Disney Boasts a Bevy of Hopefuls for Oscar’s Original Song Race

When the Academy announces its shortlist for song nominations on Dec. 16, you can be certain that at least one Disney song will be on it and probably more.

Disney songs have been nominated 33 times in the past 30 years, winning 12 of the gold statuettes.

This year, the studio has at least four in the running: two from live-action remakes of animated classics and two from highly anticipated sequels. Three are already among the top-10 grossing films of the year, and the fourth, just released, is expected to join that elite crowd in a matter of weeks.

“Speechless,” from this year’s “Aladdin” remake, was written by original composer Alan Menken (who won a 1992 Oscar for that film’s “A Whole New World”) with new lyricist partners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Oscar winners for a song from “La La Land” three years ago). It’s sung by Naomi Scott as the new film’s more-assertive princess Jasmine.

“Jasmine needed a song that, in order to be important in our contemporary world, had to do with finding her voice,” says Menken. “The Jasmine in this movie was going to become much more three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood, and she needed a song to reflect that.”

Adds Paul: “The idea of someone not having a voice, being told they’re better seen and not heard, and this moment where she finally takes power in her own hands and comes to her full purpose, seemed like a great way to express how she’d be feeling and what she might say.”

Randy Newman, who has two Oscars for previous Pixar films (“If I Didn’t Have You” from 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.” and “We Belong Together” from 2010’s “Toy Story 3”), is vying for a third with “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from “Toy Story 4.” He sings this himself, as he did the other two.

The fun song is surprisingly literal and refers to new toy Forky. “It’s exactly what Woody was trying to stop him from doing,” Newman explains. “Forky gets it in his head that he’s disposable, so he keeps trying to jump out of the van they’re in, or throw himself in the trashcan. Woody puts himself in charge of keeping him from doing that.”

The most recent entry in the song sweepstakes is “Into the Unknown,” for another Disney princess: Elsa in “Frozen 2.” It begins with the siren call that she follows into an enchanted forest where she discovers her destiny. Idina Menzel’s powerhouse voice takes her back into “Let It Go” territory. That song won a 2013 Oscar for “Frozen” songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

“It’s calling her away from everything that’s comfortable, everyone she loves, to make this very difficult and dangerous journey to find the place where she really belongs,” Lopez says. “It’s the catalyst of the story, this voice that she can’t ignore.” Adds Anderson-Lopez:

“It is really a metaphor for anyone who feels that restlessness in their soul, who is asking ‘Is this really what my life is supposed to be?’”

The wild card in the bunch is Beyoncé’s “Spirit,” a late addition to the soundtrack for this year’s CGI remake of the animated classic “The Lion King.” She co-wrote it (with Timothy McKenzie and Ilya Salmanzadeh) and performs it as the adult lion Simba returns home at the behest of Nala, whose character she also voiced.

“She took this movie very seriously, and right at the last moment, presented us with this truly beautiful song that was absolutely perfect for a key scene,” says “Lion King” composer Hans Zimmer. “We’d actually done something else in that place, but how can you say no to getting a masterpiece sent to you? It was all changed at the last moment [to accommodate the new song].”

Elton John and Tim Rice, who were Oscar-nominated for three of their original songs in 1994 (and won for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”), reunited to write a new one for this “Lion King,” “Never Too Late,” heard under the end credits. But John has publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the new “Lion King” and has thrown his weight behind the campaign for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” the song he wrote with Bernie Taupin for the biopic “Rocketman.”

More Film

  • Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg Quibi

    Jeffrey Katzenberg, Meg Whitman Explain How Quibi Differs From Other Streamers

    Jeffrey Katzenberg has heard the chatter about streaming wars, but the media mogul thinks that when the dust settles, the fight to attract audiences won’t end with just a few victors. “Everybody suddenly wants to declare winners and losers and the fact is there’s only winners and winners right now,” he said during an interview [...]

  • Anaconda

    'Anaconda' Reboot in the Works at Sony With 'Divergent' Writer

    Sony Pictures is in early development of a reboot of the “Anaconda” franchise, hiring “Divergent” writer Evan Daugherty to write the project. The studio has not set up the project with a producer, director or actors. Sony released the original “Anaconda” in 1997 as a horror thriller starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric [...]

  • Annabella Sciorra

    Friend Tells of Annabella Sciorra's Mid-1990s Struggles at Harvey Weinstein Trial

    A longtime friend of Annabella Sciorra testified Friday in Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial that the actor turned to cutting herself and exhibited other troubling behavior in the mid-1990s after she was allegedly raped by the disgraced film mogul. The defense questioning of model Kara Young got heated as Judge James Burke sustained repeated objections to [...]


    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' to Lead Weekend With $26 Million

    Sony’s “Bad Boys for Life” is dominating North American moviegoing with about $26 million at 2,155 sites, early estimates showed Friday. Universal’s World War I epic “1917” will finish at a distant second with about $13 million in the wake of receiving 10 Academy Award nominations and the top film award from the Producers Guild [...]

  • Bambi

    'Bambi' Is Next Up for Disney Live-Action Remake

    From bears to lions to deer: Disney is developing a live-action remake of its 1942 animated feature “Bambi,” Variety has confirmed. Screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet (“Captain Marvel”) and Lindsey Beer (“Sierra Burgess Is a Loser”) will write the screenplay, with Chris and Paul Weitz’s Depth of Field producing. The film will employ the same photo-realistic CGI used on [...]

  • Meg Whitman

    Quibi CEO Meg Whitman Apologizes for Comparing Journalists to Sexual Predators

    Quibi CEO Meg Whitman apologized for comparing journalists to sexual predators, saying her remarks did not convey her true feelings about the press. “I used an analogy that was inappropriate and just plain wrong,” Whitman said in an interview at Variety‘s studio at the Sundance Film Festival. “None of us are ever perfect. I didn’t [...]

  • The Fight

    'The Fight': Film Review

    In 1988, presidential candidate George H.W. Bush dismissed his rival Michael Dukakis as a “card-carrying member of the ACLU.” By contrast, Bush proclaimed himself “for the people,” as though the American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit organization that defends the equal human rights established in the Constitution, was instead championing UFOs. There’s a documentary or [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content