Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Quick Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks
Music composed by Thomas Newman
Conducted by: Thomas Newman
Orchestrated by: J.A.C. Redford
Score Recorded at: Newman Scoring Stage - Fox Studios, Village Studios - Los Angeles
Album time: 46 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

This film was a great mix of the sweet spot I have for both Disney films and "classic sound" of Thomas Newman.  Making my Anticipated Scores of the Year list, I was intrigued by the thought of the film before seeing a trailer or hearing a note. 

The movie takes place in really two worlds - the world of P.L. Travers and Walt Disney trying to obtain the rights to her beloved Mary Poppins and the world of Mrs. Travers through flashbacks to her childhood.  The film's score also relies on two main themes - an emotional string-led theme [family theme for these purposes] and the light piano-led upbeat theme (reminiscent of Newman's second season theme to The Newsroom) [childhood theme for this review].  While the film features plenty of music by Richard and Robert Sherman, the score never quotes their music and doesn't blend the two musical identities. 

The album (and film) begin with a bare-bones piano rendition of Chim Chim Cher-ee (East Wind), performed by Randy Kerber on a piano owned by Walt Disney with the lyrics spoken by Colin Farrell.  Right from the beginning of Travers Goff we get the warm strings and light childhood theme with typical Newman flourishes and instrumentation.  Walking Bus is a bouncy track with nice emphasis on piano and woodwinds.  Uncle Albert features the emotional family theme, which feels like a warm hug for Newman fans.  Jollification is pure Newman, starting with pizzicato strings before adding more quirky instruments.  The Mouse is a short and somewhat melancholy track with strings and piano at the forefront.  Leisurely Stroll features the rolling strings, harp and woodwind solos.  Mr. Disney is an upbeat track showing off the American-ness of Disney (the Americana ends up sounding similar to Randy Newman's music for Toy Story).  

Celtic Soul is a beautiful arrangement of the family theme.  A Foul Fowl features more unique instruments and touching moments with piano and violin solo.  Mrs P.L. Travers is an introduction to the beginning fish-out-of-water story of Travers coming to Hollywood using trombone solo and jazz combo.  Laying Eggs follows a lullaby waltz style, but almost hints at something else darker.  Worn to Tissue uses a sparce piano over long held notes in the strings.  

Whiskey hangs between a minor key and major key, never quite pinning down the exact emotion.  Impertinent Man uses more pizzicato and interesting instruments and percussion.  To My Mother begins with a spare but beautiful version of the family theme but grows into something more dramatic with a ticking synth over rising scale patterns in the strings.  It is effective in one of the most dramatic parts of the film.  Westerly Weather features more of the family theme.  Spit Spot! uses more celeste and clarinet before turning to another waltz style.

Beverly Hills Hotel returns us to the 'Travers Goff' light childhood theme.  Penguins features more of sparce piano chords over long strings and synthesizers.  Pears has the strings rising and falling under the woodwind textures.  Maypole uses the pulsing synth with harps and guitars in a repeating ostinato.  Forgiveness begins with a sweet oboe solo before a harp joining in.  The track is calm and almost wave-like.  The Magic Kingdom features more of the Americana Disney motif heard earlier.  

Ginty My Love is really a full version of the childhood theme, expanded and with slightly different orchestration.  Saving Mr. Banks (End Title) serves as the full version of the family theme, the lush orchestral strings really showing off.  There is a bit of variation (child carnival-like) with the theme near the end.  Both these cues are stunning and definite highlights of the score.                         

Also included are source songs Ray Charles' One Mint Julep (as Mrs. Travers enters Los Angeles), and Dave Brubeck's jazz version of Heigh-Ho.  There are a few interjections of dialogue and snippets of Sherman Brothers tunes that can be easily skipped or ignored if you dislike that sort of thing.  Those are: Chim Chim Cher-ee (Responstible), Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and Let’s Go Fly a Kite.         

In the Deluxe Edition, we get a second disc of full song demos of Sherman Brothers songs performed by the Sherman Brothers as well as original soundtrack selections performed by the film cast.  For an even better "bonus disc", turn to the Mary Poppins Expanded Soundtrack from 2004, which features segments from the recorded script conversations between Travers and the Shermans as heard in the film.  

Being a Thomas Newman album, the album is full of short tracks - short music cues that make up the mosaic of the score.  It has never bothered me, and makes it easier to listen to the whole thing straight through.  The score fits both the whimsy of the making of Mary Poppins, and the drama that surrounds Travers' childhood.  As usual, Newman is a master storyteller, finding the right mood and emotion for the film through the characters.  This score works well on both levels and is a highly recommended listening experience. 


Richard Sherman (l) with Newman (r)

2 comments:

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  2. This has been a very nice, detailed walk-through!
    Thank you! :)

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