Sunday, February 28, 2010

Come, Stop Your Crying. It'll Be Alright.

Pop quiz, hot shots: what was the last song from a Disney studio film to win the Oscar for Best Original Song, and when was that?
Can't think of it? Even if you did, it took a bit, didn't it? That's because you have to go back ten years for the most recent Original Song win for the Disney studio, when, after receiving three previous nominations, 80s pop/rock star Phil Collins won his first Oscar for the song "You'll Be In My Heart" from Tarzan, which was perhaps the final flicker of the Disney animation renaissance that had begun ten years before that, with The Little Mermaid. Between 1990, when the Mermaid song "Under the Sea" calypsoed its way to the podium, and Collins' win in 2000, four more Oscars went to tunes from Disney animated films (and one more went to an animated film from Dreamworks). Composer Alan Menken received four Original Song awards, lyricist Tim Rice won three, and Stephen Schwartz and Howard Ashman won two apiece (although Ashman's second, for "Beauty and the Beast," was awarded posthumously as the gifted theatrical lyricist died of AIDS before the film had been finished).

But though the Pixar film Monsters Inc. picked up a Best Original Song statuette in 2002, the remainder of the decade following Collins' win was a wasteland for animated films in the category over which they had held such a command during the previous decade. Granted, the 2000s weren't exactly a fertile time for animation (save Pixar, whose films are not structured as musicals in the way Disney's were and therefore did not produce the same quantity of original songs), and the rare times Disney was nominated, as in 2008 for Enchanted, multiple nominated songs split votes with the lack of overwhelming support for the films in general that there was for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, all of which won Best Original Song even with multiple nominations. This is likely to happen again this year with Randy Newman's two songs from The Princess and the Frog, despite the fact that the Academy just this year enforced a new rule that no more than two songs from the same film could earn nominations (for the record, actors and actresses are not allowed to compete against themselves in the same category the same year, although they can be nominated once for each).

The future of Disney animation remains to be seen; The Princess and the Frog was a critical favorite and earned over $100 million at the box office, but in this day and age that figure fell short of expectations, though not short enough to doom 2-D animation forever in the face of Avatar. But we can worry about that later; for now, listen and reminisce to Phil Collins' surprisingly tender love song from a mother to an adoptive son.

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