Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

Soundtrack Collection: F/X to Fantastic 4

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

F/X

F/X (Bill Conti, 1986): I remember really liking this mid-80s thriller about a special effects artist that gets caught up in real life intrigue, but I also admit that I don’t really remember very much about it.  While Varese Sarabande released a soundtrack LP at the time of the film’s release, I never bought it and the score didn’t particularly stick with me after seeing the film.  As a result, I ended up essentially re-discovering this score with the 2007 Varese Sarabande CD Club release.

Bill Conti provides a moody, vaguely noir-inspired mixed orchestral and electronic score with several melodic main themes as well as fair amount of suspenseful, string-dominated music.  The "Main Title" cue actually opens with a bit of suspense-driven piano and string music before shifting into a brassy, percussive fanfare.  About a minute and a half in, it then transitions into the score’s main theme, which features a string melody overlaid with a repetitive piano motif.

The more melodic aspect of the score first comes into play in the cue "Rollie’s Diversion", which is primarily a piano-driven version of the main theme, although with some strings joining in towards the latter half of the cue.  The theme continues to provide a melodic line throughout the score, although the darker, more-suspenseful music tends to dominate the soundtrack.  Conti does occasionally provide some of the brassy, fanfare type music that is often his trademark.  In addition to the brief fanfare during the main title, the cue "No Loose Ends" also is a very brassy, action-oriented cue and is very recognizably Conti.  Horns are used more sparingly here than in most of Conti’s scores, but that just tends to make them a bit more impacting when they do appear.

The score is primarily orchestral, but Conti does make sparing use of electronics, such as in the cue "The Wrong Hit".  The electronic elements are typically used to ratchet up the suspense a bit.  Another change of pace comes with an extended militaristic drum solo during the late cue "Lipton’s Last Ride".

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 (Bernard Herrmann, 1966): The CD that I have of this classic Bernard Herrmann score is not actually the original soundtrack recording.  Instead, it is an excellent re-recording of the score by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, conducted by William Stromberg.  This re-recording was released by Tribute Film Classics in late 2007 and also includes music from Herrman’s score to the "Twilight Zone" TV episode entitled "Walking Distance".  The music from Fahrenheit 451 runs a little over an hour in length and is billed as being complete.

Herrmann’s score uses an interesting mix of fairly light-touch, vaguely fantasy-inspired melodies along with some darker, fairly oppressive music.  The lighter portions are dominated by piano as well as frequent use of xylophone and harp.  The darker material features aggressive, lower-register strings as well as some slower, vaguely-sad melodies.  The two styles of music are often presented side-by-side, reflecting Ray Bradbury’s story’s depiction of a society that is characterized by a surface happiness masking an underlying oppression.

There are some faster paced, action-oriented cues as well.  Herrmann makes especially effective use of very fast paced violins in these segments of the score.  Really good examples of this aspect of the score can be found in the cues "Fire Alarm" and "The Hose".  Occasional bits of xylophone and harp overlaying the strings add an especially appealing bit of color to these cues.  Herrmann also includes some emotional, melodic material, particularly in the later part of the score.  "The Reading" is a particularly emotional cue.

The score is presented as 47, generally very short cues.  The longest cues run a little over 3 minutes while many are well below a minute in length.  Despite this, the score does not seem choppy or disjointed.  The music is arranged so that the cues typically flow cleanly into one another, making for a very effective listening experience.  The large number of cues mainly makes it very easy to connect each bit of music directly to the appropriate part of the film.

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Soundtrack Collection: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Note: My discussion of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast ended up being so lengthy that I decided it would fit best as a separate post. 

  Beauty and the Beast: Special Edition Beauty and the BeastBeauty and the Beast: Broadway Cast (cover #2)

Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken & Howard Ashman, 1991): Beauty and the Beast is my favorite of Disney’s animated films and on my short list of favorite movies in general.  The film’s music is absolutely critical to its success.  At the time, it was the closest that an animated film had come to duplicating the style of a modern Broadway musical and, thus, it was no big surprise when several years later an adaptation of the movie became Disney’s first Broadway show.

The film featured six songs, and two reprises, by the songwriting team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who had written songs for Disney’s The Little Mermaid a couple years earlier.  One previously deleted song, entitled “Human Again”, was added back in to the film for the 2002 re-issue of the film in Imax.  Menken also wrote the film’s score, which is largely based around the song melodies, but also introduces a couple additional themes.

The film and soundtrack albums open with a “Prologue” with David Ogden Stiers reading narration that sets up the story.  Alan Menken’s musical accompaniment to this is essentially an (unfortunately) uncredited adaptation of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Aquarium” from “Carnival of the Animals”.  The music fits wonderfully, although its pretty obvious source should have been credited.

The opening number is entitled “Belle” and serves as an introduction for both the film’s heroine and, late in the song, the villain Gaston.  This is an impressively-scoped number featuring an entire ensemble, led by Paige O’Hara as Belle.  During my first viewing of the film, I remember realizing during this sequence that my jaw was pretty much hanging open from the amazement that they had pulled off such a sweeping, Broadway-style number.  This really felt like something very new and unexpected for this medium and the song and sequence continues to impress even after numerous viewings.

“Gaston” remains one of the best villain songs from a Disney film.  It also has some of the most clever wordplay of Howard Ashman’s impressive career, even managing to work in the word “expectorating”, which may have been a first for a song lyric.  The song really captures Gaston’s distinctive traits while also being exceptionally funny, with Richard White’s (Gaston) and Jessi Corti’s (La Fou) contributing highly to that.  Probably because it really doesn’t mean much out of context, the song isn’t as well known as the others from the film, but it may actually be the most complex and accomplished.

The two best known songs from the film are “Be Our Guest” and the title song.  The former is presented in a big, Busby Berkley style showstopper.  The sequence is probably the most traditional for an animated music number, but it still is tremendous fun and aided greatly by the great vocals by Jerry Orbach (Lumiere) and David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth).

The Oscar winning title song is, of course, performed by Angela Lansbury and accompanies the romantic dance sequence late in the film.  The song has already become something of a standard and is easily one of the most beautiful songs in the Disney catalog.  The end credits’ duet version of the song performed by Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion became a huge hit on the pop chart, but pales in comparison to Lansbury’s version.

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Week in Review 11/24/08: Pre-holiday Work Rush, Bolt, and Farrell’s

Monday, November 24th, 2008

The work week last week was pretty busy and stressful due to the rush to get various projects finished before the Thanksgiving holiday.  The team that I lead is most actively involved with projects during the early parts of the quality assurance process.  Since many teams really want their projects to complete over the first couple days of this week, the work piled on us quite a bit last week.  Our office is closed for Thanksgiving on Thursday and Friday, while the day before Thanksgiving is traditionally a 1/2 day with most staff wrapping up around 1pm or so.  That really only gives two full work days for this week.

Fortunately, the work load was such that I was really busy (and a bit stressed) while at the office last week, but it didn’t result in overly late schedules at the office or anything much in the way of weekend work.  I was typically pretty tired when I got home from work last week, but I still made it home in time to have dinner and help get my son off to bed each night.  I don’t really mind being very busy at work in cases like this where it doesn’t really interfere too much with my own time.

While I was a little concerned late last week that I would have to put in some time for work over the weekend, that turned out not to be the case allowing us to have quite a bit of time for family activities.  On Saturday afternoon, we took our son to see Bolt, Disney’s new animated feature which opened on Friday.  We have been pretty conservative when it comes to taking our son to the movies and this was only the third that he had seen in a theater (the two previous were Horton Hears a Who and a revival showing of The Muppet Movie).  So far, we have been very proud of his behavior at movies.  He did get a little fidgety around the hour mark, but we were able to settle him down very quickly.  He stayed very quiet throughout the movie, having taken very seriously our repeated reminders beforehand that a movie theater is a quiet place.  He seemed to enjoy the movie, although his attention did wander a little bit  The movie was targeted perhaps a bit older than we had expected.

I enjoyed the movie a lot, finding it to be fun, charming, and very funny.  The action sequences were surprisingly good for this kind of animated film as well.  I thought the voice cast was well selected and the character designs were appealing.  The film had some genuine heart as well, with the character of Mittens the cat being particularly effective in this regard.  On the downside, though, the film did have a pretty conventional look and style to it and the story line was almost entirely predictable.  My reaction was that this was a very good film, but not a particularly inventive one.  The end result was a fun movie, but one that is on a somewhat lower tier among Disney’s animated films.

Like The Emperor’s New Groove a few years ago, I think that Bolt is going to remain a film that I enjoy and admire, but where I also can’t help but wonder what might have been.  Both films evolved from projects that seemed much more ambitious than the final versions, but were halted when Disney management felt that they weren’t coming together in a commercially viable way.  In the case of Bolt, the film evolved from American Dog, which was to be director Chris Sanders’ follow up to Lilo and Stitch, which I believe to be Disney’s best, and most creative, animated feature since Beauty and the Beast.  Sanders was ultimately fired from the project and is now making films for Dreamworks.  As much as I enjoyed the final version of Bolt, I can’t help wonder if this fairly conventional film could have been something much more.

Shifting topics again (yes, these "week in review" posts can’t help being a bit rambling), yesterday’s main activity was a somewhat more intimate continuation of our celebration of our son Andy’s birthday.  For the big party last weekend on his actual birthday, we had to kind of go against his wishes in our choice of venue.  For his last two birthdays, we had taken him to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour for dinner/dessert with a few of our adult friends.  He remembered last year’s party and really wanted to go back there again this year.  That isn’t really the best venue for a party with a large group of pre-schoolers, so we ended up promising him that we would take him to Farrell’s the following week instead.

The Farrell’s chain is one that I remember well from my childhood.  They have a very boisterous, celebratory atmosphere, with sirens and a big drum used to regularly announce birthdays and other special occasions as well as to herald the delivery of such large and elaborate ice cream concoctions as "The Zoo" or the "Pig Trough".  The chain all but disappeared about 15-20 years ago, but a new set of owners are now trying to revive it.  One of the only three current locations is up in Santa Clarita, only about 20 miles from our house (the other two are in Hawaii).  The Santa Clarita location is inside of Mountasia Fun Center, an amusement facility featuring various video and carnival games as well as miniature golf, batting cages, go-karts, and other similar items. 

Yesterday afternoon, we drove up there around mid-afternoon and spent an hour and half or so playing some of the various games while waiting for a few friends to arrive.  They have a small merry-go-round (basically one of the miniature coin-operated type) which Andy especially enjoys and was, in fact, one of his main reasons for wanting to go back there.  He spent a lot of time playing that, while my wife and I took turns wandering around playing some of the various carnival and ticket-vending games.  Andy did take a bit of an interest in a couple of the other games this time, particularly enjoying a basketball game (it was cool that that they had a child-sized one in addition to the full-sized adult game) as well as a race-car video game.

After our friends arrived, we went into Farrell’s for dinner and ice cream.  My wife and I both had pizza slices for dinner, which were pretty greasy, but still not too bad.  I was particularly surprised by how generous they were with the toppings.  They, of course, have a good variety of ice cream sundaes available for dessert.  I selected one called the "Hot Caramel Nutty Nutty", which pretty much is what it sounds like: vanilla ice cream covered in hot caramel with lots of pecans and Spanish peanuts.  My wife had an Oreo sundae and Andy had the kid’s "clown sundae", which was a scoop of ice cream with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles and then a sugar cone placed on top such that it looks like a clown’s hat.

It was a fun evening that provided a chance to spend some time with a few good friends as well as to enjoy some family time.  It made for a good supplement to the bigger, more chaotic party of the week before.

Ranking the Pixar Movies

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

I read a couple Disney-fan discussion boards and every time a new Pixar movie comes out, there is inevitably a thread or two in which everyone ranks all of their films to date.  This is probably a result of the relatively few films they have made so far (9) and the game will likely start to die out as the number of titles makes it increasingly difficult.  For now, I figured I’ll play along, but do it as a blog entry where I can be more easily verbose with explanations.

I do see a distinction between a list of "favorites" and "best" when discussing works of art or entertainment and this list is going to be favorites.  What that means is that the order is based more on how much I enjoy the movies and am apt to return to them.  Essentially, this is based more on the "fun" factor than on the full collection of merits.  Finally, the rankings can’t help but be a bit arbitrary and I openly admit that the order could easily change, especially based on how recently I’ve seen each movie.

1. Monsters, Inc.  - Of all the Pixar films, this is the one that I am most apt to stop and watch if I come across it airing on TV or cable.  The film succeeds due to great casting, humor that hits the mark with an amazing consistency, truly exciting action sequences, and a story that takes place in a fully-realized and unique world of its own.  Finally, the closing shot of this movie is right up there towards the top of the list of the all time best endings.  While all of this is in service of a somewhat conventional buddy-movie plot, the whole package simply works.

2. Toy Story 2 – Pixar’s only sequel to date brilliantly expanded on the great characters and concept of the company’s first feature to create a more fully-realized film.  The movie is uproariously funny (it has the most out-loud laughs of any Pixar film) and it also quite touching at times.  The new characters created for the sequel (Jessie, Stinky Pete, and Bullseye) are not extraneous in any way, instead greatly expanding the overall storytelling.  The movie also contains the single best musical sequence of any Pixar film with the highly moving "When She Loved Me". This is a very rare case of a sequel that surpassed the original, largely through the careful application of the experience that the Pixar artists had gained with their first two films.

3. Wall-E – If I were putting together a "best" list instead of a "favorites" list, I’m pretty sure this would top it.   Pixar’s newest film is also their most bold an most creative.  I’ve seen some online debate about whether the film (especially the first 20 minutes or so) is mainly charming and funny or if it is mostly dark and sad.  The brilliance of the film is that it is all of those.  They were able to take a fairly downbeat scenario and present it in a way that is both palatable and, ultimately, even optimistic.  Much of this is accomplished thanks to the title character being Pixar’s most instantly endearing and sympathetic creation to date.  The film’s use of visual storytelling and incredibly detailed sound effects design gives it an exhilaratingly unconventional feel.  I can see the possibility that this one could move up on my favorites list as well with additional viewing and the passage of time.

4. Ratatouille – This one has the sharpest writing and most sophisticated story of all of the Pixar films to date.  While all of Pixar’s films have appealed to a fairly broad age range, this one does seem to skew a bit older than their other films, probably because the appreciation for fine food that is at the heart of the story really has to come with age and experience.  The film does still contain its fair share of visual gags and punch-lines, but it also contains a great deal of wit and character-driven humor.  This one would likely be a close 2nd on my "best" list.

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