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Acad’s Song Field Pits U2, Pharrell, Karen O Against Broadway Tunesmiths

Out of 75 entries for this year’s original song nominations, the music branch chose five. And then the Board of Governors narrowed the field to four when it disqualified “Alone Yet Not Alone” for running afoul of campaigning rules.

The remaining entries include songs from two animated features and a curious tune sung by a voice-operated system to a human being.

In Disney’s “Frozen,” queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) has fled her kingdom and comes to terms with who she is and what she’s capable of. Songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez penned “Let It Go,” an empowerment anthem that takes the standard Disney-princess song farther than ever before (“it’s time to see what I can do / to test the limits and break through / no right, no wrong, no rules for me”).

“It was one of the first things they wrote when I came on,” says co-director Jennifer Lee. “We knew we had to build a story around that song, it’s so important to what you hope and wish for this character, who has to struggle through some very great obstacles.”

The “Frozen” album’s chart-topping success (three weeks at No. 1, the first album to do so since Disney’s last music phenom, “High School Musical” in 2007) could help.

Contrast that with “Happy,” Pharrell Williams’ infectious, feel-good ditty from “Despicable Me 2,” to which villain-turned-good-guy Gru (Steve Carell) giddily dances along city streets the morning after his date with Lucy (Kristin Wiig). Williams told Variety it took him “seven to 10 songs to get this one right … to make the grumpiest guy in the world happy.”

This one, too, has enjoyed massive chart success as a single, reaching No. 1 in at least 13 countries (No. 11 in the U.S.) with fans responding to its lighthearted message (“clap along if you feel like a room without a roof / clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth”).

Most unique among this year’s nominees, at least in terms of its original dramatic context, is “The Moon Song” from “Her.” Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) strums a ukulele while artificial-intelligence love interest Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) sings a song she’s written (“it’s a dark and shiny place / but with you, my dear, I’m safe / and we’re a million miles away”).

Karen O, who wrote the song with writer-director Spike Jonze, says they were attempting to create “an impromptu love song, (that) would feel like they were coming up with it on the spot — a sweet, intimate thing that they shared together.”

U2’s “Ordinary Love,” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” is the only song that is not performed as part of the dramatic narrative. It’s played under the end titles but, as Bono tells Variety, they didn’t want to write a song about Nelson Mandela as a world leader.

“The point of the film is to show the other side of him, the lover, the father, the friend and the husband,” he explains. “So I felt that this really just has to be a love song, and a complicated love song.”

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