With 2015 marking a major anniversary for many of our favourite films, JLife looks at the Jewish ties to three of the classics.
From Buzz Lightyear’s flying conundrum to Woody’s heroic escapades, Toy Story’s release 20 years ago took the world by storm. Considering the limitless Pixar-inspired films now coming our way, it’s easy to forget that Toy Story was the first full length computer-animated movie of its time; and some of the much-loved toys are Jewish!
Representing the first generation of stand-ups in America, funny man Don Rickles voices the grumpy Mr Potato Head, while the gentle-spirited tyrannosaurus Rex is portrayed by Jewish actor Wallace Shawn.
Like many great productions, the soundtrack and score of Toy Story is instrumental to the plot. Who doesn’t conjure up memories of the movie when they hear the first few notes of You’ve Got a Friend? The song, originally written and recorded by Randy Newman, has been nominated for a multitude of awards, and has since become the theme tune for its two sequels.
As one of America’s foremost songwriters, Randy’s contribution to Toy Story’s soundtrack and score is recognisable, but his roots are harder to define. He was brought up in a Jewish family despite the admittance that his family rarely adhered to the tenets of the culture – they would honour the holidays to a certain extent, yet didn’t attend the synagogue.
Looking ahead, news of the film’s fourth instalment revealed that actress Rashida Jones will be co-writing the screenplay. The daughter of Quincy Jones, Rashida was raised under Reform Judaism by her Ashkenazi Jewish mother and attended Hebrew school.
The international smash hit romantic comedy Pretty Woman first lit up the box office 25 years ago, warming hearts with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts’ dysfunctional relationship.
The tale has transcended both monetary and critical success, hugely helped by the production team behind it. For example, Arnon Milchan, a Jewish Israeli film producer who has influenced over 130 motion pictures, co-produced the movie before forming Regency Enterprises.
And while the predominant Pretty Woman cast have no outward Jewish observance, many of the supporting figures do. Seinfeld actor Jason Alexander – who plays Edward’s suspicious lawyer in the film – has discussed his frequent trips to Israel, as well as speaking throughout the country for Jewish Federation. He also recently directed a comedy musical in which a young Jewish man is preparing to get married and encounters obstacles. Although Jason has stated how many of the characters have been based off his Jewish beginnings in New Jersey, the sketches have been given a contemporary twist.
Notably, actor and comedian Larry Miller stars in Pretty Woman as Mr Hollister, the salesman in the clothing store where Vivian purchases her cocktail dress, and Hank Azaria is also featured in his first speaking role, playing a detective.
The Sound of Music
2015 signifies the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music which first enchanted audiences in 1965 – and since then, the Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer-led classic has continued to climb mountains and gain new fans along the way.
Employing the backdrop of the events in Austria in the 1920s and 1930s, and inspired by Maria von Trapp’s 1949 memoir, the musical’s historical insights are telling of the conflict during that time.
Meanwhile, the stirring score can be attributed to composer Richard Rodgers, the son of a Jewish doctor. He is responsible for the sounds of 40 or so Broadway musicals, yet his work offers no evidence of his roots. It has been suggested that this is due to the tangled nature of his observance; his mother was an atheist and by the time he came of age, the family stopped fulfilling Jewish rituals.
For The Sound of Music – and countless other collaborations – Richard joined forces with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, putting together the songs such as My Favourite Things. Oscar derived from a Jewish family and his grandfather was a German-born theatre impresario.
Interestingly, in the musical’s initial outing, a number of the creative team were also Jewish – the original Captain von Trapp was played by acting legend Theodore Bikel.