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Finding Nemo
  • Composed by Thomas Newman
  • Walt Disney Records / 2003 / 60m

Film music fans might suggest there’s something fishy going on (whew! what a pun – certainly good enough to use in the first line) at seeing that Thomas Newman is scoring an animated family movie – there are few film composers who would seem less likely in the role.  John Barry, perhaps – nah, it’d never happen.  The director of Finding Nemo, Andrew Stanton, decided he wanted a change of direction from that adopted by Newman’s cousin Randy in the previous Disney/Pixar films.  In typically laconic style, Randy remarked that “they finally decide they don’t want so many notes and they get my *&%$ing cousin to do it?”  Anyway, Randy will be back for Pixar’s next-but-one movie Cars (directed again by John Lassetter) – but who will do the one in between?  Well, it’s The Incredibles and it’s… John Barry.  (Please note that there are still 18 months for Barry to fall out with the director, something he usually seems quite capable of doing within a matter of minutes.).

Anyway, back to the matter at hand.  There was much speculation about how Newman would approach the movie – everything he’s scored for ages has been deadly-serious, often brilliant, but rarely much fun.  (In the Bedroom and Road to Perdition weren’t exactly side-splitting.)  But in retrospect, it was probably quite obvious how Newman would score the film – more orchestra than usual, but still all the bells and whistles he usually provides.  (Literally.)

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

Randy Newman’s music was absolutely perfect for Pixar – serious when needed, funny when needed, but always bright, always intelligent, always with something to add to what was happening on-screen.  And, while he may write in a style that is diametrically opposed, Thomas Newman’s music seems just as perfect.  Now, I haven’t yet seen Finding Nemo, and I can’t think of a single other film I would say this about without having seen it, but I am absolutely sure that it is brilliant – everything Pixar touches seems to turn to gold.  And it is perfectly possible to imagine exactly the kind of antics that are going on on-screen while listening to the music – something which may be the ultimate compliment for a piece of film music.

The delightful scherzos employed by Newman in scores such as Oscar and Lucinda make an appearance again – “Mr Ray, Scientist” and “Jellyfish Forest” for instance – and these are as brilliant as ever.  He goes slightly jazzy occasionally too (“Foolproof”), these sections providing the most overtly “funny music”, but it’s slightly restrained stuff.  What is not restrained is the action music.  Newman has scored action numerous times before, but usually has chosen to take a step back from the action and score the underlying drama instead – here he takes the opposing route and goes all out for thrills.  “Friends not Food” is one of the best pieces of action music I’ve heard in a while – none of the wham-bam stuff that most modern-day composers favour, but that makes it no less exciting.  Elsewhere, “Fish in my Hair!” and “All Drains Lead to the Ocean” are also great.  In his liner notes, the director says that he hired the composer because of his music’s uniquely bittersweet style, and in tracks such as “Stay Awake” this is most obvious – a really touching piece.  And right at the end of the album, the climactic “Swim Down”-“Finding Nemo”-“Fronds Like These” triumvirate is really moving.

As I have said on numerous occasions, Newman is the most strikingly original composer working in Hollywood.  While in the post-American Beauty era, many have tried to ape his style, none has managed to pull it off with anything like the panache Newman achieves in even his most routine scores.  But Finding Nemo is anything but routine – combining just about everything that is good about his music in one package – as a reference, think Six Feet Under crossed with the mouse music in The Green Mile crossed with the scherzos in Oscar and Lucinda crossed with a kids’ version of American Beauty – it’s like the Newman we always knew was there has finally found the project that enabled him to pull out all the stops and show what he’s made of.

The album features forty tracks (including the brilliant “Beyond the Sea” in a slightly less-than-brilliant interpretation by Robbie Williams) which seems like a hell of a lot, but you never really notice – the album is produced very intelligently and tracks run into one another and blend seamlessly, including a handful of snippets of sound effects and dialogue – but it’s done very well.  I’m ever-so-slightly disappointed that Randy Newman wasn’t given the opportunity to show what he could do with a different type of Pixar movie – his scores for the previous four are nothing short of brilliant in the respective movies – but then again, I can’t imagine anyone coming up with anything better than Thomas Newman has for Finding Nemo.  Easily the best score of the year so far, and frankly I can’t think of any coming up that are likely to dislodge it from its perch.  (Perch!)

Rating: **** 1/2 | |

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