Eight-time Oscar winner breaks down the race for best original song

PHOTO: Justin Timberlake attends The 22nd Annual Critics Choice Awards at Barker Hangar, Dec. 11, 2016, in Santa Monica, California.PlayChristopher Polk/Getty Images
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"La La Land" is a leading favorite to sweep Sunday night's Academy Awards, but Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken thinks that may not extend to the best original song category, despite having a numerical advantage.

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Justin Timberlake's "Trolls" hit "Can't Stop the Feeling!" is nominated, as is "How Far I'll Go," from Disney's "Moana" and "The Empty Chair" by Sting from "Jim: The James Foley Story." But with two songs from "La La Land" in that category, does any other song even have a chance?

"Of course it has a shot," said Menken, the eight-time Oscar-winning composer who co-wrote the songs for "Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin" and many other films.

Why? Because, Menken says, the two "La La Land" songs "may end up splitting the vote."

In general, when it comes to best original song, Menken says the Academy wants "a clear sign that a song is specifically written for a moment in a film. That it's not just somebody taking a song out of a trunk ... they look for integrity."

By that standard, both Timberlake's song and the "Moana" tune, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, qualify: they were written for characters in their respective films to sing at the right moment. Then again, so were the "La La Land" songs.

"They also look at the outer package as well," Menken said. "If the movie itself is a hit, that really helps the song to be recognized."

But, he added, "there's a lot of intangibles. There's certainly a lot of internal politics that happen ... you don't want to know what goes into the sausage!"

If Miranda loses, he'll still have a job writing Disney songs. Menken told ABC News that he and Lin are teaming up to write new material for a forthcoming live-action version of "The Little Mermaid."

Menken won an Oscar for co-writing "Under the Sea" for the original.

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