The Importance of Sound in Visual Media

My boyfriend and I have one interesting thing in common.

…Well, that’s not really true. I could argue that we have many interesting traits and habits in common, but probably least expected of all was our mutual appreciation for the intricacies of audio. We are almost like two sides of the same coin; my boyfriend is an audio technician, musician, and songwriter with a deep appreciation for all of the performing arts, and while I love them too, my ear for music is not nearly as gifted as his. He could listen to a song on the radio and within seconds, he’d tell you if it was a remix, sped up to make room for commercials, etc. I may or may not notice things like this, and I’m usually not confident to say more than I think that is what I hear.

Personally, I seem more attuned to spoken audio. For example, if an old episode of SpongeBob Squarepants comes on T.V., I can instantly tell if it’s being sped up even slightly. It’s not just with episodes that I’ve seen a million times before; the pauses for breath are too short, and the pacing just feels rushed overall. The jokes often don’t have time to land and it comes across as clumsy.

That’s why I have such a gripe with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving; even if the child actors weren’t distractingly bad, the person who edited both them and the animation set to them clearly had no sense of realistic timing, let alone comedic. At least in the older cartoons, the kids had some warmth and charm to them, and the editor knew where to make cuts in the scenes.

Listening to the radio, I often chuckle, if only to myself, picking out who sounds like a real person and who is a paid actor. Similarly, in movies, I can get distracted by vocal flow, beyond just wondering how a chosen voice fits a character with a certain look about them. Here’s an experiment, especially for Potterheads: in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, watch the conversation between Gryffindor and Slytherin by the Quidditch field and ask yourself if bitter rivals, especially teens and pre-teens, would argue that slowly and articulately, without ever interrupting one another.

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It’s not the worst or most important thing by any means, and of course the director needs to prioritize storytelling over realism, but something about it feels stilted and unnatural even so. Even in books, characters cut each other off from time to time. That’s just what people do.

I also wonder about other stylistic choices that involve sound. Despite Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time being surprisingly solid, I remember complaining as a kid that Cinderella no longer sang in the 1950’s style that she used in the first movie. I can appreciate that actors often die or move on to other projects, and the new people try their best to emulate a character’s classic timbre and cadence; that was yet another thing I managed to grow out of complaining about…mostly. But shouldn’t a sequel set in the same universe (and with minimal passage of time in said universe) at least try to sound the same?

 

 

To me, that can be just as distracting as a character changing accents in between scenes. It’s not like I have Dory’s short-term memory loss here; just because the first movie is “of an era” doesn’t mean you can’t try to meet it halfway.

Those little questionable quirks, in addition to the cheaper animation and fanfiction-esque plots, are why I really hate most of the Disney sequels. It feels like no one did their homework or put any effort into them, instead just slapping them together with band aids and Tinkertoys.

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And keep in mind that when they came out, I was their target audience. The hate is not purely retroactive.

Hilariously, in a similar vein, sometimes I still get an ice spike of dread when a commercial for a classic Disney film comes on. You know the ones, even if you’ve never thought about them before; they usually pop up before the main features on Disney DVDs, as if to say, “You’ve picked up one of our movies, so clearly you’ll want more of them! Hell, we bet you’ve seen them all already!”

The cult of Disney is very subtle.

Anyway, the commercial begins. New voice actors recite memorable bits of the dialogue over various scraps of the animation, and I think, “Why are these people here? What is wrong with the old audio clips?…Oh God, please don’t tell me Disney is redubbing!”

 

That is one of my worst nightmares for Disney: that all of this remaking will go to their heads, and the next thing we know, they’ll decide to record all new audio for the old movies to make them sound fresher and more relevant. That’s the kind of thing George Lucas would do, when he’s found yet another little thing in the original Star Wars trilogy that he wishes he hadn’t put in. Or what Studio Ghibli calls “remastering” the English dubs of its classic films.

But seriously, what other purpose does redubbing serve in commercials? Throwing the current voice actors a bone outside of kiddy shorts and Kingdom Hearts cameos? Does swapping out Eleanor Audley with Susanne Blakeslee as Maleficent really make people more inclined to buy the latest copy of Sleeping Beauty? If so, are they then disappointed when they watch the movie and hear the same voices they’ve been hearing since 1959?

If it’s not a harbinger of yet more rampant revisionism, it’s just nonsensical and expensive, I think. Very uncharacteristic of an entity that now loves to print money whenever possible. But hey, I’m probably the only weirdo devoting this much thought and analysis to it, so there you go.

I can’t help but notice these things, just as my boyfriend can’t help but be annoyed by crappy remixes on the radio. When things are changed or just don’t fit in the first place, it appears like a neon sign in my brain, and all focus on other things is ripped away. That is not to say that there is only one good way of conveying something, or even that my way is always the best. But in order to recognize what works and why, you need to know the opposite and understand the effect that it creates.

It may not skim above your subconscious, but I’m willing to bet it’s minutia like that factoring in when you dislike something but can’t quite pinpoint why.

 

*None of the clips or pictures used in this post belong to me. Harry Potter is owned by J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Studios, and Disney is…well, Disney.

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