Monday, January 7, 2019

Quick Review: Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins Returns
Music score composed by Marc Shaiman
Songs written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman
Original Mary Poppins themes by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Conducted and Supervised by Paul Gemignani
Dance and Additional Music Arrangements by David Krane
Orchestrated by Jeff Atmajian, Doug Besterman, Michael Starobin, Danny Troob, Brad Dechter, Larry Blank, Julian Kershaw, Jon Kull
Music score conducted by Gavin Greenaway
Music recorded at AIR Lyndhurst Studios, Abbey Road Studios
Soundtrack running time: 78 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

Mary Poppins Returns brings back the magic of the P.L. Travers characters and a sequel to the classic Disney film from 1964. Just as before, the songs and score are connected to the film itself. In 1964 there was the Sherman Brothers (Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) writing the music and songs with Irwin Kostel adapting and conducting.

54 years later, new songs carry much of Mary Poppins Returns. This time, we get songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Score is also by Shaiman, a 5 time Oscar nominee and Tony Award winner. I love a new musical, and I also love a good song score. Melodies of the songs are woven into the score, and are sometimes introduced as semi-leitmotifs before the song proper. Since about half of the soundtrack album feature the songs (and deserve a review all to themselves), I want to just focus on the instrumental score.

The songs include:
Underneath the Lovely London Sky; A Conversation; Can You Imagine That?; The Royal Doulton Music Hall; A Cover is Not the Book; The Place Where Lost Things Go; Turning Turtle; Trip a Little Light Fantastic; Nowhere to Go But Up

As like most original Disney soundtracks, songs are featured in the first half of the album and you'll have to make your own playlist to put them in chronological order with the score.

After a brief introduction to Lin-Manuel Miranda's Jack, we get a full main title sequence with gorgeous painted backgrounds as we hear the Overture. Full of grand statements of themes - Can You Imagine That, Place Where Lost Things Go, Trip a Little Light Fantastic and Underneath the Lovely London Sky. The orchestra sounds fantastic through this Broadway-style medley, and there's a little hint of Spoonful of Sugar near the opening.

Theme from Mary Poppins Returns isn't in the film, but rather Shaiman's entry into his themes used both for the trailer and on set filming. It's used through the film as Mary's theme, which also becomes Can You Imagine That. Kite Takes Off uses the Lovely London Sky melody to represent Jack, as the orchestra whips up a bit of action and magic all while hinting at Mary's theme before a full sweeping thematic reveal.

Mary Poppins Arrives reveals a lighthearted version of Mary's theme full of orchestral frills and comedic beats. The Sherman Brothers melodies from Spoonful of Sugar and The Perfect Nanny also make short but sweet appearances. Magic Papers gives a little more motion to bits of Mary's theme among glissando harps and comedic styling. Older Michael is represented with a reprise of A Conversation on piano and later the brass present a snippet of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. (Bet you forgot about that song!)

In the short cue Banks in the Bank, we hear more Fidelity Fiduciary Bank among sprightly woodwind writing. Into the Royal Doulton Bowl plays as we enter the animated world with the glitzy opening bits of Royal Doulton Music Hall mixed with Can You Imagine That. The melody on flute is jaunty, as it underscores their animated carriage taking them to the Music Hall.

After Mary and Jack's performance of A Cover is Not the Book, we get a serious action cue in Rescuing Georgie. Shaiman shows off his orchestral writing here, giving the strings plenty to do, with woodwind and harp flourishes aplenty mixed with heroic statements of the Royal Doulton Music Hall verse as their scary animated adventure comes to a close.

Off to Topsy's brightens back up as the group makes it to Topsy's upside down workshop. We hear a bouncier Mary's theme with a bit of The Perfect Nanny mixed in. A big band jazz sound first introduces the melody of Turning Turtle, before moving to the semi-Klezmer arrangement just like the song itself. Chase Through the Bank is a brief cue with a bit of suspense and action. Lost in a Fog is another shorter cue, setting the atmosphere with slow moving strings, choir and woodwinds.

Goodbye Old Friend brings back the Lovely London Sky on piano, Mary's theme on solo cello and oboe, both melodies with that tinge of sadness even when the whole orchestra joins in. Race to Big Ben is the big action segment of the film, with all leeries helping the group get to Big Ben. Melodies jump around the orchestra, sometimes appearing as fanfares - Can You Imagine That, Trip a Little Light Fantastic, Place Where Lost Things Go and even another spot of Spoonful of Sugar. The momentum rises and falls with choir and chimes, both adding to the texture. End Title Suite is another lovely reprise of themes, beginning with the cheerful Nowhere to Go But Up. As the arrangement grows, the choir joins in. Turning Turtle gets a big band-style arrangement, Trip a Little Light Fantastic gets a big reprise, becoming sweeter for The Place Where Lost Things Go, a grand statement of Can You Imagine That and blink of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.


I love how a song score can connect you to the material so much faster. For example, Mary Poppins' theme was written before filming was finished - and was even played on set. It was also used right away in the theatrical trailers, the opening of the film, becoming the very backbone of Can You Imagine That and various parts of underscore.

I can't think of a more joyful score from recent years. Tasked with following up to some of the most indelible music by the Sherman Brothers, Shaiman and Wittman came up with some delightful songs. Parallels can be drawn from the original songs by their place in the story and style, but they all work completely on their own. From there, Shaiman was able to utilize the orchestra in arranging the songs to weave throughout the score. Those bright brights and tender moments wouldn't be possible without the songwriting talents. The arrangements and orchestration team includes some Broadway veterans which give the orchestral pop that is just infectious to listen to. I like the use of some Sherman Brothers melodies - nothing too completely obvious, but just a wink for those that notice. The score tracks on the album are a great representation and really makes you want to hear it all.  Beyond animated films, scores like this don't come around very often. The score and delightful songs are filled to the brim with joy with a sound both fresh and nostalgic. Like Mary, this music is practically perfect, in every way.


Thursday, January 3, 2019

2019: Top Anticipated Scores

2019 has quite a pile of film scores to really look forward to.  In a world of sequels of remakes, there are plenty listed that I'm thrilled to seek out.  I also can't wait to be surprised by scores not even on my radar yet.  Here's my list:   

Music Behind the Screen's 
Top Anticipated Scores of 2019

1. Star Wars Episode IX (John Williams)
I mean, do I need to say anything?  This is the end - supposedly the last Star Wars episode scored by Williams.  His work on the last films have exceeded every expectation.     

2. How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (John Powell)
This Dragon franchise has really let Powell shine, and this last installment hopefully continues that trend.  The rousing scores match the often stunning visuals, and his choir sequences from the last film were highlights. 

3. The Lion King (Hans Zimmer)
Having scored the original (and won the Oscar for it), Zimmer returns with this CG remake.  His style has changed a lot since 1994, so it should be interesting to see what he does with it all.  Since some of the songs are returning, I'd expect to hear some now-classic melodies as well.     
   
4. Captain Marvel (Pinar Toprak)
A rising female voice in film scoring, Toprak gets to show off in this Marvel superhero flick.  She's worked on everything in film, television and video games, and I've enjoyed work of hers in the past.       

5. Spider-Man: Far From Home (Michael Giacchino)
I love a sequel score that builds on the good aspects of the first film.  Giacchino set up some nice material for 'Homecoming' which should make for another fun Spidey score.    

6. Artemis Fowl (Patrick Doyle)
I can't say no to a Patrick Doyle fantasy adventure score.  It's a Disney adaptation based on the popular YA book series, plus Doyle brings his A-game when working with director Kenneth Branagh.     

OTHER SCORES TO HEAR IN 2019
Ad Astra (Max Richter)
Aladdin (Alan Menken)
Avengers: Endgame (Alan Silvestri)
Call of the Wild [composer TBA]
Chaos Walking [composer TBA]
Dark Phoenix (Hans Zimmer)
Dumbo (Danny Elfman)
Farmageddon: A Shaun the Sheep Movie (Tom Howe)
Ford v. Ferrari [composer TBA]
Frozen 2 (Christophe Beck)
Godzilla King of Monsters (Bear McCreary)
Hellboy (Benjamin Wallfisch)
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (Mark Mothersbaugh)
Little Women [composer TBA]
Missing Link (Carter Burwell)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Tarantino soundtrack)
Pet Sematary (Christopher Young)
The Secret Life of Pets 2 (Alexandre Desplat)
Shazam! (Benjamin Wallfisch)
Toy Story 4 (Randy Newman)
The Woman in the Window (Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross)

Anything you're patiently (or impatiently) waiting for in 2019?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

2018 Original Score Awards Roundup

Here's the annual 2018 Roundup of Original Score nominations and winners from various awards associations. Winners will be marked in red and updated regularly!

ACADEMY AWARD
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

[nominations announced 1/22]

GOLDEN GLOBE
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE 

Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson)
*First Man (Justin Hurwitz)
Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)
Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman)
A Quiet Place (Marco Beltrami)

BRITISH ACADEMY FILM AWARDS (BAFTA)
BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard)
If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)
Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman)
A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Lukas Nelson)

ANNIE AWARDS
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE PRODUCTION

[winner announced 2/2]
Early Man (Harry Gregson-Williams & Tom Howe)
The Grinch (Danny Elfman, Tyler the Creator)
Incredibles 2 (Michael Giacchino)
Ralph Breaks the Internet (Henry Jackman, Alan Menken, Dan Reynolds, Phil Johnston, Tom MacDougall)
Smallfoot (Heitor Pereira, Karey Kirkpatrick, Wayne Kirkpatrick)

SATELLITE AWARDS (INTERNATIONAL PRESS ACADEMY)
ORIGINAL SCORE

[winner announced 2/17)
BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard)
Colette (Thomas Ades)
First Man (Justin Hurwitz)
If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
The Sisters Brothers (Alexandre Desplat)
Widows (Hans Zimmer)

LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST MUSIC SCORE

*If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
Runner-Up: First Man (Justin Hurwitz)

LOS ANGELES ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
BEST SCORE

BlackKklansman (Terence Blanchard)
Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson)
First Man (Justin Hurwitz)
*If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)

SAN DIEGO FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
BEST USE OF MUSIC IN A FILM

*Bad Times at the El Royale
Blaze
Bohemian Rhapsody
Green Book
A Star is Born

SAN FRANCISCO FILM CRITICS CIRCLE
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
*BlackKklansman (Terence Blanchard)
Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson)
First Man (Justin Hurwitz)
If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)

SEATTLE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
*Mandy (Jóhann Jóhannsson)

WASHINGTON DC AREA FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
*If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)

BOSTON SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS
BEST USE OF MUSIC IN A FILM

*If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)

CHICAGO FILM CRITICS AWARDS
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

First Man (Justin Hurwitz)
*If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
Mandy (Jóhann Jóhannsson)
Suspiria (Thom Yorke)
You Were Never Really Here (Jonny Greenwood)

DETROIT FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
BEST USE OF MUSIC
*A Star Is Born
Bohemian Rhapsody
Green Book
Mandy
Mary Poppins Returns

ST. LOUIS FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST MUSIC SCORE

*BlackKklansman (Terence Blanchard)

AUSTIN FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST SCORE
Annihilation (Ben Salisbury/Geoff Barrow)
First Man (Justin Hurwitz)
If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
*Mandy (Jóhann Jóhannsson)
Suspiria (Thom Yorke)

DALLAS-FORT WORTH FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST MUSICAL SCORE
*Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)
First Man (Justin Hurwitz)

HOUSTON FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson)
First Man (Justin Hurwitz)
If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)

Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)
Suspiria (Thom Yorke)

LAS VEGAS FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
BEST SCORE

*Suspiria (Thom Yorke)

FLORIDA FILM CRITICS CIRCLE

BEST SCORE
*First Man (Justin Hurwitz)
Runner-Up: If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)

GEORGIA FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Annihilation (Ben Salisbury/Geoff Barrow)
BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard)
Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson)
*First Man (Justin Hurwitz)
If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)

Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)

LONDON CRITICS CIRCLE FILM AWARDS
TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT (FOR MUSIC)

If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
Suspiria (Thom Yorke)

CRITICS CHOICE AWARDS
BEST SCORE

Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson)
*First Man (Justin Hurwitz)
Green Book (Kris Bowers)
If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)
Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman)

SATURN AWARDS
BEST MUSIC


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Quick Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Music composed by James Newton Howard
Conducted by Pete Anthony
Orchestrated by Pete Anthony, Jeff Atmajian, Jon Kull, Philip Klein, John Ashton Thomas, Peter Boyer
Choir performed by London Voices, Trinity Boys' Choir
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London
Soundtrack running time: 77 minutes
Available on WaterTower Records

The Wizarding World takes a darker turn with The Crimes of Grindelwald. And in the US, it also took a darker turn with critics and at the box office. Returning to provide some musical continuity is James Newton Howard. He continues musical ideas from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) to highlight big moments, but are used sparingly. For this film, he introduces themes for Leta, Dumbledore, Nagini and the big bad, Grindelwald.

Darker material mixes with the large action opening of The Thestral Chase. In this track, we hear the obligatory Hedwig's theme, a choral memory motif, and first statements of Grindelwald's theme before ending with the Fantastic Beasts fanfare. Newt and Leta is a playful and tender cue, while Dumbledore features some magical signatures and also introduces Dumbledore's flighty theme.

More of the magical sounds are present in The Kelpie, which lets Howard's majestic writing shine. Newt and Jacob Pack for Paris is a lighthearted cue, featuring choir, Parisian flavor and a return of Jacob's theme and the Fantastic Beasts theme. Nagini introduces her mysterious theme which stays in the lower end of the orchestra. The friendship theme returns along with a twisting circus reprise of the Fantastic Beasts theme.

We get more magical creature underscore at the beginning of Newt Tracks Tina before it changes moods to a full statement of the friendship theme. Queenie Searches for Jacob underscores Queenie's emotional scene complimented nicely with choir. Irma and the Obscurus starts with a longing string section before it crashes into a booming section for chanting choir and orchestral dissonance. Blood Pact combines aspects of both Grindelwald and Dumbledore's theme and the memory motif.

Newt's heroic theme finally appears in Capturing the Zouwu, with another reference to the friendship theme. The Fantastic Beasts theme is arranged in the magical Williams style of swirling strings and celeste in Traveling to Hogwarts. If I recall correctly, this moment in the film is replaced with a tracked version of Hedwig's theme. Leta's theme gets a proper expansion in Leta's Flashback, heavily featuring harp and chorus and an extended emotional piano solo. Salamander Eyes features the friendship theme with strings and piano solo, one of the score's stronger cues. Matagots is a really fun action track, with swashbuckling brass shining through as Newt's heroic theme bursts through the dissonance.

Your Story is Our Story is mostly ominously quiet underscore, with Grindelwald's theme lurking in the low strings. Leta's Confession carries much of the dramatic weight of the scene, using a slower reprise of the Fantastic Beasts theme, while Leta's theme naturally carries much of the track. Vision of War features a dark and string section, dissonant choir and otherworldly sounding orchestral and percussion techniques. 


Spread the Word builds through most of the dramatic cue with choir and a string ostinato as we follow the decisions of several main characters. Wands into the Earth starts with the memory motif and eventually builds to some great brass interplay, large choir and a grand statement of the Fantastic Beasts theme. Restoring Your Name returns to the more somber underscoring which uses several past themes. We hear Dumbledore's theme and Fantastic Beasts theme before turning to darker side with Obscurus and Grindelwald while building to an explosive orchestral ending. 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the lively beginning of the end credits, featuring much of the music from the trip to Paris and a bold statement of Newt's heroic theme. The album also includes three piano solo arrangements of major themes: Dumbledore's Theme, Fantastic Beasts Theme and Leta's Theme. These aren't included in the film, but a nice way to appreciate the material written for the film.

In general, I find this score (and film) lacking something. Much of the magical atmosphere from the first film has been dropped in favor of Grindelwald's ominous takeover. Much of the film's problems seem to come from the writing and direction, in my opinion. While not always displaying a magical sparkle, James Newton Howard's score carries much of the emotional weight. The lack of dialogue in the extended flashbacks and finale give plenty of times to highlight the score.

The use of past themes seem more like cameos than integrated into the film itself. I'm glad the Fantastic Beasts theme is used, but with Newt, Tina and Jacob basically sidelined through the film, much of their respective material isn't touched. In addition, the newer themes are fine even if they don't make much impact outside their scenes. Grindelwald and Dumbledore's themes didn't make much of an impression in the film (or much in the album), but Howard can expand on that in the future films. The score is still worth a listen. Howard matched the darker tone of the film, but without the fantastical elements, the score just doesn't pop like the last.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Music Behind the Ride: Soarin'

When Disney California Aventure opened in 2001, one of the opening attractions was Soarin' Over California.  In this edition of Music Behind the Ride, I'll explore the music used and the versions around the world. 

With Soarin' Over California, the extremely popular flying simulator incorporated the feeling of hang gliding over various California sights, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Napa Valley, Yosemite, Downtown Los Angeles and even returning to Disneyland.  Scents and the swinging ride vehicles are also used through the ride to match the locations.  The innovative ride system with the stunningly large Omnimax screen made the ride an instant hit.  

The queue for the ride led visitors past displays of aviation history and significant figures in its history.  Cues from a wide variety of film scores and composers are played through the queue hallways.  It's one of the few Disney park rides that plays such a mix of non-Disney film music.  Some of those films include:
Explorers (Jerry Goldsmith) 
The Right Stuff (Bill Conti)
Air Force One (Jerry Goldsmith)
Contact (Alan Silvestri)
The Rescuers Down Under (Bruce Broughton)
Apollo 13 (James Horner)
Dave (James Newton Howard)
Always (John Williams)
Hook (John Williams)
The Musketeer (David Arnold)
The Last Starfighter (Craig Safan)
Field of Dreams (James Horner)
Far and Away (John Williams)
The Rocketeer (James Horner)
Medicine Man (Jerry Goldsmith)

Not all are flight related, but have the inspirational orchestral sound Disney was looking for.  Once the seats have risen up, the ride video and the stirring Jerry Goldsmith score take over.  The 4 minute orchestral and synth score alternate between the opening fanfare and sweeping main melody.  The majestic brass and cymbal crashes are synched with the film, ending with the twinkling magic of returning home.  Story goes that Goldsmith left the ride in tears and was happy to compose the ride score.  Expanding into Walt Disney World's Epcot in 2005, it was renamed to Soarin'. The show building used an airport theme, taking you on Flight 5505 to California.  The queue music and ride video were identical to California Adventure.  Soarin' quickly became one of Epcot's most popular rides, with wait times easily up to two hours.

The biggest change was the closure, refurbishment and reopening in 2016.  Both versions of the ride were renamed to Soarin' Around the World.  Straying far from California, this new video travels past the Alps, over ice fjords, the Sydney Harbor Opera House, Neuschwanstein Castle, a herd of African elephants, the Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramid, Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower at night before arriving at the Disney park of your departure.  Shanghai Disneyland's Soaring Over the Horizon is the same 2016 music and video but ends with the glowing skyline of downtown Shanghai.


With the ride video changing, Bruce Broughton arranged new music for the ride.  Thankfully, the main themes from Goldsmith's score are still present.  Broughton added more orchestra embellishments into the arrangement and also allowed the orchestration to change with the various locales.  The London Studio Orchestra recorded this new version at Abbey Road, and you can hear all the international flavor added, like the African drums and the Indian sitar, among the others.  The ride will expand again in summer 2019, with Soaring: Fantastic Flight at Tokyo DisneySea.


As far as recordings, Goldsmith's original ride score first appeared on the Music from California Adventure album in 2001.  It has since appeared on several Walt Disney World and Disneyland compilation albums.  Broughton's newer arrangement hasn't been released yet, so you'll have to go experience it yourself!