Saturday, June 25, 2016

Quick Review: Alice Through the Looking Glass

Alice Through the Looking Glass
Music composed by Danny Elfman
Music conducted by Rick Wentworth
Music orchestrated by Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Slonaker
Additional music by Chris Bacon, TJ Lindgren
Music recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London
Album running time: 76 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

2010's Alice in Wonderland was a great hit score for Danny Elfman, providing one of his best scores for director Tim Burton.  The film itself was a bit rocky, with questionable CGI and an overly complicated plot.  (It was, on the other hand, a massive 3D hit at the box office....so here we are with the sequel).  This time, Burton is just producing and has The Muppets (2011) director James Bobin at the helm.  It is meant to match the look of the first film with bright colors still everywhere.

The main theme (Alice's Theme) was a breakout hit for Elfman and some of his best in recent years.  If you loved the theme and choir, Alice Through the Looking Glass has reprises galore.  The theme does go through variations aplenty, more so than the last film.  Also included prominently is the Little Alice Theme, used briefly in the last film.  Other returning themes include one for the Cheshire Cat and the Memory Theme (used at the end of the first film as she remembers her experiences in Underland).  For new themes, we get the Time Theme, a Russian-esque sound.  The elusive theme for the Hatter also makes appearances in spots outside of the Suite.   

Like the album for Goosebumps (2015), the score is arranged from tracks 1-20 as an album arrangement with the rest being "bonus tracks".  The album works as played, but below I've put them in correct film order for convenience.  Here's an album track rundown, perhaps giving you a sense of his thematic usage.  

The album begins with Alice, a 6 minute suite of the main Alice Theme in all its glory.  It transitions to the full statement of the Little Alice Theme, Time's Theme and the Memory Theme.  The latter theme (a bit reminiscent of Goldsmith or Shore is used for some of the poignant moments in the score).  Saving the Ship is the best cue on the album and weaves in Alice's Theme nicely.  It is heroic in moments, with standard Elfman strings and brass and bit more interesting orchestration.  Little Alice Theme even gets a brass-led variation at the finish.  

Watching Time is full of sliding strings representing the Cheshire Cat and clock-like material.  A ticking rhythm is throughout the cue as Time's Theme makes its first appearances.  It's a hard theme to catch, often blending into the orchestral texture. The cue ends with a strong statement of the theme.  Looking Glass begins with a few haunting reprises of the Little Alice Theme before getting into a flighty reprise of Alice's Theme among action sections in addition to solo vocals and organ.  To the Rescue is a short cue, starting with a fanfare and more of the Cheshire motif before adding a more somber choir section.

Hatter House begins with slowed down variations on sections of Alice's Theme. It's on the quiet side, a bit of melancholy is heard by instrumental solos, an ominous rendition of the Hatter's Theme, and ending with a pronounced statement of Little Alice's Theme.  The Red Queen stays in the low strings and woodwinds with some strong brass bursts before it picks up to action version of Alice's Theme. The Chronosphere breaks apart Alice's Theme to little bits, using it in a comedic setting.  The bulk of the track is epic action.  These large action parts are classic minor-key Elfman with swirling strings and choir.


Warning Hightopps returns to the reflective side, letting solo instruments take part of Alice's Theme.  Tea Time Forever is a bit darker, utilizing tolling bells but switching to a cartoony mood.  Oceans of Time is a sweeping cue, with the themes for Little Alice, Alice and Time all converging and blending.

Hat Heartbreak returns us to the celeste and some tender string underscoring.  Bits of the Hatter's Theme is tossed in, sometimes buried around other instruments.  Asylum Escape brings us back to Alice's Theme in full action mode.  Elfman's chance to bring the portions of the theme in this setting is a great choice.  Just like in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Elfman is showing his mastery of some great action material, using a large orchestra in new ways and still fitting in thematic material.  Hatter's Deathbed is a bit somber, with solos instruments taking parts of Alice's Theme.  A solo flute and then solo horn take over with Hatter's Theme.  Little Alice's Theme is taken over nicely with strings, harp and choir.  

Finding the Family is back to the sweet and tender celeste material heard earlier.  The music becomes a bit bolder with the entrance of the low brass.  Time Is Up is another great action cue - a big orchestral epic.  Time's Theme and Alice's Theme are tossed around throughout, and the action briefly stops for Little Alice's Theme.  World's End begins with a music box rendition of Little Alice's Theme and vocal soloist before a crescendo to the Memory Theme in its biggest statement yet.

Truth returns to the calm style from before.  Little Alice's Theme gets a touching reprise as does a sprightly Hatter's Theme.  There are some great moments in this track, led by Little Alice's Theme.  The Memory Theme gets a fitting reprise in Goodbye Alice, and that melody fills the entire track before the chord progression hints at Alice's Theme.  Kingsleigh & Kingsleigh is basically a choral reprise of Alice's Theme giving one last vocal "Alice!" before fading away. 

Seconds Song is a quick bit of a song that should remind listeners of Elfman's own singing on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Oz the Great and Powerful.  Friends United is a whimsical underscore with fragments of Hatter's Theme hinted at.  Time's Castle is a bit more mysterious (utilizing the Cheshire motif), ticking aspects before launching into Alice's Theme.  The Seconds shows off Time's assistants, using the metronome-esque metal sound to match their design.  Clock Shop is a dramatic moment of Time's Theme and a hint of Alice's Theme.  They're Alive provides some dark underscore for the backstory of the Red Queen.  Story of Time is a nice cue, with a mysterious rendition of Hatter's Theme blended with Little Alice's Theme.  Time's Theme makes a march appearance and Little Alice's Theme seems a bit more distant and daunting.  The album ends with the skippable pop song Just Like Fire (performed by Pink).            

For 'Looking Glass', Elfman added to his material from the first 'Alice', letting many old themes expand and have some variants.  Elfman purposely didn't add too many more new themes, instead expanding on themes relating to Alice's childhood (Little Alice) and the Hatter's theme.  His large action cues (Saving the Ship in particular) are some of the best material on the album.  

For track order, it will be something like: Track 2, 4, 5, 22, 6, 27, 23, 24, 3, 8, 11, 9, 12, 10, 26, 25, 13, 14, 7, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 1, 21

The Alice Theme is still the best part of both films and I'm glad it's reoccurring in this score.  The first Alice was one of Elfman's best recent scores and while this doesn't reach the same levels, plenty of aspects make this a great listen.

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