It’s hard to imagine Pixar’s Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Cars movies without the music and voice of singer-songwriter and composer Randy Newman. But what would he be doing if he hadn’t met with Pixar Chief John Lasseter back in the early 1990s?
“I’d be appearing for Rhino Records on One Hit Wonders… Short People Got…Hi Everybody,’” Newman joked referring to his 1978 hit Short People, a satirical dig at the small-minded. He talked about his career at the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Conference last week during a Q & A with his son Amos Newman, who is the head of music for visual media at WME.
Way before Newman wrote the iconic Toy Story song You’ve Got a Friend in Me, his first movie with Pixar, he was writing unforgettable scores for movies like Ragtime, The Natural, and Avalon. He’s earned 16 Oscar nominations and won for Best Original Song for Monsters, Inc.
He talked about meeting Lasseter for the first time and said that for a director “he’s in the 99th percentile.” There was a concern with the first movie that the computer animation would look cold and Lasseter wanted Newman to help bring life to the characters.
For Toy Story, Newman said he didn’t know how it was going to turn out. As pop culture history proves, it turned out unbelievably well and a creative relationship was born. Newman’s involvement in a film begins early on. In Toy Story 2, when Jessie tells the story of being the prized possession of a little girl who desserts her, Newman wrote the song first and it was animated to later. It became the heartbreaking When She Loved Me sung by Sarah McLachlan. The same was the case for You’ve Got a Friend in Me. He had a good idea of what it would look like and wrote the now classic children’s song. In general, once he’s done writing the songs and composing the score for a movie, the movie still isn’t done.
The process at Pixar is an interesting one, he said. His son Amos said he had heard that working at Pixar is like working with grownups and wondered if it was true. Newman said it was and much more.
“Pixar is the only example I know of where they produce art by committee. They take notes, listen to each other, change it,” Newman said. “They say you can’t do great art by committee but those pictures have a number of people working on them. They do it.”
“When I ask someone, What do you think of that?’ I want them to say it’s great. Not since Beethoven have I heard anything like that… But I guess they really want to know.”
Newman was known as a distinctive and sometimes controversial singer-songwriter in his early career (and now), but thanks to Pixar and other kids’ movies, he has been given a younger fan base.
“They come to concerts and I have to watch my language,” he said. “I was playing outdoors at some festival and I had a 5-year-old heckler. Play, You’ve Got a Friend.’”
Newman’s last Pixar film was Monsters University. He can be heard singing Big Time on Peter Gabriel’s recently released compilation of his own songs sung by other people, And I’ll Scratch Yours. Or you can download Newman’s latest satirical song on his website.
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