How Video Game 'Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of 2' Is Like a Musical

Photo Source: Junction Point Studios

When discussing a song he wrote for the new videogame “Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two,” composer Jim Dooley refers to it as “the opening number.”

“We talk about it like it’s Broadway!” he joked.

But maybe the connection between videogames and Broadway isn’t so crazy. As videogames become more and more elaborate—complete with sophisticated scripts and character development—the demand for skilled voice actors is increasing. Additionally, with games like “Epic Mickey 2,” where music is essential to telling the story, Dooley suggested that there’s no reason why a videogame might not one day inspire a Broadway musical.

We spoke with “Disney Epic Mickey 2” composer Jim Dooley and songwriter Mike Himelstein about their experiences working on the videogame.

What makes “Disney Epic Mickey 2” different from other videogames?
Jim Dooley:
This is the first time that songs have been used to drive the narrative forward in a video game. The storytelling actually happens in the songs, as it does in any other traditional movie style musicals that Disney has a long history of. All the character development of the villain—how he communicates with you, leading and misleading you—is told through songs, which is something unusual in videogames, but not so unusual in any form of Broadway or movie musical.

So is the process of creating the music for a videogame similar to the process of composing for a movie or a Broadway show?
Writing the songs with Mike, there’s no difference between working on a feature-length animation, and working on a video game. Our process doesn’t change. It’s on par with any other project we’ve collaborated on.

Mike Himelstein: I would agree with that. In any song, you’re trying to get across a feeling, or information, that needs to happen in that spot. So in that way I don’t think there’s any difference from any other theatrical song you try to write.

How was your experience working with the voice actors?
These are serious people—absolute professionals. They’re the ones doing it, whether its feature length animation or video games, it’s the same quality. This goes back to the early Disney history, where the techniques were developed in the short films, and then extended to the feature films. There was no difference between applying the talent to the product.

Himelstein: I’ve heard [the voice recordings,] and they’re incredible. Every time I’m in a voice session with those characters, particularly the Disney characters, when I first hear them, I go, “Man, that would be easy to do, to be a voice actor—you just go in there and read off the script.” It doesn’t sound like they’re doing anything. And then try to do it. These people are incredible. Just with their voice, they are able to convey so much emotion. It’s just staggering to me how fantastic they all are.

As video games become more and more elaborate, there must be a higher demand for more sophisticated voice actors.
The voice talent component cannot be underrated. The people who play the characters take it so seriously that they will bring [ideas] to the table themselves, like “Minnie wouldn’t say it this way.” They really take on the personality as much as anyone could, and that’s what I think ultimately leads to its success.

Do the two of you look forward to doing more video game work in the future?
Absolutely. I can’t wait. If all things go well, maybe there will be another [Epic Mickey], you never know. But I’m glad that we were a part of at least breaking the ground—narrative video games aren’t new, but to do it as a musical is. And I think now that it’s embraced, I think that’s going to open up a lot of possibilities. When you start bringing in other artists to do their own songs—can you imagine, like, a Taylor Swift video game? Or, for example, [theater] companies will start coming up with their own versions of these things. Things don’t always have to start on Broadway. I mean, how many video games have now become movies? I don’t think it’s myopic to think that video games could become musicals.