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Alice in Wonderland
  • Composed by Danny Elfman
  • Walt Disney Records D000490002 / 2010 / 50:59

I must admit that I’ve got a bit bored by the films of Tim Burton now.  His once-dazzling style is now so familiar, I’m not quite sure what new experience I might be able to have by watching a new film by him.  To that end, I haven’t seen his Alice in Wonderland reimagining for Disney – the sight of the gurning Johnny Depp on the poster was the final nail in the coffin for me.  It attracted reasonable enough notices, but nothing remarkable – and indeed it attracted the most publicity in this country as a result of our biggest cinema chain deciding not to show the film as a result of Disney squeezing the window from cinema to DVD release date to a record low (but they later relented and showed it anyway).

However bored I may have become with Burton’s films, that boredom hasn’t remotely crept over into my appreciation for Danny Elfman’s music.  This is actually Elfman’s first score for his most famous directorial collaborator in five years (since he skipped Sweeney Todd for obvious reasons).  After all this time (it’s their 13th film together in 25 years), inevitably there are similarities to some of those which have gone before – most notably Edward Scissorhands – which is now 20 years old!  But Elfman has changed as a composer during that period beyond measure, so it’s fascinating to hear him tackle this “childish” material from his current position as one of the more “serious” composers of film music.

Mr and Mrs Elfman at the Alice in Wonderland premiere

The score’s most striking feature is its fabulous main theme.  A beautiful melody (a little Black Beauty-like, in Elfman terms) – sometimes sung in English, sometimes wordlessly, sometimes just for the orchestra.  Elfman puts it through so many variations, does so much with it – so great to hear such a strong theme used in such a way in a film score.  Much of the 50-minute album is taken up by exploring the theme in so many different ways, everything from a lilting arrangement which is sweetness itself, through to an action music version.

There’s quite a lot of action music here, actually, particularly as the album draws towards its close; it’s the kind of dense writing Elfman favours these days, but there’s a particular clarity to the writing which arguably puts it on an even higher level – and this is drawn out terrifically by Dennis Sands’s demonstration-quality recording.  The warm finale, “Alice Returns” is gorgeous; the album perfectly wrapped up with the fifth (and longest) named reprise of “Alice’s Theme”.  This is very enjoyable, beautifully-developed, highly-recommended!  ****

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