In the middle of Barbie‘s “I’m Just Ken” sequence I felt as though I was levitating out of my chair like Bugs Bunny smelling food. The feeling of pure joy that song/beach battle/dream dance gave me is something I’d only experienced once before. Not because plenty of other great films don’t also feature transcendent scenes that transport me spiritually. ( Barbie alone had countless moments I adored.) And it’s not because other movies don’t have perfect moments. (I think Oppenheimer is nothing but perfection.) It’s that there’s a unique euphoria you can only get from watching an adorable idiot who can’t express his feelings in words somehow bare his soul with a big, dumb, amazing power ballad. And that’s why “I’m Just Ken” now holds the same special place in my heart as Frozen II‘s “Lost in the Woods.”
What’s a man supposed to do when he can’t find the right way to tell a woman how he feels? He could write her a nice letter or maybe a poem. One guy tried standing outside a window holding a boom box while hoping she was really into Phil Collins. Or he can, you know, muster the courage to actually speak to her. If none of that works, he could even sing to her. All of those options are clearly more likely to help than belting out a grandiose tune she isn’t even around to hear. Fortunately for all of us that’s the option both Ryan Gosling’s Ken and Jonathan Groff’s Kristoff chose, giving us two all-time great musical movie moments.
It’s no accident Barbie and Frozen II accomplished such distinctive greatness with the same type of song. Each character elected to convey their emotions in the funniest way possible – a power ballad. You could not possibly pick a better musical composition for that kind of scene. Power ballads are as inherently funny as they are great. They’re some of the best, most loved, most memorable songs ever recorded, same as these two beautifully written tracks.
Each is harmonious, compelling, and catchy. They build to moving crescendos that help make them stay with you long after they end. It’s why you find yourself randomly singing them. They both exemplify the best of the power ballad style even while essentially making fun of it. You can (and should) laugh at them while also genuinely enjoying the greatness of their compositions and performances.
What elevates them from such great songs to iconic movie scenes is how they also fit perfectly in their films. Each is accompanied by de facto music videos that are just as good as the songs themselves. What you see on screen as they play are grand sequences full of flourish and life.
“I’m Just Ken” and “Lost in the Woods” also land because both ring true to the characters who sing them and the movies they are in. They capture each character’s conflict and advance their film’s plot. It’s why even though they’re intentionally silly they’re still so earnest and heartfelt. (Normal power ballads are good for the same reason.) Both numbers feel like natural parts of their movie’s story and the story of the people in it. They convey genuine, honest emotion that is a meaningful part of film’s heart, themes, plot, and ethos. They just happen to do all of that while also being really funny. (Having tremendous, uber talented performers sing them certainly helps, too.)
That dichotomy of being knowingly funny and campy while also being totally sincere is essential in making each a standout. It’s why they can exist in a vacuum unto themselves while also seamlessly fitting into their movies. They use music, writing, plot, and filmmaking to create something magical, the kind of scene that makes going to the movies unlike anything else. These are the kinds of sequences, using every tool of filmmaking, big screens exist to show.
I really do love both of these songs. They provided two of my favorite moments I’ve ever had in a movie theater ever. There’s simply nothing better than a power ballad sung by a lovesick goofball working out his feelings on his own for all of us.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.