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Animated, energetic music with a smile on its face
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
For a while, I was convinced that the only guaranteed sign of exceptional quality in Hollywood were the words "Disney presents a Pixar film..." - sadly, the unbroken run of magnificence from Toy Story to Finding Nemo had a temporary blip in the slightly disappointing, overrated The Incredibles, but the magic is back with Cars. You wouldn't think so if you read the reviews, but then the critics weren't kind with A Bug's Life or Monsters Inc either, and there's nothing wrong with either. The witty, charming film is essentially one big long paean to the "good old days", whenever they may have been. John Lasseter was back in a more hands-on role, directing this one himself - and so back came Randy Newman, who didn't work on the last two Pixar films (both of which received fine scores in his absence).
Newman contributes one original song, the lovely "Our Town" sung with typical easygoing charm by the great James Taylor. It picks up on the film's theme ("Main Street isn't Main Street any more / Lights don't shine as brightly as they shone before / To tell the truth, lighs don't shine at all / Our town") and is completely delightful in every way. Many of the ingredients which make Newman one of the most lavishly talented singer/songwriters there has been - the biting satire, exceptional wit, cutting social comment - don't ever appear in his "composer for hire" songs in movies, but another of the ingredients - heartmelting melodies - does, and he always provides lovely lyrics for these Pixar songs as well. There's a host of other songs on the album too, including a nice new feel-good, summery track from Sheryl Crowe, "Real Gone", a couple of classics - Chuck Berry's "Route 66" and Hank Williams's "My Heart Would Know" - two country songs from Brad Paisley, and only one misfire, the horrible-beyond-words cover by John Mayer of "Route 66".
Newman's score continues very much where his last Pixar music left off - boistrous, hyperactive, lavishly-orchestrated, beautifully-played. The first score track, "Opening Race", features something a little different, with electric guitars and drums adding a rock feel, but that's the exception. Elsewhere, Newman adds southern flavour with guitars and banjo. There's a slightly darker hue overall than in the composer's previous animated scores, with a far greater emphasis on action - Newman is actually quite adept at coming up with exciting music for films like this, with the brassy "McQueen's Lost" full of thrills (and also somehow featuring a lovely, warm motif for McQueen himself). There are those (maybe, everyone other than me) who say Newman can't write action music - but his colourful, over-the-top style is so perfect for these Pixar films, I can't imagine anyone else doing it quite so well.
The bluesy "Bessie" is a treat, with dirty brass and slide guitar combining for a Dukes of Hazzard style groove. "Dirt is Different" reprises the main theme with Newman briefly recalling his nod-and-wink rolling western style from Maverick, something perhaps he might have used just a little more in Cars. The country style returns in "New Road", another lovely little piece, conjuring images of a lovely southern belle chewing a bit of grass and wearing an oversized hat. This style goes more up-tempo in "Tractor Tipping", though it gets a bit more drive (if you'll excuse the expression). The gentle, bucolic feel of "McQueen and Sally" is evocative and very beautiful. There's a large hint of romantic sadness in the air in "Goodbye", with one of those beautiful pieces of Americana that seem unique to Newman with the soft strings, soft flute solo and subtle guitar accompaniment enforcing again what a good film composer he is, before a moving piano solo of the main melody from his "Our Town" song.
After all the gentle beauty of the score's middle portion, Newman goes into full-on action territory for the last three pieces. "Pre-Race Pageantry" sounds just like you would expect any piece of music with that title to sound, with vibrant and dynamic brass playing the highlight. "The Piston Cup" is an action-packed ride again showcasing the brass section, before the climatic "The Big Race" rounds things off in rousing fashion.
Cars is Newman's best score for Pixar since the thematically-rich, wonderful A Bug's Life
and it's such a shame that the album follows the recent Disney trend of
offering a few songs and only a few minutes of score. Here, with
just over 20 minutes of score, there's maybe not enough to entice score
fans to buy the album, and there are so few songs that people are
unlikely to buy the album just for them either - surely Disney's
missing a trick. An extra ten minutes of score would have been
more than welcome, and surely not too much to ask for. However,
those who enjoy Newman's previous Pixar scores will find much to love
here, and it's one of the finest scores for an animation in a long