Oscar Flashback: With ‘The Little Mermaid,’ Disney begins its domination in Best Original Song

This article marks Part 19 of the Gold Derby series analyzing 84 years of Best Original Song at the Oscars. Join us as we look back at the timeless tunes recognized in this category, the results of each race and the overall rankings of the winners.

The 1989 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“After All” from “Chances Are”
“Kiss the Girl” from “The Little Mermaid”
“Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid”
“I Love to See You Smile” from “Parenthood”
“The Girl Who Used to Be Me” from “Shirley Valentine”

Won and should’ve won: “Under the Sea,” The Little Mermaid”

Howard Ashman is, quite simply, one of the greatest and most influential lyricists of all-time.

Ashman, who initially left an immense impression not on the big screen but on stage from the late-1970s, through the mid-1980s, with colorful, idiosyncratic efforts like “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” “Smile” and Little Shop of Horrors, did not make his presence known in the world of film until just a few mere years prior to his tragic death from AIDS complications in 1991.

But what an impact he did leave in those final years.

After assisting on the soundtrack for Disney’s modest feature “Oliver & Company” (1988), Ashman partnered with the comparably talented Alan Menken to score “The Little Mermaid,” which marked quite a comeback for Walt Disney Pictures, a studio then yearning for a big, fat hit after a lengthy dry spell.

Following their smashing success on “The Little Mermaid,” Ashman and Menken would go on to score “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), the first animated film to garner an Oscar nomination in Best Picture. That film would also triumph for the duo in Best Original Song, though Ashman’s victory was a posthumous one, having died two weeks prior to the ceremony. Ashman’s final nomination would actually come another year later, for his work on “Friend Like Me” from “Aladdin” (1992).

The impact Ashman’s contributions had on the revival of Disney and on future composers cannot be understated. Songs he composed – the likes of “Under the Sea,” “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast” – are not only some of the most iconic and popular of the Disney catalogue but among the most beloved film songs ever. We are so blessed to have lived in a world where Ashman made music.

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Now, as for 1989 Best Original Song, it’s pretty much a slam dunk for “Under the Sea,” a bouncy, exuberant delight, whole-heartedly worthy of victory. The other “The Little Mermaid” nominee, “Kiss the Girl,” is a nice one too, but hardly leaves the same level of impression – more deserving of that second nomination would have been the splendid ballad “Part of Your World.”

Also nice is “After All,” the agreeably corny Cher-Peter Cetera duet from the underrated Cybill Shepherd-Robert Downey, Jr. dramedy “Chances Are.”

The remaining two nominees are stunningly dull fare, even though “I Love to See You Smile” was composed by Randy Newman and “The Girl Who Used to Be Me” marked another Marvin Hamlisch-Alan Bergman-Marilyn Bergman effort. All of these typically fine artists phoned it in big time here.

Why couldn’t voters have dumped Newman and the old “The Way We Were” (1973) team for a couple of Prince tunes off the kinky “Batman” soundtrack?

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The Oscar winners ranked (thus far):

1. “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
2. “The Way You Look Tonight” from “Swing Time” (1936)
3. “High Hopes” from “A Hole in the Head” (1959)
4. “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” from “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956)
5. “Mona Lisa” from “Captain, Carey, U.S.A.” (1950)
6. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949)
7. “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” from “Dirty Dancing” (1987)
8. “The Windmills of Your Mind” from “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968)
9. “The Way We Were” from “The Way We Were” (1973)
10. “Let the River Run” from “Working Girl” (1988)
11. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)
12. “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid” (1989)
13. “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’)” from “High Noon” (1952)
14. “I’m Easy” from “Nashville” (1975)
15. “You’ll Never Know” from “Hello, Frisco, Hello” (1943)
16. “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from “The Harvey Girls” (1946)
17. “Fame” from “Fame” (1980)
18. “Theme from ‘Shaft’” from “Shaft” (1971)
19. “Secret Love” from “Calamity Jane” (1953)
20. “White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn” (1942)
21. “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)
22. “Take My Breath Away” from “Top Gun” (1986)
23. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940)
24. “Thanks for the Memory” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938)
25. “Lullaby of Broadway” from “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935)
26. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South” (1947)
27. “Flashdance…What a Feeling” from “Flashdance” (1983)
28. “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” from “Arthur” (1981)
29. “Last Dance” from “Thank God It’s Friday” (1978)
30. “Days of Wine and Roses” from “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962)
31. “For All We Know” from “Lovers and Other Strangers” (1970)
32. “All the Way” from “The Joker Is Wild” (1957)
33. “It Might As Well Be Spring” from “State Fair” (1945)
34. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from “Lady Be Good” (1941)
35. “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” from “Here Comes the Groom” (1951)
36. “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” from “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” (1955)
37. “It Goes Like It Goes” from “Norma Rae” (1979)
38. “Born Free” from “Born Free” (1966)
39. “Never on Sunday” from “Never on Sunday” (1960)
40. “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from “The Woman in Red” (1984)
41. “Up Where We Belong” from “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982)
42. “Three Coins in the Fountain” from “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954)
43. “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins” (1964)
44. “Call Me Irresponsible” from “Papa’s Delicate Condition” (1963)
45. “Evergreen (Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’)” from “A Star Is Born” (1976)
46. “Swinging on a Star” from “Going My Way” (1944)
47. “You Light Up My Life” from “You Light Up My Life” (1977)
48. “Gigi” from “Gigi” (1958)
49. “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (1937)
50. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” (1934)
51. “Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface” (1948)
52. “Talk to the Animals” from “Doctor Dolittle” (1967)
53. “The Shadow of Your Smile” from “The Sandpiper” (1965)
54. “Say You, Say Me” from “White Nights” (1985)
55. “The Morning After” from “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972)
56. “We May Never Love Like This Again” from “The Towering Inferno” (1974)

SEE Best Original Songs of the 1930s, including ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ‘The Way You Look Tonight’

SEE ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ is first Disney winner in Best Original Song

SEE Best Original Songs of the early 1940s, including ‘White Christmas’ and ‘You’ll Never Know’

SEE Best Original Songs of the late 1940s, including ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ and ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’

SEE Best Original Songs of the early 1950s, including ‘Mona Lisa,’ ‘High Noon’

SEE Judy Garland classic from ‘A Star is Born’ loses Best Original Song to Frank Sinatra standard

SEE Best Original Songs of the late 1950s, including ‘All the Way,’ ‘High Hopes’

SEE Best Original Songs of the early 1960s, including ‘Moon River,’ ‘Days of Wine and Roses’

SEE Best Original Songs of the late 1960s, including ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’

SEE Best Original Songs of the early 1970s, including ‘Theme from ‘Shaft,’ ‘The Morning After’

SEE ‘Live and Let Die’ no match for ‘The Way We Were’ in Best Original Song

SEE Best Original Songs of the mid-1970s, including ‘I’m Easy,’ ‘Evergreen’

SEE ‘New York, New York,’ ‘Saturday Night Fever’ snubbed in Best Original Song

SEE Best Original Songs of the late 1970s, including ‘Last Dance,’ ‘It Goes Like It Goes’

SEE Best Original Songs of the early 1980s, including ‘Fame,’ ‘Flashdance…What a Feeling’

SEE ‘Footloose,’ ‘Ghostbusters’ no match for Stevie Wonder in Best Original Song

SEE Best Original Songs of the mid-to-late 1980s, including ‘Take My Breath Away,’ ‘Let the River Run’

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