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Artwork copyright (c) 2003 New Line Productions, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall



Ho ho ho


Since Home Alone, movie studios have all tried to bring out bring Christmas releases to cash in on the enormous potential market there is.  Unfortunately for them, few films have matched the Macauley Culkin movie's success, though a few composers have come a way to matching John Williams's seminal effort, from Bruce Broughton on Miracle on 34th Street to James Horner on How the Grinch Stole ChristmasElf is the latest attempt to grab the cash and, despite me writing this in the first half of November and the film having already been out for a while, it certainly seems to have done well for itself.

John Debney is a natural at this kind of family movie, with his ever-infectious style being perfectly matched for light and fluffy family fare, from Cats and Dogs through Hocus Pocus and Inspector Gadget.  A criticism would be that he rarely seems able to give the movies an identity of their own and the scores can seem rather generic, but I suppose for that sort of film it is almost inevitable (I say almost because Home Alone could hardly be called a generic score).  Elf is surely one of his better efforts in the genre.

Opening with a lovely catchy theme (distinctly recalling Michael Kamen's Jack, but never mind) the album plays very well.  Of course, it has an appropriately Christmassy feel (which makes listening to it in the first half of November, as previously advised, slightly disconcerting) with quotes from Jingle Bells and other Christmas tunes occasionally, but overall it just has a somewhat non-specific air of wintry fun about it.  A track like "Santa's in Trouble" basically sums up the whole score, with lovely melodies playing off against each other to the predictably-magical twinkly orchestration, with madcap pace mixing readily with more restrained and tender material.  (A slight oddity is "Central Park Rangers", in which Debney introduces an action motif that previously served as the main theme to both Franz Waxman's Prince Valiant and Jerry Goldsmith's The Shadow.)  There are a few tracks that are simply delightful, like "Buddy's Journey", "Showdown in the Park" and "Buddy and Santa's Flight", almost guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

The album is rather short but, to be honest, for this sort of thing half an hour is a pretty ideal length (any longer and the music just begins to get on your nerves and the magical atmosphere is lost); sound quality is vibrant and impressive.  It is slightly odd that the climactic, big finale "Buddy and Santa's Flight" is only the penultimate cue on the album, with a fairly innocuous short track following it, but what do I know?  There's not really a whole lot to say about a score like this.  It's one of those that you pretty much know you will either like or note like before you even hear it - if you're a fan of Debney's family scores, or of old-fashioned orchestral kids' music, then this one is for you.  If your tastes are such that you think Dragonslayer is a bit too tame then chances are, there'll be little for you to like.  Debney has, as usual, done his job with all the professionalism in the world but, as usual, there isn't really much special or unique to this score that couldn't place it in any one of dozens of other similar movies.  I'm sure however that other composers might have struggled to bring the same energy and vibrancy to the film, and for that, clearly Debney deserves a lot of credit. 

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  1. Papa Elf (1:35)
  2. Main Title (1:59)
  3. Buddy's Journey (2:38)
  4. A Stroll with Buddy (1:32)
  5. Christmas Medley (2:23)
  6. Weird Wonderland (1:34)
  7. The Frozen Battlefield (1:29)
  8. Buddy's Theme (:58)
  9. Santa's in Trouble (2:06)
  10. A Walk in the Park (1:01)
  11. Attack of the Little People (1:15)
  12. Central Park Rangers (2:54)
  13. Working with Dad (:36)
  14. A Snowman's Advice (1:47)
  15. Showdown in the Park (3:31)
  16. Buddy and Santa's Flight (1:15)
  17. Spaghetti and Strup (1:36)