Messing with the classics can be risky, since listeners inevitably bring their own experiences and emotions to each aural memory. Just ask anyone who can sing "Hakuna Matata" on the spot or remembers hearing "A Whole New World" for the first time in a theater. Because Disney animated movies are a part of many folks' lives, they're guaranteed to be different, but hold an equally important place in each heart, and that's the case for these artists. On We Love Disney, a glittering marquee of contemporary talent tackle their favorite Disney songs, putting their own stylistic spin on things. Results fall into one of two categories (both of which are good): The best versions transform the originals into new creations that could stand alone without the burden of cultural memory. The rest fall into a generally pleasant but otherwise "cover versions" slot: a slightly unnecessary, but nonetheless enjoyable retooling. The Mouse House knows what it's doing, as each track is expertly executed.
The selections span generations -- from Cinderella (1950) to Frozen (2014) -- over six decades of princesses, anthropomorphic critters, and literary favorites. Ne-Yo, Charles Perry, and Fall Out Boy offer exhilaratingly rousing takes on already rowdy jams (Aladdin's "Friend Like Me," The Aristocats' "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat," and The Jungle Book's "I Wan'na Be Like You," respectively), bringing jazzy swing and rollicking rockabilly to the party. Album highlights include major transformations of hitherto precious moments. Jessie J's take on Ariel's "Part of Your World" is, simply put, a stunner, infusing the original with depth and yearning. Gwen Stefani's "The Rainbow Connection" is a warm and adorable throwback to classy jazz standards, while Jhene Aiko's sultry, slow jam mash-up of Alice in Wonderland's "In a World of My Own/Very Good Advice" morphs the track into an alt-soul gem, complete with expert sampling of the original cartoon.
Lucy Hale and Rascal Flatts' take on Frozen's "Let It Go" seems very unnecessary, considering the original was still in the popular consciousness at the time of this release. Kacey Musgrave's playful "A Spoonful of Sugar" retains the zaniness of the Mary Poppins original, but doesn't alter it much. Surprisingly, two of the bigger names on the album -- Jason Derulo and Ariana Grande -- provide faithful renditions, but compared to some of the other surprisingly refreshing revisits on the album, they get lost in the shuffle. And that speaks to the strength of the contributions overall. If a pair of superstars can be outshined by less well-known upstarts (Charles Perry, Tori Kelly), it's a solid collection that'll reignite more than a few happy memories. ~ Neil Z. Yeung