- Composed by Alexandre Desplat
- Varèse Sarabande / 2012 / 69m
A DreamWorks animation featuring the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, Rise of the Guardians was a box office disappointment. following its release at Christmas 2012. It did surprise something of a surprise in the musical department, with the score (very unusually for this studio) not composed by either John Powell or a Remote Control composer. Instead the assignment fell to Alexandre Desplat, who had done one very different animation before (The Fantastic Mr Fox) but who wouldn’t usually spring to mind when thinking of a film like this.
The album opens with the gorgeous “Still Dream” sung by the great Renée Fleming. Her classy vocal and Desplat’s gorgeous melody are slightly sullied by a syrupy lyric, but it’s beautiful all the same. The song theme is also heard frequently in the body of the score itself, notably in “Dreamsand”, and has a certain Broadway feel to it (consequently meaning the score, when that theme’s playing, has a vague similarity to some of Alan Menken’s for Disney). It’s got a sweetness to it but also a warmth – it’s a very attractive melody. The real main theme is introduced in the first score track, “Calling the Guardians”, including some powerful brassy outbursts bolstered by a notably dynamic recording (and predictably fine performance by the London Symphony Orchestra). Soaring and exciting yet remaining playful, it’s a superb and memorable theme, full of dashing heroism perfectly suited to this kind of kids’ adventure. It rises to epic proportions in the magnificent “Jack and Sandman”, one of the most thrilling pieces of action music of the composer’s career despite the incongruous appearance of what sounds like a West Side Story homage in the middle.
A secondary theme is introduced in “Alone in the World”, and as the cue name suggests it’s much less bright. An intimate, touching piece, it pretty much does what its name says it ought – it actually reminds me a bit of John Williams’s work on Hook, bolstered by a similar sense of magic. Later, “Jack’s Memories” is even more wistful and even more gorgeous. Another main theme is first presented fully in “The Moon” – a swirling theme with a certain sinister air, it’s entertaining and memorable. Of note too are various set-pieces. I love the brief “Fanfare of the Elves”, possessing a grandiose spirit you might normally associate with Miklós Rózsa. A delightful bustling atmosphere runs through “Busy Workshop”, lovely little instrumental details playing over the boisterous orchestral mass – there’s a real joie de vivre. “Easter” is a four-minute light-hearted vignette with a distinct Danny Elfman vibe, thanks to its oompah brass and percussion and oohing female chorus.
It’s interesting that I’ve mentioned a few other composers here – and there’s an occasional hint of John Powell, too – Desplat usually has such a strong, distinctive style. But of course Rise of the Guardians isn’t your typical Desplat fare. What’s really nice is that even through those tips of the hat, you’re never in any doubt that this is an Alexandre Desplat score. His orchestral mastery is on display throughout and, while some portions are more mickey mousey than perhaps would be ideal from an album-listening point of view, this is compositionally very rich and very impressive, akin to those great 1990s scores from family adventure movies. The final three cues – “Sandman Returns”, “Dreamsand Miracles” and “Oath of the Guardians” – provide a rousing, heartwarming ten-minute finale that offers reprises of most of the major thematic material; it’s magical stuff.
Desplat had worked in the fantasy genre before this score, of course – The Golden Compass was a wonderful piece of work, full of the rich depths of the wonderful source novel in a way that the film itself sadly wasn’t, and it’s a great shame that the composer never got the chance to complete that trilogy he had clearly planned out so carefully. Rise of the Guardians is a much lighter work than that but still a satisfying one – it has a terrific collection of themes – and it confirms the composer’s credentials in this genre.