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Ludicrously enjoyable score for Disney animation ends Powell's year on a high
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
John Powell has written a number of fine scores for animations over the years - chief among them Happy Feet and Ice Age 2 - but until now hadn't scored a Disney animation, but he got the chance for Bolt, about a dog who stars as a superhero on a television show... and escapes and thinks he's actually a superhero. I suppose it doesn't look much when I write it down like that, but the trailer doesn't actually look too bad. Bolt the dog is joined on his adventures by Mittens the cat and Rhino the hamster, and I'm sure a good time is eventually had by all.
The lead voices for the film are provided by Miley Cyrus (who apparently featured in something called Hannah Montana) and John Travolta (who also appeared in Battlefield Earth). These actors also provide the vocals for the album's opening song, "I Thought I Lost You", a disposable pop tune which might appeal to the teenyboppers (a great number of whom are reading this review, I imagine); the other song is "Barking at the Moon" sung by Jenny Lewis, a pleasant light country song which won't set anything on fire but is unlikely to offend anyone.
After those two songs comes half an hour from Powell's score. "Meet Bolt" makes for a charming opening, featuring a lovely piano theme; then there's a touch of Elfman about "Bolt Transforms", which I imagine from the music may be a gentle pastiche of Spiderman. The score's highlight is the frenetic "Scooter Chase", with Powell impressively adapting his "adult" action style for a kids' film, bringing his Bourne synths into the unlikeliest of places, but mixing them with wonderfully-constructed orchestral adventure. The pace changes completely in "Meet Mittens", with an Italian inflection for the feline character - it's lovely music. The loveliness continues in "The RV Park", but this time it's (slightly hackneyed) Americana that takes the focus, with a hint or two of the rolling western style of old.
Powell's forte has undoubtedly been action music, and what's good is that he seems able to bring lots of different approaches to it; "A Fast Train" ditches the earlier synths and is a fast-paced treat. There are lots of short cues here and so it does end up with a slightly piecemeal feeling, but with music that moves along with such energy it is easy to forgive that; after that action comes some stirring music in "Where Were You on St Rhino's Day?" - and then a very silly interlude in "Sing-Along Radio" which I won't even attempt to describe - before the action returns for the fantastic "Saving Mittens".
"A Friend in Need" stirs things back into life towards the end, before the climactic action spectacular "Rescuing Penny", another fine piece. This is one of those scores which won't win any awards, but is just so much fun you don't want to say anything bad against it - Powell continues to impress, and this is probably the most flat-out enjoyable score of the year. It's notable too for the excellent way the album is produced - well done to Disney for releasing just the right amount of score - any more of this and it would probably wear out its welcome, but half an hour is a perfect amount. This is a solid effort which caps off another good year from one of Hollywood's best composers of family-friendly film music.