Randy Newman, The Musical Voice Of 'Toy Story'

Jun 21, 2019
Originally published on June 21, 2019 4:37 pm

Back in the fall of 1995, Randy Newman was a 52-year-old veteran singer-songwriter, known more for songs that told stories, often sung as a character. He was also a multiple Oscar-nominated composer of grown-up scores for films like The Natural. But if you're of a certain age, you might only know Newman as "the Toy Story Guy."

"I mean, there's no competing with Toy Story, in terms of the reach of it," Newman says. "It inevitably appeals to, you know, hundreds of millions that I wouldn't appeal to."

At the piano in the small studio behind his Pacific Palisades home, Newman, now 75, remembers getting the call for the first Toy Story: "It started a terror in my stomach, you know, that it was so different from what I'd done."

Back in 1995, Pixar hired Newman because of his warm, Americana sound and his witty bite.
Pamela Springsteen / Courtesy of the artist

At the time, Newman had never scored a children's film or an animated film before but Pixar wanted Newman partly because of his warm, Americana sound — they were worried the computer graphics might feel too cold without an orchestra — but also because of his bite.

"Pixar was almost the anti-Disney, that they didn't want to do musicals, or princess movies, or have magic and those types of things," Tom MacDougall, executive vice president of music at Walt Disney Studios, says. "I would say Randy is as important as Tom Hanks or Tim Allen ... If we didn't have his music in there, you would feel it, for sure. And you might not even want to make it without him."

Newman's score for Toy Story was all bouncing and scurrying because he felt it was only natural that when the toys moved, the music should move too. Newman wrote several unforgettable songs for Toy Story, but it was "You've Got A Friend" that earned him a spot in the Disney Song Hall of Fame.

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As the film series evolved, the characters stopped to reflect more. In Toy Story 2, Newman wrote "When She Loved Me" for Sarah McLachlan—which went with a montage about losing the most important person in the world to you. In Toy Story 3, Woody and the gang suffered the heartbreak of losing their kid, Andy, to adulthood. Toy Story 4 presented Newman with ample opportunity to tug our hearts. When Woody confronts the loss of his very purpose in life, Newman was there to express some very adult emotions. "It's very adult sort of problem that Woody has," Newman says with a laugh.

Newman still remembers the first conversations he had with Pixar about these characters: "You have to take their feelings, their emotions, seriously. It's not like unimportant when somebody's feeling bad."

So, even though in 1995, Randy Newman may have seemed like an odd choice for a cartoon about a bunch of sentient toys, these movies have let him explore the full range of his humor and his heart. Maybe none more than this latest one. "I have a hunch that it might be the best one I did for Toy Story," he says.

Still, if Randy Newman is only remembered as "the Toy Story guy," he admits he wouldn't like it.

"I want them to know other movies, and that I write songs, you know. When I step off, I think it'll be the songs that are mentioned more. You know, when the obituary in the Courier Journal is there, I think it'll be 'singer-songwriter.' But I'm not sure. I'll never know."

Nina Gregory edited this audio for broadcast.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The other good friend to the toys in "Toy Story" is someone they would never go anywhere without - their musical voice, Randy Newman. Tim Greiving has that story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RANDY NEWMAN: Play it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NEWMAN: One more. I'm sorry. I misled you by taking it too slow. My arm won't go that fast.

(LAUGHTER)

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: Newman conducted the strings and woodwinds as they recorded a piece of the score for "Toy Story 4" on a scoring stage at Fox in March on the Newman Scoring Stage. Named for his uncles, Newman was destined for this. But back in 1995, when this adventure all began, the 52-year-old veteran singer-songwriter was known more for songs that told stories, often sung as a character.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POLITICAL SCIENCE")

NEWMAN: (Singing) Let's drop the big one and see what happens.

GREIVING: But some of them were heartbreaking ballads.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAME GIRL")

NEWMAN: (Singing) You're still the same girl.

GREIVING: Newman was also a multiple Oscar-nominated composer of grown-up scores for films like "The Natural."

(SOUNDBITE OF RANDY NEWMAN'S "THE END TITLE (THE NATURAL)")

GREIVING: But if you're of a certain age, you might only know Randy Newman as the "Toy Story" guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGE THINGS")

NEWMAN: (Singing) I was on top of the world, living high. It was right in my pocket.

I mean, there's no competing with "Toy Story" in terms of the reach of it. It inevitably appeals to, you know, hundreds of millions that I wouldn't appeal to.

GREIVING: As we sit at the piano in the small studio behind his Pacific Palisades home, Newman - now 75 - remembers getting the call for the first "Toy Story."

NEWMAN: Because it started a terror in my stomach, you know, that was so different from what I'd done.

GREIVING: He'd never scored a children's film or an animated film before. Pixar wanted Newman partly because of his warm Americana sound. They were worried that computer graphics might feel too cold without an orchestra, but also because of his bite.

TOM MACDOUGALL: Pixar was almost the anti-Disney; that they didn't want to do musicals or princess movies or have magic and those types of things.

GREIVING: Tom MacDougall is the executive vice president of music at Walt Disney Studios. "Toy Story" was the first movie he ever worked on.

MACDOUGALL: I would say Randy is as important as Tom Hanks or Tim Allen. You know, like, if we didn't have his music in there, you would feel it, for sure, and you might not even want to make it without him.

GREIVING: Newman wrote several unforgettable songs for "Toy Story," but he entered the Disney song hall of fame with this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME")

NEWMAN: (Singing) You've got a friend in me. You've got a friend in me.

You know, I'm very literal, I think; sometimes too literal. They said they wanted the friendship between the boy and Woody realized, that that's a special friendship. So I wrote "You've Got a Friend."

GREIVING: Newman's score for "Toy Story" was all bouncing and scurrying because he felt that was only natural that when the toys moved, the music should move, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF RANDY NEWMAN'S "WOODY AND BUZZ")

GREIVING: As the series evolved, the characters stopped to reflect more. In "Toy Story 2," Newman wrote "When She Loved Me" for Sarah McLachlan, which went with a montage about losing the most important person in the world to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN SHE LOVED ME")

SARAH MCLACHLAN: (Singing) When somebody loved me, everything was beautiful. Every hour spent together lives within my heart.

GREIVING: In "Toy Story 3," Woody and the gang suffered the heartbreak of losing their kid, Andy, to adulthood.

(SOUNDBITE OF RANDY NEWMAN'S "SO LONG")

GREIVING: And in "Toy Story 4" - without giving anything away - there was ample opportunity for Randy Newman to tug our hearts. When Woody confronts the loss of his very purpose in life, Newman was there to express some very adult emotions.

(SOUNDBITE OF RANDY NEWMAN'S "PARTING GIFTS AND NEW HORIZONS")

NEWMAN: It's a very adult sort of problem that Woody has. Geez.

GREIVING: He recalls the first conversations he had about the characters.

NEWMAN: You have to take their feelings, their emotions seriously. It's not, like, unimportant when somebody's feeling bad.

GREIVING: So even though in 1995 Randy Newman may have seemed like an odd choice for a cartoon about a bunch of sentient toys, these movies have let him explore the full range of his humor and his heart, maybe none more than this latest one.

NEWMAN: I have a hunch that it might be the best one I did for "Toy Story."

GREIVING: Still, if Randy Newman is only remembered as the "Toy Story" guy...

NEWMAN: Well, I wouldn't like it. You know, I want them to know other movies, and that I write songs, you know. When I step off, I think it'll be the songs that are mentioned more, you know. When the obituary and the Courier-Journal is there, I think it will be singer-songwriter and - but I'm not sure. I'll never know.

GREIVING: My guess - it'll probably be both.

For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAIL AWAY")

NEWMAN: (Singing) Sail away. Sail away. We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay. Sail away. Sail away. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.