The Oscar nominations are out for 2022, with few surprises. “The Power of the Dog,” despite not being a widely watched film, landed several high-profile nods and walked away with the most nominations overall. “West Side Story” and “Belfast” were also both celebrated; multiple nominees broke records. “Encanto” — Disney’s big breakout musical — was nominated (and is probably a lock) for best animated feature film. But the practically inescapable musical was not nominated for its biggest hit. Instead, in a tough field, its Spanish-language ballad “Dos Oruguitas” got the nod. There’s a good chance the biggest musical of the year won’t take home a trophy for its songs.
So now, we do have to “talk about Bruno.”
There’s a good chance the biggest musical of the year won’t take home a trophy for its songs.
If you’ve watched the Disney musical, you’ve probably been talking about Bruno for weeks — that is, when you’re not humming it, singing it or quoting it. A big ensemble number, the song about the Madrigal family’s complicated, misunderstood relative Bruno gives some of the lesser characters their chance to shine. It is everything your typical Disney hit is not — a midtempo salsa-esque number with rapid-fire lyrics and polyphonic grandeur. It is not a straightforward ballad sung by a heroine or your typical Disney villain introduction. Instead, it explores the movie’s mysterious antagonist from the varying perspectives of multiple characters.
It’s the kind of song that “Encanto” composer Lin-Manuel Miranda loves (and what helped made his Broadway hit “Hamilton” so popular. It’s also an encapsulation of why the music of “Encanto” has become (with the possible exception of “ You’re Welcome,” also by Miranda, from “Moana”) the first really inescapable soundtrack since “Frozen.”
“Frozen” became the biggest animated musical Disney released in decades by taking a time-honored formula and twisting it around into a more complex fairy tale. The titular character was both heroine and villain; the big ballad number, “Let It Go,” subverted the classic Disney “I Want” song and turned it into an “I Don’t Want” song. A decade later, “Encanto” has similarly sly twists — our heroine is the only one in her family without magical abilities. And Bruno, the subject of the movie’s biggest song, isn’t actually a villain, but a misunderstood Cassandra figure.
The Oscar submission deadline for original songs this year was weeks before the movie’s release in theaters. So Disney guessed that the far more traditional and sentimental ballad, “Dos Oruguitas” (which translates to “Two Little Caterpillars” and is about letting go of a loved one), would be its strongest song. It was a rare tactical error from the House of Mouse.
Though the Spanish language version of “Dos Oruguitas” ran up the Latin Charts upon release (and it is a lovely ballad), “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” topped the Billboard Hot 100, a feat that hasn’t happened since 1992’s “Aladdin” and “A Whole New World.”
The person most upset by this oversight — although he’d never admit it — may well be Miranda himself. Best original song is his key to nailing the legendary EGOT (all four topline awards, a feat only 16 people have managed.) He already has the Emmy, the Grammy and the Tony, stemming from projects such as “Hamilton” and “In the Heights.” Should Miranda land an Oscar for “Encanto,” he would be the first person of Puerto Rican descent to win the honor and only the fourth person of color to do so. But he is not a producer on “Encanto,” and his directing debut for Netflix’s “tick, tick… BOOM!” was criminally snubbed.
And “Dos Oruguitas” has strong competition; Beyoncé is nominated this year for her work on “King Richard,” as is Billie Eilish for the new Bond theme “No Time to Die” and Van Morrison for the critically acclaimed “Belfast.”
Should academy voters decide against “Dos Oruguitas,” the composer for Disney’s biggest hit since “Frozen” will be denied the Oscar (and EGOT) he deserves. But by submitting the wrong song, Disney has already (and accidentally) robbed Oscar viewers of a live performance to which they can sing joyfully along. On the other hand, and as almost every parent in America knows, the power of the earworm knows no bounds. In terms of pure influence, the soundtrack of “Encanto” has already proven itself worthy of an Oscar. We’ll be talking and singing and humming about Bruno for the foreseeable future, no matter what the academy officially decides.