As the Spokane Symphony takes on Pixar, we revisit the best music in the studio's library

Thursday Jan 23, 2020 • Features • The Inlander

By Isaac Handelman

This weekend, the Spokane Symphony will tackle Pixar's sonic catalog in what's sure to be a spirit-raising multimedia event. Now's as good a time as ever to reflect on the swelling, evocative melodies that have helped define two-and-a-half decades of groundbreaking animated cinema. Here are some of Pixar's most iconic compositions, in order of their release. You may not know every title, but there's a solid chance you've heard every tune.

"You've Got a Friend in Me" by Randy Newman, Toy Story
If you had to choose one song to define Pixar, you'd be hard-pressed to pick anything other than this. Randy Newman's jovial jingle about friendly commitment has become a key identifier of the Toy Story franchise and, by extension, of Pixar as a whole. In 1996, it lost the Best Original Song Oscar to none other than Disney's Pocahontas (for "Colors of the Wind"). Few would argue that, 25 years on, Newman's song is the one that endures.

"When She Loved Me" by Sarah McLachlan (composed by Randy Newman), Toy Story 2
"When She Loved Me" may be another Newman composition, but it's miles away from the joyous "You've Got a Friend in Me." This tragic ballad is sung beautifully by Sarah McLachlan during Jesse's flashback in Toy Story 2, and the sheer impact of the sequence makes one question how in the world this toy-riffic sequel was originally planned as direct-to-video. Held up against the considerable benchmark of heartbreaking Pixar movie moments, Jesse's quiet reminiscence about love and loss with a past owner might just be second to none. Newman's song is vital to the scene's tremendous impact.

"If I Didn't Have You" by John Goodman and Billy Crystal (composed by Randy Newman), Monsters, Inc.
Friendships like Mike and Sully's don't come around every day. Neither do songs like "If I Didn't Have You," another infectiously good-natured Newman composition sung this time by stars Billy Crystal and John Goodman. As the credits roll on Pixar's scream-fueled monster mash, the duo returns for one last toe-tapping ode to their unbreakable bond. It's the kind of song that makes you want to take to the streets with someone as important to you as Sully is to Mike, arm in arm, belting out to the world: "I wouldn't have nothin' if I didn't have you."

"Nemo Egg (Main Title)" by Thomas Newman, Finding Nemo
This soft composition is most recognizable as the opening theme from Finding Nemo. In the wake of Marlin's mate's tragic death at the film's opening, the clownfish father recovers the lone egg spared by his barracuda assailant. At this pivotal moment, Thomas Newman's delicate song beckons viewers into the ocean's beautiful, mysterious vastness and sets the stage for a tale of familial love that ranks right up there among the most elegant animated adventures ever to grace the screen.

"The Glory Days" by Michael Giacchino, The Incredibles
While clearly inspired by Lalo Schifrin's iconic Mission: Impossible theme song, Michael Giacchino's suave "The Glory Days" has become just as recognizable. Pixar's bold reinvention of the espionage/superhero genre, The Incredibles is one of the studio's most beloved properties. No matter how many times you revisit the story of the Parr family and their outlawed compatriots, it's pointless to resist the excited smile that Giacchino's theme evokes.

"Married Life" by Michael Giacchino, Up
Ask your average American to recall a time they bawled in a movie theater, and odds are their answer will be the montage at the beginning of Up. The sequence's tremendous emotional impact is owed to many factors, one of which is Michael Giacchino's beautiful, bittersweet musical accompaniment. The composition swells and settles alongside the peaks and troughs of Carl and Ellie's life together — which viewers witness, (in)famously, in four-and-a-half immensely affecting minutes.

"We Belong Together" by Randy Newman, Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 marked the end of Pixar's first golden age and, fittingly, Randy Newman returned to lend his familiar sound to what many assumed would be the last hoorah for Woody, Buzz and the rest of the plastic gang. "We Belong Together" won the Oscar for Original Song in 2011, and deservedly so: Its upbeat refrain may not be revolutionary, but it's difficult to imagine a more fitting sentiment of friendship and unity to cap off Pixar's legendary start-of-the-millennium run. ♦

Pixar in Concert • Sat, Jan. 25 at 7 pm and Sun, Jan. 26 at 3 pm • $20-$103 • All ages • Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox • 1001 W. Sprague • • 624-1200

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