Visit the Movie Wave Store | Movie Wave Home | Reviews by Title | Reviews by Composer | Contact me
Sprightly, quirky animation score is a delight
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * *
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
When Randy Newman finally won his Oscar for Monster's Inc, in his acceptance speech he said "These guys, Pixar, John Lasseter and Pete Doctor, have made four great films in a row. I don't know if that's ever been done before. They say Peter Weir did it once but I don't believe them." Flippancy aside, that comment was oh-so-true, and the truly miraculous thing is that they've done it another four times since then - and reviews of their latest, WALL·E, suggest they might have even topped themselves this time. Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton helms it this time, telling the story of a waste-collection robot who was accidentally left switched on when mankind left earth a long time before and has spent his life alone for all that time - until a search robot, EVE, discovers him.
The main character communicates through R2-D2-style bleeps and burps (created by Ben Burtt) and so the film is dialogue-free for the most part (but the small voice cast is amazingly good - Jeff Garlin, John Ratzenberger, Fred Willard, Sigourney Weaver) - I raise this, of course, because it means music is absolutely key to the film. It's no surprise that Stanton enlisted Thomas Newman following the success of Finding Nemo (in which he proved that he could apply his quirky style into a kids' film without difficulty) - and if anything this film gave Newman an even broader canvas on which to paint his magic.
The barely-seen and musically-unreleased Nothing is Private apart, this is his first score for a couple of years, and his unique contribution to film music has been missed during that time - and what a way to return, on a project like this. The album actually opens with a song from Hello Dolly performed by Michael Crawford - the reason for which I assume will become evident in the film! - and then the score gets going with the wonderful "2815 AD". Thomas Newman doing space music - what a prospect - and while inevitably there is no John Williams-style big theme here, his crystal clear orchestral opening with harp and pizzicato strings is stunningly beautiful. It's gentle but quietly inspirational music.
More typical Newman comes in the main theme for WALL·E himself in the next cue, a quirky, bouncy, delightful little ditty which is nothing tremendously new from him, but still a joy. "The Spaceship" is darker, before a reprise of the lovely opening theme in "EVE". As is often the case with Newman, most of the cues are very short, meaning ideas come and go very quickly. Newman is such a good composer that even the briefest of cues is still musically-valid, but it's amazing to think how much more creative energy must be needed to score a film like this - coming up with a great idea, using it for twenty seconds, then never picking it up again. Many of the quirky tracks here are like that - but the music is so sweet, it doesn't really become a problem. Some of them are just too wonderful for me not to comment - the Bacharach-style cheesy chorus in "First Date" and amusing radio advert parody "BNL" are both real treats.
It's not all sugar-and-sweet, though. The action music of "EVE Retrieve" is exciting, vaguely recalling Angels in America (surely Newman's masterpiece, and not a score I expected to think of when listening to music from a Disney animation). The very next piece ("The Axiom") sees the fullest presentation of a sweeping string theme which is just vintage Newman, up there with his best, and then presents a classic sci-fi style brass piece. This middle section of the score is very strong - there's more action in "Foreign Contaminant", and several more performances of the memorable main theme.
As a score, perhaps it isn't quite as focused as Finding Nemo was, but it's forever-listenable, and there's an awful lot of material contained within it. The composer even follows his cousin by writing an original song for a Pixar movie, along with Peter Gabriel, who performs "Down to Earth", which actually sounds like a typical quirky Newman theme with a vocal slapped on it. It's not entirely successful, but strangely compelling. Newman's work is so polished - from the extremely precise orchestration to the awesome recording quality - and this is no exception. Add in some fantastic retro packaging (though I'm not convinced the CD will remain scratch-free for long if you take it out very often) and this is a top album from Disney, highly recommended. Finally - I can never review a Thomas Newman album without mentioning some of the instruments listed in the credits. This time, the highlights are... epinette des voges, aeolian windharp, processed hang, telegraph, flexible foam pads, hidden zither, flapamba, future modulator, floating backwards, strumming zebra and face ambience.