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15 Great Oscar-Winning Songs!: “Beauty and the Beast”

Okay, so you knew I couldn’t spend two weeks covering Oscar-winning songs here without offering up some of the excellent examples brought to us by the folks at Disney. This particular one has actually grown gradually in my eyes over the years. If you had asked me at the time of its Oscar win in March of 1992 I probably would have expressed a preference for both “Be Our Guest” and “Belle” which were both also from the same movie and were both also nominated in the Best Original Song category. But mostly I remember being relieved that the three songs from the same film hadn’t cancelled one another out and allowed that awful song from the Kevin Costner version of Robin Hood to steal the statuette. That would have been a true injustice.

Apparently Disney’s Don Hahn had feared the same negative result well ahead of Oscars voting and determined to do something about it by promoting the title song over any others. This effort was strengthened by assigning Robbie Buchanan to arrange a pop recording of the song for release as the soundtrack album’s single. Peace Bryson and the relatively new Canadian star Celine Dion were selected to record the new vocals for the pop release, in part due to Disney’s unwillingness to pay enough to lure any singers who were better established. Dion would, of course, go on to be exactly the kind of superstar they refused to pay at the time. You have to look at that as a win for the house of mouse.

Hmmmm….now that I look at that again, it’s possible that the existence of this version of the song might have been one of the reasons my contrarian twenty-one year old self favored the other ones. In fact, I probably would have chosen the humorous pean to the braggart “Gaston” if it had been up to me. It’s a good thing Disney didn’t have me at the wheel in this specific occasion, because the Bryson/Dion recording of “Beauty and the Beast” saw excellent success on the mainstream pop charts, topping out at number 9 among singles in February of 1992.

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All of the songs from Beauty & the Beast were written by the legendary Alan Menken and Howard Ashman who had also been key in the success of 1989’s The Little Mermaid and the off-Broadway musical sensation Little Shop of Horrors which had been adapted into a popular film released in 1986. Beauty and the Beast had initially been conceived of without the sort of Broadway-inspired compositions the songwriting pair specialized in, and Ashman had already begun working on lyrics for Aladdin when Disney switched course and asked him to change his focus to songs for the troubled production. He was resistant to the idea at first, in part due to his progressing illness caused by the AIDS virus. Ashman did relent, however, and Menken and other members of the creative team made multiple trips from California to Ashman’s home in New York to allow for him to work from his own bed. Despite his rapidly declining health, Ashman completed the lyrics for all of the film’s songs. When a rough cut of the movie was screened for critics in March of 1991 the response was rapturous and Hahn and others rushed to Ashman’s bedside to share the news. What they found was a man who had gone blind and was just eighty pounds. Four days later, on March 14th, Ashman succumbed, passing away several months before the final version of the movie would open nationwide to audiences.

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Angela Lansbury, a veteran actress with a long history both on stage and in movies (Gaslight, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Court Jester, The Manchurian Candidate), who was known best by audiences of the time for her long-running mystery tv show “Murder She Wrote” had been tabbed to do the voice for Mrs Potts. But when she realized she would be asked to sing the central romantic song of the film, Lansbury was reportedly very concerned that her singing voice had not aged well and would not do the song justice. She was convinced to give it a try anyway and the result was not just a gift for her three grandchildren, but to everyone who has had the pleasure of seeing the wildly successful and greatly loved movie.

A live action version of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Emma Thompson, Josh Gad, Ian McKellen, and others is set for release in mid March.

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Posted on February 13, 2017, in Awards, Movies, Music, Oscars and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Sometimes studios get a superstar without paying superstar money, and clearly Disney got that with a young Celine Dion.

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    • I’m not so sure how much of a benefit it was to them at the time the song became a hit. I would guess that there were any number of pretty girls with nice voices who could have recorded the song without derailing what made it great. More beneficial to the studio was in having an example to point to of how these sorts of recordings could help make young performers into superstars. Another would be Christina Aguilera who recorded the pop version of “Reflection” for Mulan. Disney can now call being asked to record such a song an “honor” for a young singer and further low-ball them. But that’s the cynic in me talking.

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      • That’s how I’m looking at it, in the pragmatic way of how Disney can appear to have foresight in choosing a young Celine Dion, even if they knew horse beans over hashbrowns what they were really getting, but in retrospect the move looks great. That’s why I’d stop short of giving Disney credit, but yet at the same time they can still take credit.

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  2. My kids get very agitated when the pop version of any Disney song comes on Pandora. I did not realize that was done as part of an Oscar campaign, but that makes sense. I agree that it is not my favorite song from the movie, but literally any song from BatB is better than that damn Robin Hood song.

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    • I was genuinely frightened at the time that a split vote on the BatB songs would hand Adams the Oscar, which would have been really unacceptable. It might have shaken my enthusiasm for the Academy Awards since I was only 22 at the time.

      Disney clearly recognized the danger and understood the wide appeal of a pop ballad. They went ahead and took advantage of it in one fell swoop several years later by hiring Phil Collins to do the songs for Tarzan and it paid off with another Oscar win. I try to pretend that didn’t happen.

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      • I know all the cool kids hate on Phil Collins these days. Well, call me Patrick Bateman but I ain’t going to do it. I also like Huey Lewis.

        I was much more invested in the Oscars back then than I am today, but I don’t remember being concerned with the outcome of Best Song. I really disliked “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” I might even go so far as to say I hated it. So I was definitely pulling for a song from BatB to win. But I guess I hadn’t worked all the angles because I just assumed that was a given.

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        • I still have a lot of affection for Collins’ early to mid 80s stuff. Good pop music is good pop music. But somewhere along the way he appeared to think he was a lot more important than he was and he quickly jumped the shark. The overwrought production on his songs from Tarzan only fed into that.

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        • That’s fair. I’m pretty ambivalent about Tarzan (the movie and the music).

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        • Personally, I’m happy to be stuck with Huey Lewis and The News (I think Huey Lewis has a great singing voice) and I like a ton of Phil Collins’ stuff from the 1980’s. “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”? Nah, I did everything I could to change the dial on that one, and when “Family Guy” played it in an episode a good while back, those old feeling reemerged.

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