Spotlight On: Pixar

The newest Spotlight On takes a look back at the films in by Pixar Animation Studio.  

Music takes an important role in all of their films, rotating with composers Randy Newman, Thomas Newman, Michael Giacchino and Patrick Doyle.  In the current 14 films, they have netted 7 Academy Award Score nominations, and 6 Song nominations (with 1 win and 2 wins, respectively).  

Toy Story (1995)
Music by Randy Newman
Overall a fun and adventurous score by Newman.  A mix of slapstick, swing, western styles combined with a few of Newman's songs.  Not as cohesive as some later scores, but still enjoyable.  (Just listen to: You've Got a Friend in Me, Woody and Buzz, Infinity and Beyond)  

A Bug's Life (1998)
Music by Randy Newman
Newman continued his jazzy style with a brassier side, plus a lot of fun lilting melodies.  Not as memorable as Toy Story, but worth a listen to Newman fans.  (Just listen to: The Flik Machine, The City, A Bug's Life Suite)

Toy Story 2 (1999)
Music by Randy Newman
In this sequel, Newman expanded the themes from the original.  New themes include western style music for Jessie and the Roundup Gang, and sci-fi sounds for Emperor Zurg.  Listen to the score, but stay for Newman's heartbreaking song "When She Loved Me".  (Just listen to: Zurg's Planet, Jessie and the Roundup Gang, When She Loved Me, The Cleaner, Ride Like the Wind)

Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Music by Randy Newman
Newman continued his swing sound with a big band style.  The enjoyable Main Titles is a enjoyable jazz rendition of the Oscar winning song, If I Didn't Have You.  Newman shows his sentimental side yet again in the score.  (Just listen to: If I Didn't Have You Walk to Work, Scare Floor, Boo's Going Home)

Finding Nemo (2003)
Music by Thomas Newman
Looking for a different style, Pixar looked to Thomas Newman for a more exotic and ambient score.  Thomas' distinct style of instrumentation and rhythm let the film stand separately as a highlight for Pixar.  The deceptively simple theme is effective when it returns through the score.  (Just listen to: Nemo Egg -Main Title, Field Trip, Filter Attempt, Fronds Like These)

The Incredibles (2004)
Music by Michael Giacchino
Giacchino burst onto films and into Pixar with the jazz-inspired (with homages of Lalo Schifrin and John Barry).  Full of adventure music and spy moments.  The highlight is Gordon Goodwin's Grammy winning arrangement - The Incredits.  (Just listen to: The Glory Days, Life's Incredible Again, 100 Mile Dash, A Whole Family of Supers, The Incredits)

Cars (2006)
Music by Randy Newman
Randy Newman returned with racing fanfares, and American folk music.  Newman also provided the sentimental song, "Our Town".  Notable is his sweeping music for McQueen and Sally's drive.  (Just listen to: Opening Race, McQueen and Sally, The Big Race)

Ratatouille (2007)
Music by Michael Giacchino
Giacchino returned with director Brad Bird, this time adding a French flavor, salsa rhythms and fun instrumentation.  A fun listen, with the title theme going through many changes throughout the score.  (Just listen to: Wall Rat, Colette Shows Him Le Ropes, Dinner Rush, End Creditouilles)

WALL-E (2008)
Music by Thomas Newman
Newman's unique style returned with director Andrew Stanton, with the music playing a larger part in this film.  His odd instruments and rhythms compliment the electronic sounds of the characters.  (Just listen to: WALL-E, EVE, The Axiom, Define Dancing, The Hold-Detector)

Up (2009)
Music by Michael Giacchino
Giacchino's main theme waltz goes through many iterations through the film - from jungle to menacing villain, to action and sentimental.  The score also features vintage jazz sounds, but is most notable for the tear-jerking wedding montage.  The score was the first to win the Oscar for Best Score.  (Just listen to: Married Life, Carl Goes Up, Memories Can Weigh You Down, It's Just a House)

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Music by Randy Newman
Returning to the Toy Story world, we get more Western influences, a new villain theme, Flamenco stylings and hints of past themes.  The finale benefits from Newman's tender farewell music.  (Just listen to: Cowboy!, Go See Lotso, The Claw, So Long)

Cars 2 (2011)
Music by Michael Giacchino
In this energetic sequel, we get a spy theme which covers a lot of the action.  We also get the bluegrass style for Radiator Springs, a villain motif, and the fanfares for the races.  (Just listen to: It's Finn McMissle, Tarmac the Magnificent, Porto Corsa, The Lemon Pledge)

Brave (2012)
Music by Patrick Doyle
For the Scottish set story, Scottish composer Doyle joined the film.  We get lilting Celtic-inspired melodies, jigs and a lullaby which transfers beautifully into the score.  (Just listen to: Fate and Destiny, The Games, Legends are Lessons, We've Both Changed, Merida's Home)

Monsters University (2013)
Music by Randy Newman
In this prequel, the drum corp sound takes command.  We get plenty of montages with the Scare Games, and the main school song heard in choral and instrumental versions.  The swinging jazz returns, without much thematic connection to Monsters Inc.  Still, a fun listen and has more identity than some previous other Newman scores.  (Just listen to: Young Michael, Oozma Kappa, Field Trip, The Scare Games)

Inside Out (2015)
Music by Michael Giacchino
Giacchino captures the mind of Riley and the eclectic sounds of her mind.  It often takes a quiet approach to themes with interludes of jazz and circus pastiche.  Just like the characters, Giacchino proves to understand the emotional buttons needed.  (Just listen to: Bundle of Joy, Abstract Thought, Tears of Joy, Rainbow Flyer)    

The Good Dinosaur (2015)
Music by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna
Like the film, the score doesn't really stand out.  The main melody flows through the score and the Danna style of folksy/unique instrumentation is creative.  The first and last parts of the score are the strongest.  (Just listen to: Homestead, Make Your Mark, Fireflies, Goodbye Spot, Run With the Herd)    

Finding Dory (2016)
Music by Thomas Newman
While following the same soundscape, the score just doesn't match the magic of Nemo.  Newman doesn't repeat many themes but the new material for Hank and emotional cues for Dory work really well.  (Just listen to: Lost at Sea, Nobody's Fine, Everything About You, ...Shells)    

Cars 3 (2017)
Music by Randy Newman
Newman brings back the style from the first film and a few themes too.  His trademark style is on display as he carries the film from action cues, training montages, to the comedic and emotional moments.  (Just listen to: McQueen's Wild Ride, Letters About You, The Fabulous Lightning McQueen)    

Coco (2017)
Music by Michael Giacchino
Music adds much for the Mexican flavor of the film.  The Mexican-style melodies and instrumentation colors really shine.  Giacchino nails the emotional and action sequences even if the score doesn't rise above the songs.  (Just listen to: Will He Shoemaker?, Crossing the Marigold Bridge, The Show Must Go On)      

Incredibles 2 (2018)
Music by Michael Giacchino
Giacchino brings back his Barry-eque writings and wailing brass.  The original themes get the most play with new themes for Elastigirl and for mysterious Screenslaver.     (Just listen to: Elastigirl is Back, Elastigirl's Got a Plane to Catch, The Incredits 2)   

Toy Story 4 (2019)
Music by Randy Newman
Newman purposely echoes past themes from the past films to great effect.  Themes for the new characters (Forky, Duke Caboom, Gabby Gabby) blend nicely into the musical landscape and intermingle with past themes.  Of course, his music continues to anchor the film's emotions.  (Just listen to: School Daze, Trash Can Chronicles, Buzz's Flight & a Maiden, Let's Caboom!, Parting Gifts & New Horizons)    

Onward (2018)
Music by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna
The Dannas mix adventure, fantasy and the heartwarming aspects nicely.  Sprightly themes pop in and out along with bits fantasy instrumentation.  (Just listen to: New Ian, Led Us to Our Victory!, Voltar Thunderseer!, Dad) 

Check out the others!

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  1. I love music from Pixar films so much! Wouldn't it be awesome if Pixar made a fantasia film? It would no doubt be sublime!