Barry Manilow, still writing the songs

April 03, 1994|By Los Angeles Daily News

Follow your heart is the moral that runs throughout "Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina," a full-length animated feature about the 2-inch-high fairy tale heroine.

And follow his heart is indeed what Barry Manilow finally got to do when "Thumbelina's" producer-director Don Bluth ("An American Tale," "The Land Before Time") approached the recording star to compose songs and the underscore for his latest cartoon feature.

"I started off wanting to be a composer," explained Mr. Manilow, who has sold more than 50 million recordings worldwide. "I wanted to write Broadway musicals, actually. In fact, I met Bruce and Jack [Sussman and Feldman, "Thumbelina's" lyricists] at the BMI workshop and we were on our way [to becoming songwriters for musicals]."

But Mr. Manilow got sidetracked -- into writing commercial jingles and playing piano for New York performers like a then little-known Bette Midler. Then "Mandy" hit.

The lush, romantic, 1974 ballad took Mr. Manilow into the pop music stratosphere. Easy-listening classics such as "I Write the Songs," "Copacabana" and "Looks Like We Made It" kept him up there for more than a decade -- and where a recent greatest-hits boxed set and accompanying, sold-out tour indicate that Mr. Manilow still remains.

"That all just took me into a world that had nothing to do with where I started, or anything I had ever thought of," said Mr. Manilow, a tall, slender man in his mid-40s. "I never considered singing or being an entertainer or getting up on stage and fronting a band. I had never even thought about it until I found myself compelled to do it. But in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to make a career as a songwriter for Broadway musicals. I just knew my way around it. Instinctively . . ."

Of course, cartoon movies aren't exactly Broadway shows. Yet, with the recent success of such animated Disney musicals as "Aladdin," "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast," many have observed that film has become the closest thing to classic musical theater. Indeed, "Beauty and the Beast" recently inspired a live, Broadway stage show.

Mr. Manilow admitted that, even though "Thumbelina" represented a major step toward achieving his heart's desire, film scores are separate animals.

"It wasn't so much that I wanted to score a film," said Mr. Manilow, who collaborated on "Thumbelina's" underscore with William Ross ("Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"). "Because that's a craft that I respect enormously, and it's something that you really have to study and learn your way around.

"But I wanted to do this one, because I wanted the music of the whole film to sound like it came from one source. Instead of having an underscore guy and another one to do the production numbers, I really wanted to make sure the music felt like a cohesive piece. . . ."

Although he was confident he could pull off both musical tasks, Mr. Manilow admitted that it was a daunting job. "When you do an animated movie, it's all music," he said. Practically all of "Thumbelina's" 86-minute running time had music on the soundtrack.

When the film's half-dozen production numbers aren't taking center stage, the movement and rhythm of the animation is more dependent on complementary background music than a

live-action film's would be. Indeed, many animated sequences are drawn to match a pre-existing piece of music, giving the animation composer an unusually high degree of storytelling responsibility as well.

It left Mr. Manilow with an appetite for more; he already has written eight songs for Mr. Bluth's next feature, "The Pebble and the Penguin."

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