The songwriters of the theme song to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway tell us how it all came together
“Nothing can stop us now
I’ll tell ya how
We’re gonna make it happen
Let’s take a ride
And spend the day in the countryside…”
I remember hearing those lyrics set to melody back in December 2019 for the first time at the very early press preview of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway attraction inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort.
I was hooked! It reminded me of the original music that had become a staple in the new Mickey Mouse Shorts over years airing on Disney Channel. And that remembrance inspiration was ‘spot-on’ according to songwriter Christopher Willis.
“I had the opportunity to work on the Mickey [Mouse] shorts through blind auditions,” said Willis in a phone interview with DisneyExaminer. He continued, “It was amazing to be chosen to make music for the show, and now do it with my wife, Elyse.”
Elyse Willis had her first break with Disney as a professional singer on a Mickey shorts project that Chris had been working on. “Someone on the team knew I was a singer and asked me through Chris if I could find yoldelors for one episode. From there, they made me the vocal contractor for the show,” said Elyse to us in the same interview.
As music grew to be a popular offering within the shorts, it evolved into both of them writing songs together for the show. It wasn’t soon after that the idea for creating the first-ever Mickey Mouse ‘dark ride’ attraction started to come about at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI). And they immediately turned to the teams that made the award-winning shorts for inspiration.
“The outlines of the story were already formed by Kevin Rafferty at WDI, and Paul Ruddish at Disney Television Animation [which produces the shorts], but they felt a song, like in the shows, could weave it all together,” said Christopher.
The attraction does open with an original song that both Christopher and Elyse wrote, telling of a picturesque day for Mickey and Minnie to go to a park (with us) on a date only to have it “railroad-ed” by Goofy’s antics taking us on a crazy journey through a Mickey Mouse Short itself.
Christopher said that the song’s very memorable melody was also chosen to play a part throughout the attraction, “per tradition in many Disney attractions.”
As for the lyrics, Elyse commented that their goal was to support the entire crazy story. “It’s more difficult than it seems, but there was a version of the song that we had where we relied more on creating a catchy tune than supporting the story. It became annoying,” said Elyse to which Christopher responded lovingly likening it to “it’s a small world.” Instead, Elyse and Christopher relied on creating a great song “that needed to make sense” first that also meant to introduce the story and see it to the end when people get off the ride.
The melodic stylings of what would become “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” was inspired by the early Americana songs and songwriters that made it folky, timeless, and universal – all emotive of when Walt Disney first created Mickey in the 1920s.
It only took a few weeks for the both of them to come up with something presentable. When they presented the song to Raffery, Ruddish, and the rest of the WDI team, they immediately loved it and didn’t ask for many notes to change it from what you can hear on the attraction today.
“It’s a small creative culture thing, but if you can find the right people to work with and trust them to do the work, you’ll almost always end up with something beautiful,” said Christopher. “That’s what happened to us, so we’re grateful to WDI for trusting us to create in this way.”
Christopher and Elyse also mentioned that there’s a lot more music that was made for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, like the queue lobby music and music for when the ride breaks down. “It’s a lot that we’d love for people to hear because even while the cues are small, they are fun pieces of music that we loved to make!”
With the attraction opening at Walt Disney World, “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” became an earworm of a theme song for many who rode the ride – so much so that Disney decided to release the song via Walt Disney Records so others can hear it, too!
Perhaps when the Coronavirus stay-at-home orders cease, nothing will stop us now from making a trip to Disney World to get on a railway and listen to some happy tunes along the way.
Our special thanks to Christopher and Elyse Willis for contributing to this story. You can listen to “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” now on Apple Music and Spotify.