WALL·E – Thomas Newman
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
If one was to try to work out the most financially successful film production company (adding up all the grosses, and dividing by the number of films), I would hazard a guess that Pixar would be up there with the most successful of all time. Since first appearing on the scene in 1995 with Toy Story, every single one of their films has grossed over $200 million at the US box office, with the highest – Finding Nemo – ratcheting up $389 million in 2003. Similarly, the scores for Pixar films have been almost universally lauded amongst critics; seven of the eight films to date have received Oscar nominations for score, or song, or both. Randy Newman won his first (and only) Oscar for Monsters Inc in 2001. The only score to miss out was Michael Giacchino’s The Incredibles in 2004.
WALL·E is the ninth Pixar film to hit cinema screens. It follows the adventures of the titular character, a robot left behind on Earth after humans evacuate the planet, it having become too polluted to support natural life. WALL·E is a clean-up robot, one of many designed to help make the planet fit for human habitation once more, but after many generations eventually becomes the only one left after all his fellow droids malfunction. WALL·E’s lonely existence begins to change when he accidentally discovers new plant life, and the humans, who have been orbiting the planet in huge spaceships, dispatch a probe robot called EVE to recover the plant and bring it back to the ships; however, quite unexpectedly, WALL·E and EVE fall in love…
For the music for WALL·E, director Andrew Stanton turned once again to Thomas Newman, whose previous work for Pixar on Finding Nemo earned him an Oscar nomination. His score for WALL·E is much like Nemo – a full orchestral affair, augmented by the usual wondrous array of peculiar instruments, which on this occasion includes a valiha (a Madagascan zither), an Aeolian windharp, flexible foam pads, a lateral sponge guitar, and a strumming zebra (whatever that may be!). Newman never fails to be one of the truly original voices in film music, and the way in which he builds up layers of sound, interesting textures, beguiling rhythms, and occasional bursts of thematic beauty should be commended.
The opening “2815 AD” features some lovely, understated spacey textures with a prominent harp element. “WALL·E” introduces the playful musical ideas for the central character, a bouncy combo of hooting woodwinds, pizzicato strings, and little whistling effects. It’s a little Mickey mouse-ish in its construction, but in a way it’s a typical Newman piece, in which rhythm and texture is more important than melody, but suits the playful, inquisitive nature of WALL·E well. By contrast, the theme for “EVE” is warm and softly romantic, accentuated by lush string writing and a rolling harp accompaniment.
As is often the case with Newman scores, a lot of the cues are little more that brief bumpers, many lasting less than a minute in length, with one or two as short as 14 seconds. While I applaud Newman’s continued efforts to present as complete a score as possible on CD, the spottiness and lack of fluid consistency in the music that results from this kind of completism makes WALL·E suffer as a listening experience as a result; it’s difficult to gain a full appreciation for the score when it changes tone and style so rapidly.
Nevertheless, there are still many moments in which the score excels. The pop-cheese love theme in “First Date”, complete with retro ‘ba-ba-ba’ vocalizations, is a wonderful throwback to those Euro-romances of the 1970s scored by people like Bacharach, Lai and Bachelet. The unexpected brass-led action music in “EVE Retrieve” is exciting and quite superb. The sweeping string themes in “The Axiom” and “Define Dancing” are a delight, and are reminiscent of a space-bound version of the finale of The Shawshank Redemption, albeit with a sweeter, more innocent flavor.
Cues such as “Foreign Contaminant” and “WALL·E’s Pod Adventure” continue the light-hearted excitement, but towards the end of the score the whole thing actually turns into to something of an action-caper, with several back-to-back action cues, with churning strings, a fizz-pop synth undercurrent, and some surprisingly ominous brass hits. Highlights here include “Mutiny!”, “Rogue Robots”, “The Holo-Detector”, the exciting “Hyperjump” and the florid “Desperate EVE”. It’s also worth mentioning here the astonishing sound engineering by Tommy Vicari and Armin Steiner, whose work here is impeccable. Every tinkle, every string pluck, and every percussion hit is rendered with perfect clarity, making it one of the best-recorded scores I have heard in years.
The score is augmented by two songs from Jerry Herman’s Broadway hit “Hello Dolly!”, both performed by Michael Crawford, a classic Louis Armstrong English-language performance of the standard “La Vie En Rose”, and a new original song by Newman and Peter Gabriel, entitled “Down to Earth”, which can probably be best described as ‘folk-rock’.
In summary, and although it will likely never be considered a major title in the Thomas Newman canon, WALL·E is still an enjoyable enough entry into the annals of Pixar scores, and will appeal especially to those who enjoyed previous Newman works such as Finding Nemo, or Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s not difficult to see Newman receiving one – or even two – Oscar nominations for both the score and the song, such is the Academy’s infatuation with both the composer and the studio. For me, however, it still ranks significantly lower than many other scores in Newman’s pantheon, and is unlikely to get much replay value.
- Put On Your Sunday Clothes (written by Jerry Herman, performed by Michael Crawford) (1:17)
- 2815 AD (3:28)
- WALL·E (1:59)
- The Spaceship (1:41)
- EVE (1:02)
- Thrust (0:41)
- Bubble Wrap (0:50)
- La Vie En Rose (written by Louiguy, Edith Piaf and Mack David, performed by Louis Armstrong) (3:24)
- Eye Surgery (0:40)
- Worry Wait (1:19)
- First Date (1:19)
- EVE Retrieve (2:19)
- The Axiom (2:24)
- BNL (0:20)
- Foreign Contaminant (2:06)
- Repair Ward (2:20)
- 72 Degrees and Sunny (3:12)
- Typing Bot (0:47)
- Septuacentennial (0:14)
- Gopher (0:40)
- WALL·E’s Pod Adventure (1:13)
- Define Dancing (2:23)
- No Splashing, No Diving (0:47)
- All That Love’s About (0:37)
- M-O (0:46)
- Directive A-113 (2:05)
- Mutiny! (1:29)
- Fixing WALL·E (2:07)
- Rogue Robots (2:02)
- March of the Gels (0:54)
- Tilt (2:00)
- The Holo-Detector (1:07)
- Hyperjump (1:04)
- Desperate EVE (0:56)
- Static (1:43)
- It Only Takes a Moment (written by Jerry Herman, performed by Michael Crawford and Barbra Streisand) (1:07)
- Down to Earth (written by Thomas Newman and Peter Gabriel, performed by Peter Gabriel) (5:58)
- Horizon 12.2 (1:27)
Running Time: 62 minutes 07 seconds
Walt Disney Records D000174302 (2008)
Music composed and conducted by Thomas Newman. Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Thomas Pasatieri, J.A.C. Redford, Gary K. Thomas and Carl Johnson. Featured musical soloists George Doering, Steve Tavaglione, Rick Cox, Michael Fisher, Dan Greco, John Beasley, Steve Kujala, Bill Bernstein and Thomas Newman. Recorded and mixed by Tommy Vicari and Armin Steiner. Edited by Bill Bernstein Album produced by Thomas Newman and Bill Bernstein.