When Disney throws a disco dance party, it’s easy to start imagining a potential playlist. Surely a remix of “I Wanna Be Like You” from “The Jungle Book.” No doubt a revamp of “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.” And if you’re feeling really adventurous, maybe a makeover of “Let It Go.”
At the Disney-themed disco dance party Friday evening at San Diego’s House of Blues, however, the Roots’ Questlove drifted away from the Disney songbook. Guests were given pink Minnie ears as they entered the venue, and they glistened to the sounds of Grace Jones’ “Warm Leatherette,” Biz Markie’s “Let Me Turn You On” and Barry White’s “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me.”
While one wonders what weirdness Questlove could do with Disney disco songs such as “Mousetrap,” a cut full of whispering vocals and stop-and-start grooves, there’s no arguing that the works of Donna Summer were just as vibrant as anything drawn-up by Walt Disney Studios.
The $50 disco party — and a follow-up Saturday morning panel — were hosted by Disney’s fan club arm D23 and designed to honor the 40th anniversary of the album “Mickey Mouse Disco,” which gifted the world with “Macho Duck” and a groove-based take on the Sherman Brothers’ “It’s a Small World.” The album, reissued this year as part of Record Store Day, a marketing event designed to spur sales at indie music outlets, was, said Questlove on social media, one of the first LPs he owned.
“It’s totally different than other disco, and yet it’s a whole other side of Mickey,” said TV/music producer Bambi Moé, a former Disney executive who worked on “A Goofy Movie” and “Mousercise,” among others. “It’s a really fun side of him that we don’t always get to see.”
This is the second major disco-focused event D23 has hosted this year, having previously thrown a rollerskating party at Glendale’s Moonlight Rollerway, where guests received a copy of “Mickey Mouse Disco” on vinyl. While there was no LP giveaway in San Diego, attendees were free to munch on all the mini-bagel hot dogs they could handle.
The panel, hosted by Mickey Mouse voice actor Bret Iwan, was curiously light on details pertaining to the creation of “Mickey Mouse Disco,” but it did provide a crash course in the mouse’s musical adventures, from early jazz and blues-focused shorts such as 1931’s “Blue Rhythm” to the dip into classical that was “Fantasia” and even to working with local experimental pop act Sparks in the early ‘80s.
Brothers Ron and Russell Mael were a decade into their envelope-pushing career with Sparks when they released 1982’s “Angst in My Pants,” their album that included the minor radio hit “Mickey Mouse.” Moé reached out and worked with the act on a companion track, “Minnie Mouse,” which appeared on 1983’s “Splashdance.” That album, said Moé, was largely inspired by a piece of artwork of Mickey surfing on an all-enveloping wave.
The ‘80s became a rather robust time for Disney music, an era in which the characters were presented as pop stars themselves. Case in point: “Hey Mickey,” a mid-'80s rewrite of the Toni Basil hit. “The original lyrics of the song were about a guy named Mickey, who really wasn’t so nice,” said Moé. “But this is Minnie’s love letter to Mickey.”
The most crowd-pleasing moment of the panel occurred when fans got a glimpse of newly designed Mickey and Minnie disco outfits, the star of the show clearly being Minnie’s draping, off-the-shoulder gold dress. It was, said character costume designer Trevor Rush, a “little bit more of a shorter skirt” than what the company would normally do for one of its signature mice. “But, hey, it’s disco.”