Disney film escapes elimination from best score contest

Eighty-one scores are eligible to compete for this year’s Oscar in the “original score” category and, as expected, all the song-driven films have been excised from the list — except one.

The Princess and the Frog” is on the “reminder list” sent out to the 234 members of the Academy’s music branch, implying the Disney animated musical somehow passed muster with the traditionally restrictive branch’s executive committee. Randy Newman’s score includes seven original songs, and an eighth, by Ne-Yo, is played over the end titles.

Acad rules prohibit “scores diminished in impact by the predominant use of songs” from competing in the original score category.

The rule was instituted in the mid-1990s, after wins by four Disney animated musicals in the category designed to reward “dramatic underscoring,” not multiple songs. So a possible win for “original score” by a Disney animated musical this year would be ironic considering the origins of the rule.

Oscar has an “original musical” category, but it has not been activated in recent years due to the paucity of entries.

Music branch chairman Bruce Broughton declined comment, citing the confidentiality of the committee’s process, but it’s believed Acad execs are considering a possible last-minute disqualification of the score.

Sources say Andrea Guerra’s dramatic score for “Nine” was entered but disqualified under the “diminished impact” clause, and the score for “Where the Wild Things Are” was entered by songwriter Karen O and score composer Carter Burwell but similarly disqualified. In the latter case, another clause (“scores assembled from the music of more than one composer shall not be eligible”) was also cited.

“I’d like to think that this is a close call, and that in close calls they would leave it up to the voters,” Burwell said Tuesday. “But at the same time I understand where the rule comes from. It’s a side effect of the competition — they’re forced to make a competition out of something that, by its nature, isn’t competitive. So there are bound to be these strange paradoxes.”

The country score for “Crazy Heart” (by T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton) was not entered. In all these cases, however, the songs entered for each film remain eligible in the original song category.

Sources also confirmed that Brian Eno did not submit his score for “The Lovely Bones” for Oscar consideration. The only notable disqualification among the song entries was Mary J. Blige’s “I Can See in Color” from “Precious,” reportedly because so little of the song was audible in the film.

Musical ‘Simpsons’ anni

“The Simpsons” celebrates its 20th anniversary on Sunday with a musical episode guest-starring Anne Hathaway.

“Once Upon a Time in Springfield” finds Krusty the Clown’s ratings dipping and network execs forcing a sidekick on him (Princess Penelope, voiced by Hathaway) in order to attract the young female demographic.

“She’s a wonderful singer who can sing in this Disney-esque kind of fantasy voice,” says “Simpsons” composer Alf Clausen, who penned three original tunes and arranged two more for the show, in addition to composing the episode’s underscore. The original songs (with lyrics by “Simpsons” writer Stephanie Gillis) are very much in the early-Disney “Snow White” style, he says.

Clausen and Hathaway never met. “I was really looking forward to working with her,” he says. “It’s strictly a matter of time management. Whenever the producers are ready to record the ‘celebrity of the week’ singing the songs that I write, more often than not I’m working on the underscore for another episode, which is going to record on the upcoming Friday. So I can’t be in two places at once.”

Music editor Chris Ledesma supervised Hathaway’s vocal recordings, done to rhythm tracks Clausen had already laid down. This happened nine months ago so the animators could animate to the recorded songs.

Then, about 3½ weeks ago, Clausen replaced the original rhythm tracks with a new orchestral track, which gave him “one more chance to class it up” and tailor the finished product more specifically to the completed animation. A highlight, he says, was arranging Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” for guitar and Hathaway’s voice.

Sunday’s “Simpsons” is the 450th episode of the Fox series that debuted Jan. 14, 1990. Clausen has scored more than 430 of them, earning 22 Emmy nominations and winning twice for his original songs. (He has another seven noms for other TV shows including “Moonlighting.”)

All of them have featured 35-40 musicians, bucking the trend of electronic scores for most TV shows. “The producers were very wise in choosing a live orchestra, because we go through so many styles in an episode,” says Clausen. “We can go anywhere musically and make it work quickly and efficiently.”

Clausen says he’ll stay with the series to its conclusion. “We’re still having fun, and it’s still funny after all these years. It’s been a great ride.”

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