Mickey's Music Box: RANDY NEWMAN - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Mickey's Music Box: RANDY NEWMAN

Chris 'you've got a friend in' Morley takes a march towards modernism.

Time now to tune Mickey's Music Box into the first entirely computer-animated feature film, as well as the first feature film from Pixar, John Lasseter's Toy Story...

Randy Newman's involvement as composer came about as Lasseter was a fan, though he was clear that his film was absolutely not to be lumped in as a musical - a position understood by Joss Whedon, one of the four men who'd worked on the screenplay.
"It would have been a really bad musical, because it's a buddy movie. It's about people who won't admit what they want, much less sing about it. ... Buddy movies are about sublimating, punching an arm, 'I hate you.' It's not about open emotion."
Something which Pixar's partners in the whole enterprise, Walt Disney Pictures, seemingly didn't catch on to in the slightest. Disney came out strongly in favour of song & dance, perhaps unsurprisingly as up to then it had sort of been their thing! As they told Lasseter,
"Musicals are our orientation. Characters breaking into song is a great shorthand. It takes some of the onus off what they're asking for."
How best to compromise, then? Inspiration came from a perhaps unlikely source in The Graduate, Simon & Garfunkel's music used non-diegetically. Which for those minus a film degree simply means it's part of the underlying style of how a filmmaker tells their story rather than being an implicit part of its world...

We just might begin to understand why Disney had reservations about involving Randy Newman in Toy Story because instead of being front & centre the music would be used on a more emotional level, as part of Woody & Buzz's journey to friendship. A key part, then, of the decision to give Newman the job was the director underlying why he was convinced he had the right man...
"[Newman's] songs are touching, witty, and satirical, and he would deliver the emotional underpinning for every scene."
Equally the animated format was new ground for Randy, though he had been primarily writing music for film since the Eighties having got his start with 1970's Performance  utilising him as both a performer & writer on its soundtrack.

Newman's move towards the big screen is no surprise when you consider his family background - three of his uncles; Alfred, Emil and Lionel went before him in putting their music to celluloid. Cousins David, Joey, Maria and Thomas in turn followed similar paths to their film scoring fathers. Thomas also in a sense later followed in cousin Randy's stead with a few Andrew Stanton collaborations on Finding Nemo and its Dory-led sequel as well as Wall-E. Talk about Pixar keeping it in the family! But before any of those could happen, Toy Story had to work to convince Disney that computers could do the work of traditional animators - as hard a task as doing away with an abundance of music.

Only three of Newman's original compositions made the cut for the soundtrack, the best-known taking him just a day to write & becoming a recurring theme across the three later films in the series. We are of course talking You've Got A Friend In Me! As well as the original it makes two appearances in Toy Story 2 sung first by Tom Hanks as Woody during his discovery of his true calling thanks to Woody's Round-Up & then again by Robert Goulet as a crooning Wheezy after his squeaker is finally fixed.

In Toy Story 3 it gets perhaps its most radical rearrangement yet courtesy of the Gipsy Kings as Jessie finally manages to get a certain Space Ranger dancing! By the fourth & final entry in Andy's ever changing relationship to his playthings it appears mostly as an exercise in shameless nostalgia as he hands his old pals over to little Bonnie & probably leaves very few dry eyes in the process!

But it was another of Newman's works that had Tom Hanks bawling - step forward When She Loved Me  as sung by Sarah McLachlan for Toy Story 2 after Disney agreed it just might work better if given over to a female vocalist.

Speaking to the Mirror, Hanks admitted that he...
"...was in tears, and we (with Tim Allen) were looking at each other going, 'That's some powerful stuff' - to be reduced to that and to a level of emotion like that on a cartoon about talking toys and their adventures, it's profound, there's no other word for it.”
Two big ticks towards the whole “emotional underpinning” thing, which John Lasseter would later return to in an interview with the Los Angeles Times covering his love of Newman.
“I was always a big fan of his albums, but also his film scores. I loved the movie “The Natural,” and part of what is so magical about that film is that the score really makes the scenes.“

What really most likely sealed the deal on Toy Story & set Newman on his way to Disney Legend status, though, was probably something that went a little deeper.
“Everything that Randy has done has been very intelligent. He never spoke down to his audience in either the songs or the score.... He was our first and only choice because of that exact thing; he never speaks down to the audience. It’s always from an adult point of view. “
Mirroring John's own commitment to doing something a little different from the usual, at least up to that point, animated film. For his part it seems the maestro was on board with that side of things.
“They talked intelligently about what they wanted to do and what they wanted music to do. Music can’t transmit a lot of information, but emotion is what it does, and they knew that. “
Evidently being ahead of even Disney paid off, his partnership with them & indeed Pixar continuing across A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc/University, all three Cars films & The Princess & The Frog - If I Didn't Have You finally getting him an Oscar after having been nominated for six of his nine animated attempts!

A fine note to end on. Next time we head for sunnier climes to look at a second Hawaiian lease of life for a certain Mr Presley, resurrected in a sense for an experiment with Lilo & Stitch...

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