“There’s not one single Academy member invited to this event tonight,” a Disney executive proudly told me before the studio’s live concert of the music from their smash animated Oscar contender Frozen began Sunday evening at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Jazz Club in L.A. Now that’s not normally the kind of thing you hear during awards season. Usually studios beg and cajole Oscar voters to show up to these kinds of things. For instance, Disney staged another memorable musical event in December for Saving Mr. Banks with a concert by Mary Poppins composer Richard M. Sherman at the Polo Lounge. That one was crawling with invited Academy members. But that also took place before nominations. Much stricter AMPAS guidelines for campaigning after nominations are announced mean all these kinds of events, lunches, parties, meet-and-greets with contenders, etc., are verboten, and a violation of those guidelines can mean loss of tickets or stronger repercussions from the Academy.
So this special evening was limited to Disney execs, Frozen creatives like directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, producer Peter Del Vecho, composer Christophe Beck, songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and executive producer and Disney Animation chief John Lasseter along with the press. Lots of press who can spread the word about the phenomenal success of Frozen just a few days before those ballots go into the mail to Oscar voters who — did I say this? – weren’t invited.
They missed a good show. Disney naturally threw this party to tout a few achievements for the film that has brought the studio’s home-grown animation division roaring back to life. This weekend the movie surpassed Despicable Me 2 (its Oscar rival in both Animated Feature and Best Song) to become the top domestic ‘toon grosser of 2013 and is knocking on the door of a $1 billion- plus worldwide gross with China just opening and Japan still to come. The soundtrack with four weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 has become the longest running number one film soundtrack since 2003. The DVD will be out in March. And Frozen has triumphed at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Movie Awards, Producers Guild Awards, Annies and last Friday at the ACE Eddies. Next weekend it is nominated at the BAFTAs and then of course the Oscars where it’s a heavy betting favorite to take Best Animated Feature and perhaps Best Original Song for “Let It Go” which has become something of a female empowerment anthem.
Josh Gad who voices Olaf the comical snowman hosted the concert which featured stars Kristen Bell (Anna), Idina Menzel (Elsa) and Santino Fontana (Hans) belting out their tunes. Jonathan Groff who was supposed to co-host had to beg off due to illness but this Broadway-ready group had the club hopping as they sang with the live orchestra led by David Metzger. In fact there is no question Frozen will be heading to the Great White Way. “I’d love to see a sequel too,” Disney’s marketing head Ricky Strauss told me. Lasseter was beaming (celebrating his 26th wedding anniversary as well) and told me he’s feeling good about the film’s Oscar chances. “Usually they don’t describe these kinds of films as art,” he said pointing out they usually are labeled as kids films but he really feels this one has transcended that classification. Certainly there was not a single kid there last night. The club doesn’t allow anyone under 18. Frozen has clearly crossed over to all ages and continues to do business. The recently released “sing-a-long” version has pumped new life into the box office. “With that incredible new success John Lasseter is going to re-release the film with our cast as Lego characters,” joked Gad.
Though Gad kept complaining about the mikes, all of the stars sounded great in this more intimate cabaret setting but Menzel’s big Oscar-nominated “Let It Go” was the most hotly anticipated, even though she screwed up an early line and decided to start over to the delight of the crowd. Second time was the charm for the song that is taking on a life of its own. It lost the Golden Globe to U2′s “Ordinary Love” but may be gaining momentum going into a new match-up at the Oscars where Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 also has heat due to his recent domination of the Grammys where he got lots of well-timed attention.
One song they don’t have to compete with is Alone Yet Not Alone which now is notorious for its rescinded nomination due to what the Academy says is illegal campaigning on the part of its co-composer Bruce Broughton , a former Academy Governor and current music branch executive committee member who sent more than 70 emails urging branch members to consider his song. Though the issue seems to be a closed book as far as the Academy is concerned, many colleagues of Broughton just won’t seem to Let It Go (sorry).
One independent soundtrack producer sent Deadline a copy of the petition he sent to the Academy with 1,129 signatures in support of re-instating the song as of a week ago. Another detailed plea for a complete overhaul of the Academy’s system in picking nominees came from a former ATAS Music Branch Governor and 3-time Emmy nominee Ron Grant who says he designed the system used for the Emmy. He called Broughton just a “scape goat for inequities in the Academy’s ailing nominating system” and chalks it up to “politics”. And on Friday Deadline received an impassioned plea from AMPAS music branch member Robert Folk who has more than 75 composer credits according to IMDB. He called Broughton “one of the Gods of current living, working film composers” comparing him to John Williams as a “composer’s composer who has always been known to be a person of the utmost integrity”. He’s calling for a radical plan to remedy the situation “before it is too late” by asking the Academy to allow a complete re-vote to let music branch members “vote their conscience and let’s see which five songs will be nominated in the proposed Re-Vote”. With final ballots going out Friday that kind of Hail Mary pass is, uh, unlikely. But clearly Alone Yet Not Alone – gate is continuing to stir emotions within the music branch and it doesn’t look like the issue is going to be left alone, no matter what the outcome of this year’s Best Song race turns out to be.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.