, at the same time, showcase local talents to new audiences in the region and beyond.

One creative example was our collaboration with Filipino singer Morissette to celebrate the launch of Disney+ in the Philippines last year. For the very first time in Southeast Asia, and in recognition of the strong affinity for Disney music in the Philippines, we worked with Morissette for the Disney+ original song “Imagine More,” performed live during our launch.

Other artists in the launch included Janella Salvador, Christian Bautista, SB19 and Zack Tabudlo, who performed their renditions of popular Disney tunes.

In 2021, in partnership with Globe Telecom, we also worked with Maris Racal for “Simulan,” the Filipino version of the official anthem of Disney’s Ultimate Princess Celebration—a global campaign aimed at celebrating the courage and kindness of beloved Disney Princesses and “Frozen” heroes. We leveraged her voice to inspire and empower young Filipino women.

As part of a global campaign aimed at supporting Disney’s long-term charity partner, Make-A-Wish, the trilogy of musical animated shorts (“From Our Family To Yours”) tells the heartwarming story of how a Filipino family passes down festive traditions.

In the first installment, “Lola,” fans were introduced to Nicole and her Lola, who shared a yearly ritual of making star lanterns—a festive tradition recognizable to many Filipino fans!

What are Disney’s upcoming plans for the Philippines?

We’re heartened to see Filipino fans’ continued passion for Disney films with strong music soundtracks. This was demonstrated by the successful performance of “The Little Mermaid” earlier this year, where the Philippines emerged as the highest-grossing market in SEA.

This adds to the success of other past musical titles, including “Frozen,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin,” which remain as the top three titles of the Philippines’ top 15 global box-office releases of all time.

Consumers can look forward to more musical titles in the years ahead, from Disney’s “Wish” in November to the live-action remake of “Snow White” and “Mufasa: The Lion King.”



We’re also planning to release new musical content on Disney+, including “BTS Monuments: Beyond the Star,” a docu-series charting the incredible journey of BTS. With unprecedented access to a vast library of music and footage over the past nine years, the show will feature the daily lives, thoughts and plans of BTS members, as they prepare for their second chapter.

With “Soundtrack #2,” the fan-favorite series returns in late 2023 with a new storyline surrounding two young sweethearts who break up after six years together, only to be reconnected again. Helmed by Kim Hee-won, it stars Keum Sae-rok and Steve Sanghyun Noh.

We’re also working with an exciting range of global and local brands to extend the joy of Disney stories beyond the screen. There will be more exciting Disney100-themed activities, such as retail pop-ups that will bring together fashion, accessories, homeware and more inspired by Disney, Pixar, Marvel and “Star Wars” characters.

Disney is marking a special milestone today (Oct. 16). Is there an accessible collection somewhere that gathers Disney’s all-time biggest songs?

In celebration of our 100th anniversary, we have curated a D100 Official Spotify Playlist with our all-time biggest tunes. Fans can also check out our Disney Music site for the latest hits.

Any other trivia pertaining to Disney music?

Apart from the aforementioned campaigns and collaborations, we’re also bringing Filipino talents to a regional stage through Hong Kong Disneyland (HKD), whose team includes Raki Vega and Ceejay Javier.

[Cebu-raised] Raki is our talented in-house singer, who has been with HKD for over 10 years. She’s a key performer in our daytime show “Follow Your Dreams,” and continues to be the leading vocalist at the “Mickey and the Wondrous Book” show.

Vineet Puri, VP and GM of The Walt Disney Company Southeast Asia —PHOTO BY RENDY ARYANTO/VVS.SG

Vineet Puri, VP and GM of The Walt Disney Company Southeast Asia —PHOTO BY RENDY ARYANTO/VVS.SG

Meanwhile, our music director Ceejay is the hero behind “Follow Your Dreams,” the award-winning show “Let’s Get Wicked,” our annual Christmas music show “Disney Live!” and our nighttime spectacular “Momentous.”

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Ceejay is the key person behind all the songs played in HKD, including background music, show music and more. Recently, he opened the show “House of De Villains,” for which he wrote the original song “Shine.” INQ

TAGS: Disney, Entertainment

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