Quick Review: Maleficent

Music composed by James Newton Howard
Conducted by: Pete Anthony
Orchestrated by: Pete Anthony, Jeff Atmajian, Jon Kull, John Ashton Thomas, Peter Batman, Marcus Trumpp
Score Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, AIR Lyndhurst
Album time: 72 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

Maleficent is the newest film in the line of rebooted fairy tales to hit movie theaters. Following in the the footsteps of Disney's Alice in Wonderland (2010) with music by Danny Elfman and non-Disney's Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) with music by James Newton Howard. It was probably this film and his work with Disney in the past that got him this reboot. (Side bar: keep a look out for more fairy tale adaptations like Cinderella, Into the Woods, Alice in Wonderland 2 and Cruella).

Either way, Howard has been successful in the fantasy and adventure storytelling and this score is no different. Here is a the score rundown.

The album begins with Maleficent Suite, an introduction to the tone of the score as well as many thematic ideas heard later. The hypnotic curse motif pattern draws you in, as well as the use of choir. About halfway through, the magic unfolds more into a large orchestral entrance. A solo piano lullaby and female solo vocalist finish off the suite.

Welcome to the Moors sets up the quasi-medieval setting. This short magical cue is a bit reminiscent of JNH's Peter Pan and his early 2000s Disney scores. Maleficent Flies continues the mood of the last track (as well as music heard in the Suite). The choir is very Peter Pan-like, with a rising orchestral chord progression and the past theme gets a large orchestral rendition. Battle of the Moors is an action cue, full of low brass, choir and percussion.

Three Peasant Women keeps the light medieval sound as Go Away. Strings and woodwinds (lots of flute) keep popping in and out. We get a beautiful horn solo, taken over by the oboe. Aurora and the Fawn returns us to the playful magical setting before sliding into the darker side, with martial brass and percussion. A great theme emerges in this track, which appears later in the score. The Christening begins with a sliding to a dark epic sound. The hypnotic curse motif from the Suite appears, which builds up to some sampled percussion and the motif heard in Battle of the Moors. This sets up a choral section, almost a funereal march sound.

Prince Phillip contains a gentle, ethereal sound. The strings enter with a tender theme ending with a gentle high-register bassoon solo. The Spindle's Power flits around before revealing a large orchestral section and the hypnotic curse motif grows with some low-end electronic bass rumbles accentuating the orchestra. You Could Live Here Now features a great cello solo and gentle moments in the choir and harps. Path of Destruction returns us to the evil motifs heard earlier. We get a few brass blares and a sense of urgency.

Aurora in Faerieland features some woodwind solos over a lulling string and harp section. Overall, a beautiful track with some great string and clarinet writing. The Wall Defends Itself is full of dissonance and brass blares in this short cue. The Curse Won't Reverse is built upon the hypnotic curse motif over swirling harps and strings.

Are You Maleficent? features melancholic string writing. The Army Dances builds on the dissonance before turning into a dark waltz. Think half way between Elfman and Zimmer. Phillip's Kiss and The Iron Gauntlet feature more gentle harp and piano and woodwind solos. The latter has an hints of darkness under the surface. True Love’s Kiss features a sweet piano solo, and the sweeping romantic theme heard in the suite.

Maleficent Is Captured is an all-out action cue. Each section compliments each other, with the odd-metered rhythm section never gets too in the way. The action subsides every now and then to give bits of melody and superb brass moments. There are some nice variations of past themes, including one grand statement. The Queen of Faerieland is a standout track, reprising some past themes. The choir of Welcome to the Moors returns, and the dark waltz appears for a second. Once Upon a Dream is the song from the original 1959 Disney classic Sleeping Beauty (theme by Tchaikovsky and sung by Lana Del Rey). The originally cheerful song is given an eerie arrangement, with the accompaniment fitting the score.

The score to Maleficent really surprised me. Having been disappointed by some of Howard's recent work, I was glad to hear some music that really awed me. He works well in the fantasy genre, with scores like Peter Pan, Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender. This score easy surpasses Snow White and the Huntsman in terms of quality of score. This score has many quiet and warmhearted moments, with plenty of great string and woodwind writing. The use of choir is particularly notable and adds a lot of enjoyment in the album. The album flows like water (JNH joke anyone?) and the mix between gentle and dissonant action seems right for the disc. The themes are present and get more noticeable with more listens, perhaps not grabbing as some listeners might want on the first go. There are so many little moments (and big moments) worth listening to in Maleficent, which makes me want to listen to it more. And you should too.

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