Tag Archives: A Bug’s Life

Lincoln (2012) – John Williams

Long-time Spielberg collaborator John Williams has a history of composing some of the most iconic scores in film history; Star WarsRaiders of the Lost ArkJawsSupermanE.T. the Extra-TerrestrialJurassic Park, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were all brought to life by his incredible music. In his old age, Williams has slowed down a bit, but his scores to the 2011 films War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin were just as excellent as always. With War Horse, he took a more minimal approach than he typically has in the past, relying on gorgeous strings and warm brass to bring a feeling of intimacy to the film that fit the tone of the film. He uses this same approach with Lincoln, and the result is breathtaking.

The music in Lincoln perfectly embodies the American spirit. There is grandeur, there is majesty, there is conflict and resolution, there is emotion…Williams has captured it all. Much of this album is more solo-oriented, which helps with that intimacy that I mentioned before. The first track, “The People’s House,” opens with a single clarinet melody, low and calm, evoking visions of long hours spent in the Oval Office making decisions for the better of the country. Throughout the soundtrack, we are treated to solos from clarinet (“The People’s House,” “Equality Under the Law”), trumpet (“The Purpose of the Amendment,” “The American Process”), horn (“The Southern Delegation and the Dream,” “Father and Son”), and piano (“The Blue and Grey,” “Remembering Willie”). Each solo instrument brings forth a different emotion, enabling Williams to exploit these associations to accentuate the feelings in a particular scene. These emotions are made even more powerful once the solo instrument is joined by the full orchestra; the strings bring a warmth that reminds me of family and responsibility.

“The Blue and Grey” (obviously referring to the uniform of the Confederate Army) is a somber sort of track that hints at the tension between the Union and the Confederacy, while “With Malice Toward None” conveys Lincoln’s sense of duty to his country. “Father and Son” goes on to highlight Lincoln’s tentative relationship with his son in the midst of his presidential responsibilities, a sentiment that is continued in “Remembering Willie,” a terribly emotional track that echoes the grief felt by a distraught mother and her empathetic husband. “Appomattox, April 9, 1865” captures a grand moment in history with the timidity appropriate for such a solemn occasion, and it also expertly uses a choir to represent the almost spiritual element of the occasion.

Just on a quick aside, there is a short motive heard throughout the film that sounds nearly identical to a similar motive from Randy Newman’s score to the Disney/Pixar film A Bug’s Life. Compare this from “The American Process” to this excerpt from “Flik Leaves” on the soundtrack album for A Bug’s Life. Also, considering the fact that Abraham Lincoln is buried in Illinois, I thought it to be a nice touch that this score was appropriately recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

I could go on and on and on some more about this soundtrack, but I digress. It should be obvious that I think quite highly of Mr. Williams and his music for Lincoln. I think that it perfectly represents all of the complicated aspects of one of America’s most celebrated presidents: his dedication to his country, his love for his family, his moral dilemma in doing the right thing. John Williams’ score to Lincoln is film scoring at its very finest, proving that, even at 83, he’s still got it.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

1. “The People’s House” 3:43
2. “The Purpose of the Amendment” 3:07
3. “Getting Out the Vote” 2:49
4. “The American Process” 3:57
5. “The Blue and Grey” 3:00
6. “With Malice Toward None” 1:51
7. “Call to Muster and Battle Cry of Freedom” 2:17
8. “The Southern Delegation and the Dream” 4:43
9. “Father and Son” 1:42
10. “The Race to the House” 2:42
11. “Equality Under the Law” 3:12
12. “Freedom’s Call” 6:08
13. “Elegy” 2:35
14. “Remembering Willie” 1:51
15. “Appomattox, April 9, 1865” 2:38
16. “The Peterson House and Finale” 11:00
17. “With Malice Toward None (Piano Solo)” 1:31

Total Length: app. 59 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of this film here!

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Finding Nemo (2003)

As a child, Finding Nemo wasn’t a film that I caught in theaters. In fact, I didn’t see it at all until a few years after it had been released. Though not my favorite Pixar film, it’s certainly an enjoyable one, enough to convince me to go catch it in theaters when it was re-released in 3D back in September of 2012. I’m a firm believer in the idea that films were made to be seen on the big screen, so I always try to go to theater re-releases of films I enjoy, even though 3D is sometimes less than okay. However, Finding Nemo 3D was a great theater experience that also translated well to the recent 3D Blu-Ray release.

In case you’ve been living in a hole in the ground for the past ten years, Finding Nemo is about a single father, Marlin (Albert Brooks), whose son is kidnapped by a diver and taken to Sydney, Australia. In order to find his son, Nemo, he traverses the entire ocean, meeting along the way a forgetful fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a friendly shark named Bruce (Barry Humphries), a gnarly sea turtle named Crush (Andrew Stanton), and a pelican named Nigel (Geoffrey Rush). All the while, Nemo (Alexander Gould) and his new tank friends, lead by Gill (Willem Dafoe), must devise a plan to help them escape from the dentist office where they are being kept before the dentist’s careless niece can get her hands on the young clownfish.

The people at Pixar have always astounded me with their ability to pack so much humanity into their often inhuman characters, i.e. the toys of Toy Story, the bugs of A Bug’s Life, and, later, the robots of Wall-E. In Finding Nemo, we have FISH…just about as inhuman as you can get, as far as living organisms go. But that doesn’t stop us from sympathizing with Marlin as he struggles to find his lost son or rooting for Nemo as he succeeds in overcoming his fears faced in the fish tank at the dentist office or shedding a tear when Marlin has given up hope and says goodbye to Dory. These characters are just as endearing as any human character out there, if not more. They teach us to trust each other, especially those we love, that it’s okay to let go sometimes, and that we can and should learn from our mistakes.

In addition to the fantastic characters, this film is also visually stunning. The physics of the ocean and its inhabitants feel very authentic – even the physical movement of the fish – despite the fact that everything is animated. The 3D is also well-done (one of the best films I’ve ever seen in 3D), with it fully absorbing you into the atmosphere of the film. The 3D home release is even better than it was in the theater; on a high-definition 3D TV, everything is crystal clear and fully immersive.

Pixar has a track record unmatched by any other film company. Though perfection is impossible, I would say that Pixar has several “perfect” films, and Finding Nemo is one of them. The characters are three-dimensional (in a character growth sort of way, I mean), the story is touching, and the score by Thomas Newman is one of the best of all of the Pixar films. With humor appropriate for both children and adults and several important life lessons to be learned, there is much to be missed if you’ve managed to never see this film – and I’d even recommend the 3D version, if you don’t mind the glasses.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: G


A Bug’s Life (1998) – Randy Newman

Disney/Pixar’s A Bug’s Life is one of my favorite of the Pixar soundtracks, and certainly my favorite of Randy Newman’s Pixar scores.

The first song on the album is “The Time of Your Life”, sung by Newman himself, which I had never paid much attention to until tonight; I knew the first line and the chorus, but ignored the rest because I didn’t see how it connected to the film. As it turns out, the lyrics are all about being ambitious and pursuing what you love; in other words, it describes Flik in the film. Who’d have thought it, eh? The song itself is catchy, and it’s heavily referenced in the orchestral score in tracks like “Seed to Tree” and “Flik Leaves” – both of which are meant to foreshadow Flik’s rise to greatness as the film progresses.

Newman plays around with leitmotifs, composing an industrial, hip-sounding theme for Flik’s grain-harvesting machine and for the city (“The Flik Machine”, “The City”), a sort of “aggression” theme heard in “The Bird Flies” and “Ants Fight Back”, a gypsy-like theme for the circus bugs introduced in “Circus Bugs” and hinted at again in “Loser”, and a few other various themes heard throughout. The way each of these leitmotifs is interlaced into the score is like a game of tug-of-war; each melody is designed to pull your attention to the character(s) they represent, and they each take turns pulling your attention back and forth.

Since this was only Newman’s second Pixar film score, most of the material in A Bug’s Life is pretty original, minus a bit of the filler music (non-thematic material) that resembles his score to Toy Story. Newman’s score brings a sense of grandeur to a world that we rarely think about because of how minuscule it is, showing that, while our world may be big to us, it’s even bigger to a bug; they can have big adventures too! My favorite track is the last one on the album, “A Bug’s Life Suite”, because it contains all of the main themes heard throughout the film…seriously, go listen to that! All film soundtracks should be required to have suites/overtures.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1. “The Time of Your Life” (performed by Newman) 3:16
2. “The Flik Machine” 2:54
3. “Seed to Tree” 1:01
4. “Red Alert” 1:49
5. “Hopper and his Gang” 3:21
6. “Flik Leaves” 2:37
7. “Circus Bugs” 1:27
8. “The City” 2:35
9. “Robin Hood” 0:59
10. “Return to Colony” 1:33
11. “Flik’s Return” 1:24
12. “Loser” 2:43
13. “Dot’s Rescue” 4:00
14. “Atta” 1:08
15. “Don’t Come Back” 1:07
16. “Grasshoppers’ Return” 3:01
17. “The Bird Flies” 2:38
18. “Ants Fight Back” 2:14
19. “Victory” 2:33
20. “A Bug’s Life Suite” 5:12

Total Length: app. 48 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


Cars (2006) – Randy Newman

The score to the Disney/Pixar film Cars was composed by Randy Newman, who was also responsible for the scores to all three Toy Story films, A Bug’s Life, andMonsters, Inc. However, like most of Pixar’s film soundtracks, there are a few songs in the track list that are lyrical.

In the case of Cars, nearly half (9 out of 20) of the tracks are vocal songs, and 4 of those were written specifically for the film. I’ll briefly walk through each of these 9 tracks before getting to the actual “score”.

The first track on the album is “Real Gone” by Sheryl Crow. This is one of the songs that was written for the film. This song, aside from just being lots of fun and making references to cars, has lyrics that fit Lightning McQueen’s character at the start of the film: “you got your blinders on”, referencing the things placed to side of a horse’s eyes so that it can only see straight ahead, refers to McQueen’s love for nothing but himself and his career.

Next is Chuck Berry’s “Route 66”, which is on the album for obvious reasons that I hope I don’t have to explain. John Mayer has another decent version of this song available on the album.

Rascall Flatts’ version of Tom Cochrane’s 1991 hit “Life is a Highway” is also included on the album for obvious reasons, but it also has a set of lyrics that fit in well with the themes of the film, found in the bridge:

“There was a distance between you and I

A misunderstanding once

But now, we look it in the eye.”

This chunk of lyric could fit either Lightning’s relationship with Sally, which grows from a mutual annoyance to a blossoming romance, or with Doc, which starts with a lack of communication/understanding but becomes a strong teacher/student or father/son relationship.

Brad Paisley wrote two songs for Cars the first of which is titled “Behind the Clouds”. The lyrics in this song talk about the silver lining that can be found in situations that appear bleak at first, i.e. Lightning getting lost and trapped in a near-ghost town in the middle of nowhere. Which turns out to be a blessing! Yay for songs that fit the story!

The third song on the soundtrack that was written for the film is titled “Our Town”, composed by Randy Newman and performed by James Taylor. This song, a Grammy winner and Academy Award nominee, reveals one of the morals of the film: what you have is only what you make of it, and no one can take it away from you. An awesome message, and one of the reasons why I love Pixar (even if Cars is far from my favorite).

“Sh-Boom”, a 1954 song by The Chords, is played during the scene where McQueen and the citizens of Radiator Springs restore the city to look the way it did in its heyday as a surprise for Sally. I wasn’t alive back then, but this song just seems to define the 50s for me. It’s relaxed and fun and perfect for this scene in the film.

The final lyrical song written for the film is another by Brad Paisley, this one titled “Find Yourself”. (On a quick side note, I now have Cars to thank for the presence of country music on my iPhone! Who’da thought it’d ever happen?!) This song, like “Our Town” is particularly poignant because it talks about how, though we may lose our ways in life sometimes, it’s at those times that we’re lost that we often discover who we really are and what we really want, as Lightning does in the film.

The final lyrical song included on the soundtrack album is Hank Williams’ “My Heart Would Know”, which, as far as I can tell, has no lyrical connection to the story, merely serving the purpose of establishing the setting/context/feel of the film.

And now we (finally) move on the the actual film score by Randy Newman. Unfortunately, Randy’s film scores are often like Hans Zimmer’s and Danny Elfman’s in the sense they sound the same a lot of the time (certainly not Randy’s themes, just his background music usually), and the first two instrumental tracks, “Opening Race” and “McQueen’s Lost”, do nothing to prove that theory wrong. “Opening Race” reminds me of some bits from Toy Story, while “McQueen’s Lost” has an entire 7-second section of music that almost sounds exactly like a theme from A Bug’s Life. (go to YouTube and compare :37-:44 of “McQueen’s Lost” to :34-:40 of “The Bird Flies”)

Luckily, Randy completely switches gears in the next track, “Bessie”, which suddenly turns into what could easily be mistaken for the intro to a country/western song. Thank you, Randy! Although there were hints of Toy Story again in the next track, “Dirt is Different”, and in a couple of other tracks later on, Randy sticks to a Western-feel, occasionally bluegrass-y, that is for the most part refreshing and different coming from him.

I don’t want to go into too much (more) detail, so I’ll sum it up.

Overall, while a bit familiar, the country feel to Cars’ instrumental score, in addition to the excellent vocal tracks that accompany it, makes this a better soundtrack than I initially expected. My favorite track is “McQueen and Sally”.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

1. “Real Gone” Sheryl Crow 3:22

2. “Route 66” Chuck Berry 2:52

3. “Life Is a Highway” Rascal Flatts 4:37

4. “Behind the Clouds” Brad Paisley 4:09

5. “Our Town” James Taylor 4:07

6. “Sh-Boom” The Chords 2:26

7. “Route 66” John Mayer 3:25

8. “Find Yourself” Brad Paisley 4:11

9. “Opening Race” 2:05

10. “McQueen’s Lost” 2:29

11. “My Heart Would Know” Hank Williams 2:27

12. “Bessie” 0:59

13. “Dirt Is Different” 1:28

14. “New Road” 1:17

15. “Tractor Tipping” 1:22

16. “McQueen & Sally” 2:00

17. “Goodbye” 2:42

18. “Pre-Race Pageantry” 1:31

19. “The Piston Cup” 1:52

20. “The Big Race” 3:07

Total Length: app. 53 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad