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FINDING NEMO – Thomas Newman

findingnemoOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The last person you would expect to score a Disney family movie would be Thomas Newman; the last person you would expect to score a Pixar movie would be Thomas Newman, especially when the monopoly on these has hitherto been held by his cousin Randy. But, in an attempt to break away from the usual sound and go down a different road, Pixar and director Andrew Stanton asked Newman to score Finding Nemo, the excellent animation studio’s offering for summer 2003. The truly unexpected thing about the end result is twofold: firstly, it has provided Newman with a perfect opportunity to employ the services of a much larger orchestra, and to write broad themes and largely more upbeat music. The surprising thing is that, by and large, is also a little disappointing.

An underwater adventure with a cast of animated fish, Finding Nemo follows the desperate search of Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks), who is separated from his young son Nemo (voice of Alexander Gould) in the Great Barrier Reef when Nemo is unexpectedly caught by fishermen and placed into a fish tank in a dentist’s office overlooking Sydney Harbor. Aided by the a friendly but slightly dopey Dory (voice of Ellen De Generes), the nervous-natured Marlin embarks on an epic and dangerous trek, and finds that he must overcome great obstacles in order to rescue his son. With a superb supporting voice cast that includes Willem Dafoe as an angel fish, Hulk actor Eric Bana as a hammerhead shark, Alison Janney as a starfish, and Barry Humphries as a great white , Finding Nemo has been an unexpected success at the American box office, achieving the biggest opening weekend takings for any animated film upon its release.

Firstly, the positives. Taken as a whole, Finding Nemo could best be described an amalgam of all the best Thomas Newman scores you’ve ever heard. There are the delightfully whimsical piano/woodwind chords from The Horse Whisperer, the patented marimba and percussion vibes that so enlivened American Beauty, the lush string chords from The Shawshank Redemption, the pseudo-comical pizzicato runs from The Green Mile – and all in the opening cue, ‘Wow’, a very apt title indeed. All Newman’s regular collaborators are there, from orchestrator Thomas Pasatieri, to his usual cadre of cohorts (George Doering, Mike Fisher, Steve Kujala etc.) on a whole host of unique instruments (Tahitian uke, a pandeiro, waldorf wave). It’s a superb beginning.

Other cues, such as ‘Nemo Egg’, ‘Field Trip’, ‘Stay Awake’, ‘News Travels’, and the conclusive ‘Finding Nemo’ feature some of the best lyrical and gentle writing Newman has done in a long time – a world away from the tiresome meanderings of scores such as White Oleander and In The Bedroom – while tracks such as ‘First Day’, ‘Mr Ray Scientist’, ‘Jellyfish Forest’ and ‘Fronds Like These’ are filled with a vibrant, buoyant energy and unexpectedly sprightly scherzo rhythms. Action also plays an unexpectedly large part in the score, with cues such as ‘Barracuda’, ‘The Divers’, ‘Friends Not Food’, ‘Filter Attempt’, ‘Darla Fifth Offramp’, Time To Go’, ‘Fish In My Hair’ and ‘All Drains Lead to the Ocean’ throbbing to surprisingly vicious and dissonant orchestral blasts or thrusting forward with fast, skillful phrases full of color and movement. ‘Lost’ and ‘Swim Down’ both feature some wonderfully moody piano chords and skittering strings, ‘Foolproof’ actually sounds like something Lalo Schifrin may have written for a funky action flick in the 1960s, while both ‘The Turtle Lope’ and ‘Curl Away My Son’ briefly embrace the rock music arena. The conclusive song features British vocalist Robbie Williams continuing his efforts at breaking into the American music market, this time covering Charles Trenet’s classic “La Mer” – “Beyond The Sea”.

The score’s two biggest negatives are a) the fact that there is very little thematic material to latch on to, and b) the score is so disjointed, with forty cues which vary from 28 seconds in length, up to just over two minutes (the longest track is actually the song, at 4:46). While this latter issue has been a problem in Newman scores for years now, it still remains a fact that it is very difficult for a 30-second cue to make any kind of impact, positive or negative, before you’re away and off down another musical road. Its likely that the CD contains most, if not all, of Newman’s score, and I just feel that it would have made for a more structured album if some of the shorter tracks had been omitted, or at least edited together to form longer suites.

The lack of thematic content is actually the most disappointing thing of all because, when he adopts this kind of scoring, Newman is as good as any composer working today – The Shawshank Redemption, Meet Joe Black, Oscar and Lucinda, and the others are all perfect examples of this. Unfortunately, Finding Nemo seems to Mickey Mouse for the majority of the time, merely accentuating what happens on-screen at any given time, and never really developing into a score which has a sense of itself.

I am actually somewhat annoyed with myself that all these issues have allowed my judgment to be clouded because, as a score, it is very charming, and when not in “reviewer mode” I actually really enjoy listening to it. However, I just can’t help but have some nagging little feeling that, somewhere, in the back of this score, there’s a great theme waiting to emerge, to bind all the disparate elements together into a coherent whole. Sharkbait! Ooh ha ha!

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Wow (2:31)
  • Barracuda (1:29)
  • Nemo Egg (1:16)
  • First Day (1:15)
  • Field Trip (0:57)
  • Mr Ray, Scientist (1:28)
  • The Divers (1:56)
  • Lost (1:03)
  • Short-Term Dory (0:43)
  • Why Trust a Shark? (1:17)
  • Friends Not Food (1:51)
  • Fish-O-Rama (0:29)
  • Gill (1:40)
  • Mt. Wannahockaloogie (1:20)
  • Foolproof (0:32)
  • Squishy (1:32)
  • Jellyfish Forest (1:32)
  • Stay Awake (1:47)
  • School of Fish (1:03)
  • Filter Attempt (2:05)
  • The Turtle Lope (2:04)
  • Curl Away my Son (1:28)
  • News Travels (1:13)
  • The Little Clownfish from the Reef (1:15)
  • Darla Filth Offramp (2:22)
  • Lost in Fog (1:05)
  • Scum Angel (1:22)
  • Haiku (1:41)
  • Time to Let Go (2:22)
  • Sydney Harbour (0:28)
  • Pelicans (1:12)
  • Drill (0:50)
  • Fish in My Hair! (1:29)
  • All Drains Lead to the Ocean (1:36)
  • …P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney… (0:39)
  • Fishing Grounds (1:41)
  • Swim Down (1:46)
  • Finding Nemo (1:19)
  • Fronds Like These (1:57)
  • Beyond the Sea (written by Charles Louis Trenet, Jack Lawrence and Albert Lasry, performed by Robbie Williams) (4:26)

Running Time: 60 minutes 01 seconds
Walt Disney Records 60078-7 (2003)

Music composed and conducted by Thomas Newman. Orchestrations by Thomas Pasatieri. Featured musical soloists George Doering, Michael Fisher, Peter Engelhart, Steve Tavaglione, Rick Cox, Steve Kujala, John Beasley, George Budd, Chas Smith, Gary Rydstrom and Thomas Newman. Recorded and mixed by Tommy Vicari. Edited by Bill Bernstein. Mastered by Joe Gastwirt. Album produced by Thomas Newman and Bill Bernstein.

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