When MTV landed on the pop culture scene in August 1981, it started lots of tremors throughout the entertainment world. Before MTV launched, most entertainment executives had laughed off the network as one doomed to fail. Who, they reasoned, would watch a channel devoted exclusively to music videos? Every record-company exec knew that music videos were only for record store owners that needed to be sold on the latest single. Surely a channel full of such videos would be a flop.
MTV quickly proved all the naysayers wrong. Within a week of its debut, MTV was one of the most popular channels on television. Suddenly, music videos were all the rage, and every network, record company, and entertainment company was willing to jump on the bandwagon.
One of the first companies to capitalize on the music video craze was Walt Disney Animation! Perhaps that’s not surprising, since Disney Animation practically invented the music video with Fantasia. Anyway, after MTV hit it big, Disney decided to take their music-video techniques and apply it to pop and rock music. The result was the wonderful thing we know as D-TV!
The idea behind D-TV was pretty simple: Disney would acquire the rights to batches of pop music, both current (well, ’80s-current) and oldies. Editors would listen to the song, gleaning themes and images from the lyrics. Said editors would then dip into Disney’s animation archives and assemble music videos for each song. The videos would be aired during commercial breaks on The Disney Channel.
Not every D-TV video was a masterpiece, but some of the videos are really great. Here’s the cream of the crop!
“Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” – Stevie Wonder
When it comes to rock criticism, some names immediately command respect. Greil Marcus is one, Cameron Crowe is another. Dave Marsh, former editor of Creem magazine and The Rolling Stone Record Guide, is definitely on that list. In his book The Heart Of Rock And Soul, Marsh says that the D-TV video for Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” is one of the greatest music videos of all time. Who am I to argue with an idol?
Seriously, though, this video is great. The video is taken largely from an animated short in which Donald Duck battles with his more affluent cousin, Gladstone Gander, for Daisy’s affections. The content of the video meshes perfectly with the lyrics of “Uptight,” which talk about a humble lower-class teen and his romantic relationship with a rich girl. The lyrics and video complement each other perfectly, each helping the other to drive its message home.
“Dreamin'” – Johnny Burnette
Every once in a while, the D-TV editors would come across a song that held a concept right in its title. This made assembling the video an easy task; the editors would merely go to the archive and pull out every piece of animation related to that concept. This simple method usually led to shoddy videos (the D-TV video for The Beach Boys’ “Dance Dance Dance,” for instance), but the video for Johnny Burnette’s “Dreamin'” is a definite exception to that rule!
The video consists of animated clips featuring people (or dogs, in Pluto’s case), dreaming about all sorts of things. “Dreamin'” is a love song about a guy dreaming about the girl he can’t have, so the segments featuring Pluto tearing apart a dream-cat don’t fit the mood. However, that’s a very small nitpick in a very great video! For the most part, the editors do a great job splicing the clips together in a way that beautifully depicts the romantic mood of the song. (Keep an eye out for an especially wonderful use of Sleeping Beauty!)
“Dress You Up” – Madonna
While most D-TV videos were focused around oldies, the editors also made some great videos for then-current hits. Most of these were done for the three D-TV TV specials that aired during 1986 and 1987. Each special is stuffed with light, airy tunes that were topping the charts at the time; it’s as close as you can get to stepping into a musical time capsule. With lovely, funny interstitial segments and some amazingly done music videos, the D-TV specials are essential viewing for any Disney fan.
Out of all the videos produced for the TV specials, the one for Madonna’s “Dress You Up” is the best. For this video, the editors took footage from a Chip N’ Dale short where the two chipmunks duel for the attention of Clarice, a sultry nightclub singer. Madonna’s lyrics don’t tell much of a story, but they do provide some strong images of a sharp-dressed guy with loads of charm, and the confident girl who wants him for her own. The editors do an excellent job of taking those images and giving us a story to build them around. With the exception of a few awkward edits in the song, this video comes very close to perfect!
“Workin’ For A Livin'” – Huey Lewis And The News
D-TV found a particularly good fit with Huey Lewis and the News. Not only were the band’s songs huge hits during D-TV’s heyday, but the light, upbeat style of the News’s best songs jibed well with the style of Disney Animation. D-TV collaborated with Huey Lewis several times, and each time resulted in a wonderful video. (For instance, let me give a shoutout to the D-TV video for the News’s “The Power Of Love,” a video that came EXTREMELY close to making this list). However, my favorite of all the Huey Lewis D-TV videos has to be the one for “Workin’ For A Livin.'”
This video does a great job of capturing the manic, comically desperate tone that the song conveys. All of us have worked one or two jobs that we really haven’t liked, and the combination of video and song do a fine job of making light of that situation. In that way, it lets us know that we’re not alone. That’s definitely a noble thing for art to do!
(Incidentally, the collaboration between Huey Lewis and Disney Animation didn’t end with D-TV. Lewis and The News also contributed the song “Once Upon A Time In New York City” to Oliver & Company. It’s not my favorite News song, but it is a Disney song. That’s definitely worth something!)
“Good Vibrations” – The Beach Boys
It’s hard to tell when your life will change, but when it does, you never forget it. For me, such a life-changing moment came when I was seven years old. I was on a car ride with my dad, and my pop was tired of listening to the radio. He dipped into his case of cassettes and selected one of his favorite albums: Endless Summer,a Beach Boys greatest-hits compilation. He popped the cassette into the player, the music started, and my young mind was promptly blown. I was too young to appreciate Brian Wilson’s producing and arranging skills, and I was also too young to enjoy how perfect the harmonies were. All I knew that what I was listening to was transcendent. From that day on, I was a raving music buff, and The Beach Boys were my favorite band.
Maybe that partly explains why the video you see above, the D-TV video for “Good Vibrations,” is my favorite of all such videos. My love goes beyond nostalgia, though. No D-TV video does a better job depicting the mood of a piece of music than the video for “Good Vibrations.”
Brian Wilson once described “Good Vibrations” as “a pocket symphony,” complete with separate, distinct movements. Each movement has its own mood, and some of them clash strongly. Rather than trying to smooth over those clashes, the D-TV editors embrace them, going back and forth between dreamlike visions (courtesy of Alice in Wonderland), lighthearted comedy (courtesy of Donald Duck and Pluto), and serene, thoughtful moments (courtesy of Fantasia). The different clips come together beautifully, creating a visual version of what Wilson produced musically. The visual and aural come together to create a beautiful music video!
For thirteen years (1986 to 1999), Disney Animation teamed with several different record companies and created D-TV. It was something that had never been seen before, and that we’ll probably never see again. D-TV is a perfect melding of pop music and animation. It’s definitely a part of animation history that deserves more attention!
AJ's love of movies began when his mom took him to see The Lion King on a warm California day in 1994. He left the theater with his mind blown and with a strong desire to become a filmmaker. AJ's fascinated with films of all kinds, but animated films have always held a special place in his heart, particularly Disney animation, the work of Chuck Jones, and Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson's Peanuts specials. His favorite animated films include (but aren't limited to) Frozen, Beauty And The Beast, Surf's Up, The Bugs Bunny/RoadRunner Movie, and Toy Story 3. Along with films, AJ also loves pop and rock music, hiking, the beach, comic books, traveling, writing, acting, and baseball.