Quick Review: The Croods

The Croods
Music composed by Alan Silvestri
Orchestrated by Mark Graham, Victor Pesavento, William Ross, Alan Silvestri, John Ashton Thomas
Score conducted by Alan Silvestri
Album time: 70 minutes
Available on Sony Classical

Alan Silvestri is no foreigner to animated films, putting scores to Ferngully (1992), Lilo & Stitch (2002), The Polar Express (2005), The Wild (2006) and A Christmas Carol (2006).  One could even consider Beowulf (2007) and good chunks of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) as well.  This is a first for DreamWorks, mainly dominated by the scores of Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell.  (Side note: co-director Chris Sanders directed Lilo & Stitch, and past hit How to Train Your Dragon)    

The album begins with the song Shine Your Way, performed by Owl City and Yuna.  (Owl City also recently had a song in Wreck-It Ralph).  This song was written by Silvestri, Glen Ballard, directors Kirk De Micco/Chris Sanders.  The song has an electro-pop sound, and the theme is repeated a few times throughout the score.  The song actually works best in its orchestral versions, as the Family Theme.

For the majority of the score, two major themes appear.  First you have the song Shine Your Way - which doubles as the Family Theme, and the Cave Painting Theme.  These two themes get concert suite versions at the end of the album.  

Prologue is almost entirely a rendition of the Family Theme, with added interesting percussion and rhythms.  Smash and Grab will certain get your attention, featuring the USC Trojan Marching Band and a sampling of the Fleetwood Mac song, "Tusk".  Bear Owl Escape is overall lighthearted and fits with the cartoony side of the score.  The track ends with another hint of the cave painting theme.  The lighthearted woodwind section appears in Eep and the Warthog.  There seems to be a few brief (intentional?) references to The Sound of Music in there (namely Do Re Me).  A militaristic rhythm juts against the rapid string and flute moments in Teaching Fire to Tiger Girl.  As a pure-Silvestri brass moment occurs, the track ends.  

The action picks up in Exploring New Dangers.  The track goes between action and suspense, which has a magical orchestral sound.  Piranhakeets brings the choir back, also using blaring horns, strong repetitive percussion - the aspects of Silvestri action scoring.  Fire and Corn is a fun cue, with an all-out comedic and manic sound.  The orchestra crescendos into a snippet of the 1812 Overture and a big ending.  Turkey Fish Follies features a throwback to the grandiose Western-style themes with a fun Western motif, crashing cymbals and wild string parts.  Adding to the styles addressed in the score, we get a jazz saxophone solo in between another loud version of the theme from Fire and Corn.

The Shine Your Way melody dominates the montage track, Going Guys Way.  This is one arrangement (and enjoyable instrumentation) that works better than the original song itself.  Story Time is a great cue, featuring a warm sound with a rendition of Shine Your Way/Family Theme before turning into a fun action cue.  Family Maze is a nice orchestral cue with an electric beat added on, which for once sounds slightly out of place.   Star Canopy begins with a hint of Shine Your Way melody on celeste, before bringing in the choir, strings and moving percussion on more of Shine Your Way.  Another solid rendition of the theme.  

Adding to the other strange styles of the score, Grug Flips His Lid features a lounge-like bossa nova sound.  Planet Collapse goes back to the large sweeping orchestral textures with choir.  The cave painting motif appears as well as music reminiscent of Van Helsing (2004).  The bombast doesn't last long, as We'll Die If We Stay Here starts quiet before adding in lovely solos and sweeping versions of the Family Theme/Shine Your Way.  There is some strong drama and danger in the second half of the track.  This track is a nice highlight of the album.

Cave Painting is just a shortened version of the Cave Painting Theme, heard in snippets throughout the score.  The theme continues into Big Idea, before transforming into an rousing anthem.  All the standard Silvestri-isms are pulled out with soaring moments of the theme.  Epilogue starts of gentle, with little hints of past themes.  Shine Your Way makes another appearance with the ethnic percussion used earlier in the score.  We get another sweeping version of the theme, which builds with choir to the finale.

The next two tracks are concert arrangements of the main themes, first Cave Painting Theme and The Croods' Family Theme.  Cave Painting is one of the dominant (and perhaps my favorite) themes in the score which benefit the most from the larger concert versions.  The Croods' Family Theme also features a gentle flute solo and many tender moments.  This suite is similar in construction to the Polar Express Suite or Forrest Gump Suite - Silvestri's most popular suites based on his thematic material.  The album ends with Cantina Croods, an arrangement (in Mariachi style, naturally) of the Family Theme.                                                                          

It is nice having such a motif-driven score to feature interesting enough variations to not let the theme go bland or stale by the end of the album.  The score often matches the comedy of the film, quickly shifting styles and arrangements.  His animated scores always feature nice melodies, fun action and a warm heart.  This score really is no different.  Silvestri's lighthearted orchestral writing works alongside the sentimental and sweeping themes.  Perhaps it isn't Silvestri's finest score, or most memorable themes, but hopefully they will last and be performed alongside his other concert suites in years to come.  Surprisingly, all the odd-ball moments of the score (jazz, comedic, marching band) all fade away around the middle of the album.  The score dots the main themes throughout, so there is a real moment of realization as well as beauty by the end of the album.    

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