When it comes to all-things Disney, I’m on board. Give me the scoop on what’s to come in the world of WDW theme parks, I’m downright giddy. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Christopher Willis, award-winning Disney composer. Not only did we chat about Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Special, but I got a little bit of back story for the newly-announced attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Mickey’s Runaway Railway. Here’s what Chris had to say.
Blind Casting Calls?
Yes! Disney puts out casting calls and does them blindly. Translation? According to Chris, completely unknown composers “go up against much more well-known names. It was one of the things that got me firmly established in the industry.” What he’s speaking of is his audition for Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse shorts. “The shorts are wonderful, but there’s a sort of curiosity that develops over the years in the viewer, wondering what would happen if I was able to follow the characters around at greater length. I think everyone at Disney felt that way, too. It seemed natural in the end that we should do a bigger special.”
That special is Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Special. Good news for fans: there’s a second special coming out for Halloween.
Tell Me More about Duck the Halls…
Willis “noticed there aren’t too many Christmas songs that are very breathless with excitement, so I thought we should explore that. There’s a kind of breathlessness that you have when you’re a kid around Christmas, and it’s rather jittery, so the words on Mickey and Minnie’s chorus kind of tumble over each other. I also had this little idea that it could be a waltz. There aren’t too many Christmas songs that are waltzes. They feel quite festive to me in a sort of European, Viennese way.”
What Movies Have You Worked on?
When it comes to not wasting time gaining musical momentum, Willis’ works can be heard on X-Men: First Class, Shrek Ever After, and Winnie the Pooh. As for musical inspiration, “Carter Burwell is an enormous inspiration (check out Coen Brothers’ movies if you’re unsure who he is) and a man of great artistic integrity.”
Wait, You’re Working on Mickey’s Runaway Railway?
“Right now, I’m just getting started on a Mickey and Minnie ride that’s planned for Disney World in Florida. The whole of the Mickey Mouse team are heavily involved…and it’s, I’ve been seeing things behind closed doors in Burbank, and it’s absolutely mind-blowing. I think it’s going to be really wonderful. It’s always sad when something closes, you can see right now that classic split where people are sad to see the old ride go (The Great Movie Ride) but there’s lots of excitement out there.”
As for tidbits about the new ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, “I can tell you we’re working really, really hard on it. We have a new song and it’s a little bit like a very old-school Disney ride, the ride is structured around the song. It’s, of course, the ride has its own story that will only happen there. It’s amazing how much planning it takes.” Willis compares the ride’s development to a full development of a movie.
Plans for the Future?
Chris Willis has a movie opening, The Death of Stalin. It’s a different strand of his work, a very dark comedy based on the death of Stalin. Additionally, the movie will feature Jeffrey Tambor and Steve Buscemi as well as many additional prominent actors and actresses.
He’s “hard at work with The Lion Guard. We’re hard at work, right in the middle of season two. And the Mickey Shorts is still going, right in the middle of season four of those. We have some really crazy ones coming up.”
Looks like Mr. Willis has his proverbial plate filled with Disney composing, and I couldn’t be more elated.
All photos courtesy of of Christopher Willis and Impact24 PR except for Mickey’s Runaway Railway.