I’m going to just assume you’ve YouTubed at least one Disney song in your lifetime. Maybe you were singing with your kid, chasing nostalgia, or leading a libation-fueled rendition at some house party. You probably know the melody to “A Whole New World,” and can sing the chorus of “Hakuna Matata.” Disney has woven its inextricable thread into the collective pop-culture consciousness, so if you’re a member of the past few generations, it’s practically guaranteed you grew up with classic Disney films and their soundtracks.
Earlier this week, Disney Interactive Studios released Disney Sing It: Family Hits for Wii and PlayStation 3. It’s the latest in the company’s Sing It series, which has hitherto included music from such time-treasured, timeless classics as Hannah Montana and High School Musical. This time, Disney shifted the target audience from teenyboppers to a more universal crowd, with a varied song listing from decades of Disney movies.
Thirty songs from three Disney eras are honored: the classic period from the ’30s to ’60s, the “Renaissance” of the ’90s, and contemporary releases, which include Pixar. Gameplay is less karaoke and more of a sing-along, as the original vocals play in the background as you sing the lyrics on screen. Assuming you stay in pitch and don’t make Simba sound like a pubescent yodeler, you’ll nab a high score. The game requires at least one microphone, which you can pick up with the game for an extra 10 bucks. Simply plug the mic into the Wii’s USB slots and you’re ready to unleash your inner Donna Summer.
Flipping through the song catalogue reveals the game’s biggest flaw: too many songs are obscure and not recognizable enough. Not many people are going to know “Once Upon a Dream” from Sleeping Beauty or “You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!” from Peter Pan, much less how to sing them. And “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” from Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch? Wasn’t that straight-to-video? I would’ve preferred to see these kinds of songs as unlockable bonuses. As they are, they make the game’s song selection rather inaccessible.
Many beloved tunes were neglected, like Aladdin’s “Friend Like Me,” The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss the Girl,” Pocahontas’s “Colors of the Wind,” The Lion King’s “Circle of Life,” and most of Beauty and the Beast. Movies that aren’t even known for their soundtracks, like Cars and A Bug’s Life, feature multiple songs. Why not include an underrated Disney flick with great music, like A Goofy Movie or Hercules?
You can, however, learn the songs quite easily. They play in their entirety as you browse menus and makes selections. They’re also accompanied by scenes from the films. But isn’t the biggest appeal of these games singing songs you know and love? People go to karaoke for “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” not Perry Como’s greatest hits. It’s hard to jump right into many of the songs on Disney Sing It.
The game features three difficulty levels, accommodating everyone from tykes to grownups. The easy setting, however, is pretty much insulting to anyone older than four (you can just hum a single note continuously and achieve a perfect score, literally), while the hard setting actually requires you to sing well. You can listen to your performance when you’re done, and adjust your voice to sound like all kinds of crazy. Choose from super-high-pitched eunuch chipmunk, super-low James Earl Jones resonance, or robot-like vibrato gone haywire. One technical nuisance is the microphone’s slight lag, which can be distracting. Avoid this by lowering the mic volume to your liking, or switching it off completely.
To strengthen your pipes, the game offers a virtual vocal coach with 15 lessons, spanning from singing basics to advanced games and challenges. The genial Anika Noni Rose, voice of Princess Tiana in last year’s The Princess and the Frog, acts as your instructor. She guides you through warm-ups, pitch, rhythm, and memory activities, and exercises similar to practicing scales or solfege (“do, re, mi”). If you do well, Anika will praise you (“You have a great voice!”) or encourage more practice if you sound like a tortured goat (“You can try that again”). The vocal coach lessons and games, as well as all the songs on all three difficulty levels, feature scoreboards and use a five-star system to rate your performances. There are a total of 48 awards to earn by achieving high scores or fulfilling certain requirements.
Aside from the one-player Solo mode, Disney Sing-It: Family Hits offers Party Play, in which one-to-eight players can participate. There are three modes within Party Play: Together, Showdown, and Solo. Players sing cooperatively in Together—you can even choose a Family mode in which singers sing one line and then pass the mic to the next singer. If that’s too Full House for you, try Showdown, and sing against each other for the high score. Solo allows individuals to sing for everyone else in the room, and can choose Performance mode to sing without the on-screen lyrics or notes for added toughness. In Together and Showdown, one or two mics may be used. If two players perform a duet, like Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” or Cinderella’s “So This Is Love,” player one’s notes are at the bottom of the screen and player two’s are at the top.
Overall, Disney Sing It: Family Hits is an easy-to-use and colorful game with lots of Disney scenes and characters. However, it’s hard to ignore the questionable song choices, which alienate kids who are too young, or adults who are simply unfamiliar with the music. If players don’t mind learning some new songs before being able to actually sing them, the game can be fun and challenging for Disney fans of all ages and skill levels—from the Pavarottis to those who simply have a pulse.