The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Harry Gregson-Williams, 2005): Obviously inspired by the enormous success of the Lord of the Rings films, Walden Media and Disney saw adapting C.S. Lewis’ classic Chronicle of Narnia book series as an obvious opportunity to create a similar, but more family-friendly, franchise. Shrek co-director Andrew Adamson was a somewhat surprising choice to helm the first film in the series. Adamson brought along Shrek composer Harry Gregson-Williams, giving him a welcome opportunity to stretch his talents quite a bit beyond the animation and contemporary action scores for which he was mainly known.
The film cranked up the intensity and scope of the action and battle sequences quite a bit compared to the books, which gave Gregson-Williams the opportunity to create some fairly intense action music. The soundtrack gets off to a very fast-paced start with the opening cue, “The Blitz, 1940”, a percussion and brass driven action cue that accompanies the film’s surprisingly intense opening sequence. This type of action music again will later dominate the final portions of the score, particularly the lengthy finale cue simply entitled “The Battle”.
The majority of the score has a more melancholy and moody quality, which is introduced in the second cue, entitled “Evacuating London”. The first half of the cue introduces some simple piano-driven melodies before transitioning to an otherworldly, largely electronic theme accompanied by vocals by Lisbeth Scott. A more gentle, traditionally orchestral version of the same basic theme is central to the next cue, “The Wardrobe”. Later, Gregson-Williams provides an appropriately regal main theme for Aslan the lion, heard particularly prominently in the opening to the cue “To Aslan’s Camp”. That is the theme that eventually serves as essentially the primary theme for the film, with some fairly frequent statements during the battle music late in the score.
The entire score has a somewhat surprisingly modernistic sound to it, generally forgoing the more traditional British classical scoring approach to this kind of fantasy that Howard Shore had used for The Lord of the Rings. Gregson-Williams introduces a number of ethnic elements and also uses a fair amount of electronic instruments as well as frequent choral and solo vocal elements. I find it to be an effective score, although probably not what a lot of people expected for this material and, thus, it has tended to be a somewhat controversial one.
The album ends with four songs, all of which are very atmospheric and moody in style, with a somewhat modern electronica-ballad style. “Can’t Take It In”, performed by Imogen Heap, and “Where” by Lisbeth Scott were both co-written by Gregson-Williams and are based on themes used in the film. “Wunderkind” by Alanis Morrisette and “Winter Light” by Tim Finn are not connected with the rest of the film’s music. With the exception of “Where”, the songs are each pretty long (4-5 minutes+) and they kind of wear out their welcome.
Note that there were quite a few different soundtrack albums for the film. Two score albums were released, a standard and a special edition.The musical content is identical on both releases, with the special edition simply offering fancier packaging. I have the special edition because I was able to get it at a decent price, but there is little reason to spend much extra for it. There also were at least two song compilation albums released which were really just “inspired by” the movie.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Harry Gregson-Williams, 2008): Composer Harry Gregson-Williams returned to the world of Narnia for Prince Caspian, the second entry in the series. The score maintains stylistic continuity with the first one, including reprising a couple main themes, but it does also take a more action-oriented approach while downplaying some of the more otherworldly elements from the original. The result is a score that is in the same family as the first one, but perhaps a bit more conventional. While less of a creative leap, I also think it is a somewhat more listenable score.
Just like with the first score, this one opens with a driving, percussion and brass action cue. The cue this time is called “Prince Caspian Flees” and it perhaps demonstrates Gregson-Williams’ background in Hans Zimmer’s scoring company more than any of the cues in the previous score. The piece definitely has a quality that reflects Zimmer’s driving, orchestral/electronic approach to action scoring. This cue sets the tone for the kind of action scoring that dominates a lot of this score. This opening cue does also introduce a new theme for the title character, although it is only sparingly used during the rest of the score and feels a bit underdeveloped.
The key themes from the original film are reprised here, with the primary theme for the siblings that are the story’s central character first making an appearance in the second cue, “The Kings and Queens of Old”. The regal theme for Aslan is used very frequently in this score, initially making its re-appearance in the cue “Arrival at Aslan’s How”. As in the first score, that theme tends to serve as a victory theme in the battle cues which, as noted earlier, dominate this score much more than the original.
As with the previous soundtrack, several songs are included at the end of the album. Once again, they are generally in that modernistic, electronic folk ballad style and really aren’t exceptionally interesting. This time, Gregson-Williams is not credited as a writer on any of the songs and the performers, Regina Spekter, Oren Lavie, Switchfoot, and Hanne Hukkelberg, are all unfamiliar to me.
Prince Caspian was the last released film in this series at the time that I’m writing this. As of this point, this will be the last film in the series for Disney, Gregson-Williams, and director Andrew Adamson. The third film in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Trader, is scheduled for release (by Twentieth Century Fox) later this year with Michael Apted taking over as director and David Arnold taking over the scoring. It will be interesting to hear whether Arnold chooses to retain any of Gregson-Williams’ themes. I tend to hope that he at least retains the Aslan theme in order to keep some musical continuity to the series.
Cimarron (Franz Waxman, 1960): The big, epic widescreen epics of the 1950s and 1960s were probably among the most dramatic users of music as a critical component of their story telling. These films often had big, very bold scores with lush melodies played by large orchestras, often supplemented by choir. Franz Waxman’s score to the 1960 version of Cimarron is one of the more impressive examples of this kind of scoring. Film Score Monthly’s Golden Age Classics release of the score provides a beautiful, fully-stereo restoration of the score in a program with a generous 1 hour and 20 minute running time.
The score’s main theme is introduced right away in the “Main Title” cue, which features a vocal performance by the Roger Wagner Chorale performing lyrics written by Paul Francis Webster. Instrumental versions of this theme are woven throughout the score, in fully orchestral versions as well as on a variety of instruments. The theme is an infectious melody that sticks with you for a while after listening to the album.
Much of the score is characterized by brassy, exciting action music, including a thrilling 6 minute cue entitled “The Land Rush”, which contains pretty much the type of fast paced, kinetic music that you would expect from a cue with that title. The score has some quieter, more melancholy segments as well, such as the early cue “Goodbye Father” and, later, “A Son Is Born”. Darker music is included where needed, such as in the amusingly bluntly titled cue “The Villain”, which is characterized by some low, menacing strings.
The album ends with a 5 minute “Outtakes Suite”, which contains some alternate versions of some of the music used in the film. The liner notes also mention that a number of the cues on the CD contain bits of music that was trimmed for the movie but are presented as recorded on the album.
Cinderella (Mack David, Al Hoffman, Jerry Livingston, Oliver Wallace, Paul J. Smith, 1950): Disney’s second (after Snow White) princess-based fairy tale remains one of their most famous and beloved animated features. Musically, the film contains several of Disney’s most famous songs as well as an effective orchestral score, largely built around the song melodies.
The music credits for the film are a bit vague, making it a little difficult to tell who really composed what part of the music. Although not listed in the film’s credits, the songs are generally accepted to have been written by Mack David, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston. The film also credits Oliver Wallace and Paul J. Smith as music directors and it is generally accepted that they wrote at least some portion of the film’s score. Despite the fairly large group of composers, the music is remarkably cohesive and, of course, fits the film wonderfully.
Several of the songs have a very romantic quality to them, particularly the title song (which plays over the film’s main title), “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes”, and the romantic waltz “So This Is Love”. On a personal note, “So This Is Love” was the song that my wife and I used for our first dance at our wedding reception, which makes it pretty special to me.
Several of the songs have an entertainingly playful quality as well. The Fairy Godmother’s song “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” is one of the catchiest songs in the Disney canon while the mice chorus perform a fun song called “The Working Song”. Another amusing song is “Oh Sing Sweet Nightingale”, which is bookended by humorously off-key performances by the evil stepsisters, contrasted with a sweetly on-key version performed by Ilene Woods as Cinderella.
Disney first released a full soundtrack CD to the movie back in 1997. This contains all the songs as well as a fairly complete presentation of the score. The disc also ends with a demo version of an unused song entitled “I’m in the Middle of a Muddle”. In 2005, they released a new “Special Edition” of the soundtrack that adds one more demo song, entitled “Dancing On a Cloud”, as well as a cover version of “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” performed by Kimberley Locke. It also includes a performance of a song called “Beautiful” performed by Jim Brickman. I’m not sure of the origin of that song. I never picked up the 2005 version, so I can’t comment on the quality of these additional tracks.
Two years before releasing the actual soundtrack CD, Disney released a “The Music from Cinderella” concept album that contained cover versions of the songs as well as a re-recording of 25 minutes of the score under conductor J.A.C. Redford. The covers included “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” by Linda Rondstadt (both in English and in Spanish), “So This Is Love” by James Ingram, “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” by Bobby McFarrin (this cue opens with the original soundtrack version of the song), “The Work Song” by Take 6, and an instrumental medley of the songs from the film by David Benoit and David Sanborn. This concept album is an interesting collection of alternate versions, although definitely not a substitute for the original soundtrack. Even if the covers don’t interest you, though, the CD is probably worth tracking down simply for the excellent stereo re-recordings of the score cues.
Cinderella (Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein III, 1957 & 1965): A few years after Disney’s hit version of Cinderella, CBS staged a live television broadcast of a new musical version featuring songs by Rodgers & Hammerstein and starring a young Julie Andrews, 7 years before she made her big movie debut in Mary Poppins. Two other TV productions of the musical were done in 1965 starring Leslie Ann Warren and in 1997 starring Brandy. Soundtrack CDs are available for the 1957 and 1965 productions, but surprisingly none was ever released for the 1997 version.
This is one of the very few Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals that didn’t originate as a stage production and, thus, the songs are probably not as well known as those from their various shows that get regularly revived. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some very familiar songs in this show. In particular, Cinderella’s opening solo entitled “In My Own Little Corner” and the romantic duet “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” are pretty recognizable and get covered pretty frequently on various compilation albums. The songs are all very much in the familiar, melodic Rodgers & Hammerstein style. There is also some very clever word play, particularly in the Fairy Godmother’s number “Impossible/It’s Possible” and in the very amusing “The Stepsisters’ Lament”.
While both of the available soundtracks contain excellent performances and are worthwhile, I would say that the 1957 version is the one to get if you are only going to get one. The obvious reason for that is the simple fact that it features Julie Andrews. As good as Leslie Ann Warren was in the role, she can’t quite equal Andrews’ gorgeous voice and crystal clear diction. The sound quality on both recordings is very good as well, particularly impressive considering the age of the 1957 version and the fact that the show itself now only exists as a black & white kinescope. Note that the 1965 version did add one additional song, an opening ballad entitled “Loneliness of Evening” performed by Stuart Damon as the prince.
Cinderella Liberty (John Williams, 1973): This John Williams score came right around the start of his long streak of 1970s hits that shifted him to the top of the film composing industry. It was a more intimate, dramatic score than the big disaster movies and other blockbusters that he took on around that era and, thus, isn’t as well remembered. Intrada released a good, limited edition soundtrack CD that is still available from their website.
The score’s central theme, introduced during the first instrumental cue entitled “Nice To Be Around”, features a solo harmonica played by Jean "Toots" Thielemans, an approach that Williams would more famously repeat a year later with The Sugarland Express, his first score for Steven Spielberg. This theme has a bit of a soulfully dramatic quality that contrasts interestingly with the rural quality that is lent by the harmonica. The album later contains a version of this theme with vocals written and performed by Paul Williams and the theme is also given a full concert presentation in the cue “Cinderella Liberty Love Theme.
Some of the cues are not fully orchestral and have a very 70s, kind of disco/jazz quality to them. Cues such as “New Shooter”, “Maggie Shoots Pool” and “Neptune’s Bar” are melodic, but with a bit of an improvisational, small jazz-ensemble quality to them. These cues appear to likely be source cues, but the “Boxing Montage” cue also has some similarity in style while heavily incorporating the score’s main themes.
The soundtrack opens and closes with the jazzy song “Wednesday Special” which was co-written and performed by Paul Williams and plays over the main and end titles.
City of Angels (Gabriel Yared & various, 1998): When I saw City of Angels, I was sufficiently impressed by Gabriel Yared’s score that I purchased the soundtrack album, despite the fact that more than 2/3 of the CD contained songs that were of little interest to me. Yared’s score is featured on the last 4 cues on the CD, which add up to a little over 20 minutes of music.
Yared’s score has a very moody, ethereal quality to it and is also, at times, very lush and romantic. The opening cue “An Angel Falls” is dominated by strings and angelic chorus. As the film’s subject matter would suggest, there is definitely a vaguely religious aura to the music as well. Later cues continue this style, with solo piano often added to the mix for the more romantic passages. Woodwinds are used sparingly and brass is mostly absent. The piano melody is the most distinctive theme that Yared establishes in the score.
The second score cue, “The Unfeeling Kiss”, stands out as a stylistic deviation with a light, pop/country melody featuring solo guitar and electronic instruments, before transitioning during the last part of the cue back to the ethereal orchestral style heard through most of the rest of the score. There is also some acoustic guitar solo during the lengthy finale cue, which is simply entitled “City of Angels”.
The collection of songs on the album did have a fairly substantial popular appeal and the soundtrack even reached #1 on the pop charts for a time. The performers featured on the album include U2, Alanis Morissette, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Cole, John Lee Hooker, Sarah McLachlin, The Goo Goo Dolls, Peter Gabriel, Jude, and Eric Clapton. “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls and “Uninvited” by Morissette were written for the film and became hit singles.
Although most of the songs were not original to the film, the list of artists featured is pretty impressive, but there is not a lot of consistency in style making it seem a lot like a marketing-driven song album. Admittedly, the songs chosen do have some connection with the film’s plot (several are about angels), but I still find the manufactured quality of the compilation to be hard to overlook.
A Civil Action (Danny Elfman, 1998): This courtroom drama was one of the earlier examples of Danny Elfman moving away from his comfort zone of fantasies and comedies. Unlike some of his other drama scores from that time period, this one is pretty instantly recognizable as an Elfman score, including many of his trademark stylistic touches.
The score is heavily electronic, often with a pop-styled approach. The melodies are frequently drum machine backed, which provides a lot of the pop rhythm to the music. In this respect, quite a few of the cues have a noticeable resemblance to Elfman’s better known score to Men In Black, which came out a year earlier. Choral elements are included very frequently and the approach to using these wordless vocals is the aspect that most clearly identifies the score as Elfman’s. The sensitive cue “Why?” is particularly effective in its use of vocals.
While most of the score is more moody and dramatic, there are occasional hints of more action-oriented scoring. The cue “First Landing” contains some brassy action music that actually has a bit of a resemblance to the type of music that Elfman usually provides for his superhero scores.