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MR MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPIRE
Pleasant fantasy score bolstered by fine main theme
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
and AARON ZIGMAN
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Walden Media, LLC; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
A slightly old-fashioned fantasy movie for children, Mr Magorium's Wonder Empire is about an old (243 years old!) man who passes his magical toy shop on to a young woman. The two characters are played by Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman, popular stars, but the film did not get good reviews and has been a relative failure at the box office. The musical history of the film is odd - Alexandre Desplat was originally hired to write the score, but after his duties elsewhere meant he wouldn't have time to do it, scoring duties passed to Patrick Doyle. Then - and nobody really seems sure why - Doyle was off, and Desplat was back, though this time sharing scoring credit with Aaron Zigman. The credit is simply "Music composed by Alexandre Desplat and Aaron Zigman" and there is no deliniation anywhere of which composer may have done what, though the fact that the whole score is conducted and produced by Zigman would certainly seem to suggest that perhaps Desplat's involvement was to provide the theme and perhaps another couple of pieces, with the bulk of the scoring chores resting with Zigman.
With Desplat being an incredibly distinctive film composer, it was natural to wonder whether what resulted would be a disjointed affair - pleasingly, it's not. In fact, it's all so seamless it's testament to the two composers (perhaps Zigman in particular) that such a coherent score could be written under the circumstances. As always with a collaboration (and in addition to the two composers, a further seven orchestrators are listed) this means that neither composer can be as musically forceful as they may otherwise have been, but the blend of Desplat's carefully-hued sensibilities (yes, he even works a waltz theme into this) with the fantasy sound of John Williams (especially Harry Potter) and over-the-top showmanship of Tchaikovsky produces a winning sound.
The main theme is terrific - fun, colourful and memorable, it's one of the year's finest. While it's great when the full orchestra is giving its all (and even then, the orchestration is as careful as it ever is from Desplat - and, indeed, Zigman), perhaps the highlight is when it is reduced down to much more slight form in the tremendous "The Flight of Magorium". Even though - as is inevitable in a score like this - there are numerous changes of pace and style, it never particularly gets into Carl Stalling territory - ideas have time to breathe, despite the hour-long album having a whopping 37 tracks. If there's a complaint then it's regarding the inevitable watering-down of the individual composers' styles, but that can't stop it from being a very entertaining album and an easy one to recommend to lovers of orchestral fantasy scores.