From Oscar-winning 'Soul' to 'Toy Story': a musical history of Pixar
After 'Soul' nabbed the Oscar for Best Original Score on Sunday, we take a look at some of the best soundtracks in Pixar history
Pixar took home two Academy Awards this year for Soul.
The film, which stars Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, won the award for Best Animated Feature as well as the Oscar for Best Original Score. While there’s a lot to unpack in Soul’s heartwarming and funny adventure into the "Great Beyond" and back, as it reminds us to live life for its own sake, it's the music we're here to talk about.
The cascading piano melodies, storm-tossed drum beats and fervent brass section made the score for this Pixar favourite one of the most impressive musical works of the year.
The film’s score is a collaboration between Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste. It may seem like a strange partnership at first – the Nine Inch Nails bandmates and film composers teaming up with the jazz pianist – but between the ethereal soundscapes of the Great Beyond and the breathless jazz rhythms of New York City, the end result is spectacular.
For a film about a forlorn, deceased pianist who never got the chance to make it big in life, it made sense that music would be a focal point in the film. But Pixar has always been attentive to the tunes it uses in its films, with the harmonies being as much a vital part as the heartfelt plots and cutting-edge animations.
Here we take a look at several of the film studio's best musical offerings over the years:
‘Toy Story’ (1995)
Pixar’s debut feature film had people of all ages across the world singing along to Randy Newman’s You’ve Got a Friend in Me, which was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar at the time.
Newman’s husky vocals and the song’s playful melody set the theme and the tone of the film, which highlights the importance of friendship in facing challenges and overcoming obstacles.
The song is a major musical element of all the Toy Story films. In fact, Newman and Toy Story 3 scored the 2010 Oscar for Best Original Song for We Belong Together.
And Newman was nominated again in 2000 for Best Original Song for When She Loved Me from Toy Story 2.
‘A Bug’s Life’ (1998)
The score for A Bug’s Life was also composed by Newman and contains many of his signature capering melodies.
The soundtrack of the film has the song The Time of Your Life, made popular for its uplifting instrumentation and choir section.
The score went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition, and was nominated at the Oscars for the Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score.
‘Monsters, Inc.’ (2001)
This is Newman’s fourth collaboration with Pixar on a feature film. The song If I Didn’t Have You heard at the end credits was sung by Sullivan (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) themselves.
The song went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song and marked Newman’s first Academy Award. He had been nominated 15 times in the Best Score and Best Song categories up until that point, but had never actually won.
After the award ceremony, Newman said: "I'd rather have had it for a score, but I was much more moved by the event than I ever thought I would be. You know, it's not a measure of anything real, but I was up there and so was Jennifer Lopez and the orchestra stood up and it kind of got to me. I was almost embarrassed – but not quite.”
‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)
Finding Nemo was first Pixar feature film not scored by Newman. However, the job stayed within the family, as the music was composed by Newman’s cousin, Thomas Newman.
The long-drawn and pensive string section, tiding over the soft and sparse piano lines, provided a fitting score to a film about a father looking for his son in a vast, unfamiliar ocean.
The score was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
‘The Incredibles’ (2004)
Director Brad Bird first approached John Barry to do the score for The Incredibles, wanting something similar to what the English composer did for the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Eventually, however, the assignment went to US composer Michael Giacchino.
As Bird wanted to give the score a 1960s feel, Giacchino opted to use the recording methods of the time. Brass instruments are front and centre and it was recorded on analogue tapes with the musicians playing in one room, feeding off of each other’s energy.
The score won several awards, including at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and BMI Film and TV Awards. It was also nominated for a Grammy.
After The Incredibles, Giacchino returned to Pixar to work on the score for Ratatouille.
It is energetic and filled with gambolling accordions and cheery trumpet lines, reaching a musical high point with Colette Shows Him Le Ropes. The soundtrack also features the song Le Festin by French singer-songwriter Camille.
Giacchino’s work on Ratatouille earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score. It also won him his first Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack Album.
Thomas Newman began working on the score for Oscar-winning Wall-E as early as 2005.
Scoring a comparatively silent film must have been a daunting task, but the composer revealed in a 2009 interview with If Magazine that director Andrew Stanton had already had a lot of musical ideas by the time he came on board. “So a lot of my conclusions were about embracing Andrews’ musical predispositions, or trying to defy them,” Newman said.
For one thing, Stanton wanted the score to be fully orchestral, but Newman felt this was an unnecessary limitation and ended up using electronic instruments in certain scenes, especially those aboard the spacecraft Axiom.
It was nominated for both Best Original Song for Down to Earth and Best Original Score at the Oscars in 2009.
This is the third Pixar feature to be scored by Giacchino.
As the film opens up with a montage protagonist Carl and his wife Ellie’s marriage, ending with her death, the instrumental Married Life reflects the ups and downs of their relationship, seamlessly transitioning from dreamy pinnacles to more melancholic passages, all in a span of four minutes.
Songs can be heard several times throughout the film. For example, Muntz's Theme is first heard when young Carl is watching a newsreel about the explorer Charles F Muntz, and then again when the character reappears 70 years later.
Ellie’s Theme, meanwhile, is a simple piano line when the character is introduced as a little girl, but in the scene where Carl lifts his house with balloons, it is heard as a full-blown orchestral piece.
The score bagged Pixar its first Academy Award in the Best Original Score category, and also picked up the Grammy, Golden Globe and Bafta.
The score for Brave was written by Scottish film composer Patrick Doyle and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
Doyle used traditional Scottish instruments, such as the bagpipes, the solo fiddle, Celtic harps, flutes and the bodhran to give the film an authentic Scottish feel.
For a more contemporary twist, he used an electronically-treated dulcimer and cimbalom. As part of his research, he travelled to Hebrides, a group of islands northwest of Scotland, to study Gaelic psalm singing.
It was nominated for Best Original Score for an Animated Film at the International Film Music Critics Association Award.
‘Inside Out’ (2015)
When director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera approached Giacchino with the project, the composer’s first reaction was to write an eight-minute-long piece that expressed his own emotions while seeing the film.
For a film about how basic emotions control our actions, the impromptu composition seemed like a perfect way to start the project. Rivera even said during an interview with the blog Slash Film that the piece moved him and Docter to tears.
It picked up the International Film Music Critics Association Award for Best Original Score for an Animated Film, as well as other accolades.
As with Soul, music is a central theme in the story of Coco, which is about aspiring musician Miguel, who, confronted with his family's ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.
The film’s score was composed by Giacchino, Germaine Franco, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
Arguably its most famous song is Remember Me, which is used several times throughout the film and in several contexts. It is heard as a mariachi arrangement, a lullaby, a nostalgic tune, as well as a pop song in the end credits.
It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, making Robert Lopez the first double Egot (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner.
Updated: May 5, 2021 12:10 PM