One of the mainstays of a carefree childhood, as I recall, was not having any concern about a cartoon’s off-screen life. Wile E. Coyote’s ultraviolent buffoonery might take on a rather more tragic bent if we’d ever seen him declaring bankruptcy over crippling ACME debts. King Louie from The Jungle Book wouldn’t have been quite so much knockabout fun if he’d constantly been reminding us of his endangered status. And Snow White And The Seven Dwarves might have been a more troubling watch if Sneezy had spent half the film in quarantine as a certified super-spreader.
Then came The Watchmen, The Joker and Gorillaz, and every two-dimensional bozo suddenly needed an eight-dimensional backstory. And now here I am, worried about Minnie Mouse. Already a symbol of engrained Hollywood misogyny (how often is she mentioned without reference to her famous boyfriend?), she’s now, according to her ‘people’ at Disney, developed an interest in lo-fi hip-hop. With the help of acts such as Purrple Cat and Hippo Dreams, she’s curated a compilation of some of the company’s biggest hits – ‘Hakuna Matata’, ‘You’ve Got A Friend in Me’, ‘A Whole New World’ and so forth – reimagined as lo-fi instrumentals. The ensuing album is called ‘Lofi Minnie: Focus’.
Someone in marketing has clearly been at Goofy’s weed stash, but they’re fronting it out. “Disney and Minnie Mouse are a natural fit with lo-fi,” a press release explained, “especially with Minnie’s interests in creativity, music and wellness leaning into lo-fi’s penchant for self-expression and its calming meditative properties.” And with Disney’s penchant for monetising any branch of youth culture they can get their grubby little white gloves on, of course. But if Minnie’s into lo-fi, she must be able to relate to all the lovelorn pining and teenage drinking that the likes of Rxseboy and Powfu rap about.
I’d have thought Minnie would be more into style sister Sia, but if Disney are now giving their characters contemporary musical tastes – perhaps learning their lesson from absconding Disney child stars such as Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus – then imagine the possibilities. How about an EDM remix album put together by Pluto, who’s clearly had his Winalot laced with MDMA since the 1940s? Or Goofy’s stoner-rock compendium? Or a Donald Duck collaboration with his vocal twin, Sam Smith?
It’s easy to sneer at the cynicism of it all, but I for one welcome our new cartoon gatekeepers. They have more chance of widening the musical horizons of kids at their most impressionable age than any YouTube sidebar. I might have got into a whole bunch of Manchester rock bands at a far younger age if a 2D Gallagher brother had been bashing on about them. Bring on the generation inspired by Shaggy’s compilation of his favourite slacker-grunge tracks. The punk shanty revival could’ve lasted decades rather than minutes if it’d been spearheaded by Ben & Holly’s Captain Squid.
There’s cultural value, too, in no longer trying to convince each new generation that music stopped evolving around 1942. Classic Disney animated films occasionally dabbled in contemporary music – generally big band jazz or blue-eyed pop balladry – but they’ve been stuck in the same rut for 80 years or so. Hence Randy Newman’s ragtime theme to Toy Story and Jessica Rabbit’s soul club turn in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. For too long, cartoon characters have been in thrall to the soppy show tune and orchestral bluster ballad while, stylistically, the Small Potatoes and the Shrek franchise (home to songs by Eels, Rufus Wainwright, Smash Mouth and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds) have been doing all the heavy lifting.
Rather than hoping they’ll randomly stream their way to a varied musical identity, then, why not encourage any and every opportunity to show our tots what’s really out there? Let’s have a punk-rock Peppa Pig, a nu-gaze Noddy or perhaps a psych jazz Cinderella.
‘Lofi Minnie…’ may seem a throwaway trifle of a record, but with the musical tastes of the masses embedded so early, a cartoon vibe shift like this might shake up the tired sonic foundations of family entertainment, and thus mainstream culture as a whole. Finally: a Mickey Mouse club that’s not made for your great grandparents’ generation, but for you and me.