Quick Review: Animal Crackers

Animal Crackers 
Music composed and conducted by Bear McCreary
sic recorded at Ocean Way Recording Studio, Nashville
Album running time: 74 minutes
Available on Sony Classical

After years of financial and distribution troubles, this 2017 film finally got its release on Netflix. This delightful animated film has a great voice cast and a first animated score for Bear McCreary. Like so many animated films, McCreary brings in leitmotifs for just about every character - and they're heard throughout the entire score.

The first track, Animal Crackers Overture arranges all the themes. After the calliope intro, we hear the factory theme (very Powerhouse by Raymond Scott). Entering with a saxophone solo is the bouncy Huntington Brothers theme, and then the oboe and flute led family theme. Next is the theme for villainous Uncle Horatio with lumbering strings and bassoon melody. Zucchini gets his theme with a chorus of kazoos. The magical circus theme is complete with gypsy-style violin solo. Mr. Woodley and Brock's theme are represented with tuba solo and funk guitar, respectively. It wraps up with a return of the calliope and factory theme. The overture is a perfect encapsulation of the themes that appears as the end credit suite.

The Huntington Brothers contains many statements of their theme in addition to the circus theme with miniature violin cadenzas and accordion moments. Right as the track ends we hear a grand statement of the Huntington theme. Life at the Circus is naturally a madcap arrangement of the Huntington theme and we hear some tender and sweeping versions of the family theme. Mr. Woodley's tuba theme is prominent near the end.

The Dog Food Factory combines the factory theme, 
family theme, Woodley and Brock's themes combined with some "mickey-mousing" suspense. News of the Fire has bits of the family theme in more subdued underscoring. Circus Memorial begins with a wistful Huntington theme before the sinister-sounding Horatio's theme creeps in and grows with Zucchini's kazoos. Holy Moly changes tones using some great orchestral colors with the family theme sprinkled in.

Zucchini Chase passes his theme through a wild set of instruments - kazoos, accordion, banjo, violin solo, and surf guitar with the momentum running through the action cue. Little Cookie Me reprises the 
family theme and Huntington theme, turning it into a brief gentle waltz. We also hear Zucchini's kazoos and ending with the calliope. The Magic is Gone has a tender reprise of the Huntington theme as the gloomy tone turns more upbeat. Brock and Woodley contains much of Brock's funk guitar, sax solo, brass hits and Woodley's tuba.

Papa Bear contains some of the warmest renditions of the 
family theme. A Helping Hoof is another lively cue with the circus calliope underneath the Huntington theme, brass fanfares and Zucchini's kazoo sting. The Tiger introduces some varied percussion along large statements of the family theme and Huntington theme. Monkeying Around brings back Woodley's tuba, Brock's funk guitar, factory theme, Zucchini's theme, big brass hits, swirling strings, with themes all switching at breakneck speed. An Offer from Horatio has a tender reprise of the Huntington theme, then adds in Horatio's ominous theme and ends with the sweeping family theme.

Freak Fight begins with Horatio's theme before turning into a swirling mix of past themes underscoring the big top madness. Chimera brings Horatio's theme to the fore as he combines several animal crackers together. There's also bits the magical circus violin, 
family theme and great use of orchestral techniques and effects. Showtime has several reprises of the Huntington's theme, an off kilter reprise of Zucchini's theme, sweet reprise of the family theme, Woodley's theme, and the magical circus theme all rising to a grand ending. Bonus track Fanfare for Bullet Man features high trumpet wails and an Also sprach Zarathustra reference. Bonus track Blue Dream Studios Logo underscores the film's opening logo.

For his first animated score, Bear McCreary pulled out all the stops. Character themes really permeate almost every moment of the score. The score is definitely inspired by the "mickey-mousing" style popularized by Carl Stalling (Merrie Melodies) and Scott Bradley (Tom and Jerry). Often times those scores are jarring without picture, something this score can shine without. McCreary often finds the identity of the score through the orchestration - and this has one of everything! It's such a fun score that certainly stands out from McCreary's other serious and darker works. Definitely worth seeking out!

Two quick things: The Overture, Papa Bear and Showtime are extended on the album and their shorter versions are on the song album.  The album art alone is a blast - drawn by writer/director Scott Christian Sava - it's Bear McCreary as a bear conducting the animal orchestra!

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  1. This is an awesome score and COVID-19 is a motherfucker.