BOLT – John Powell
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
The 48th official film in the Disney animated feature canon, Bolt is the story a small dog – the Bolt of the title, voiced by John Travolta – who has lived his entire life on the set of a TV show in which he portrays a superhero dog and, as a result, thinks that his superpowers are real. However, when Bolt is accidentally shipped from his Hollywood soundstage to New York City, he embarks on a cross-country journey to reunite with his owner and co-star, Penny (voiced by Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus). Along the way, he teams up with a jaded alleycat named Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman) and a TV-obsessed hamster named Rhino (voiced by Mark Walton).
2008 has been a quite sensational year for John Powell. With titles as diverse and music as varied as that heard in the likes of Horton Hears a Who, Jumper, Stop-Loss and Hancock, the English composer is cementing his position as one of the heirs apparent to the film music A-list. He’s come a long way since his time working with Hans Zimmer at the old Media Ventures organization, and is clearly one of the soundtrack success stories of the new millennium.
His score for Bolt is sort of an amalgam of the happy-snappy sound he applied to Horton Hears a Who, and the super-hero action of Hancock, all topped off with a slight country/rock sound, presumably to illustrate the canine hero’s trek across the heartland. The main thematic content is the theme for Bolt himself, a lush and warm melody which first appears in “Meet Bolt”, which is most notable for its appealing piano rendition in the cue’s second half. The emotional content comes back towards the end of “House on Wheels” with a tender theme for strings, piano and tinkling guitars which emerge into a bouncy version of Bolt’s theme, and then in “Las Vegas”, which contains another gentle and poignant piano motif.
However, as is often the case, it is the action cues which stand out the most: if you can ignore the (intentionally?) cheesy electronic embellishments in “Bolt Transforms” and “Scooter Chase”, there is a great deal to admire in the orchestral writing, which has the same sense of energy and pizzazz Powell brought to earlier scores such as Agent Cody Banks, The Adventures of Pluto Nash and Robots. He goes for broke in some of the later cues, notably “A Fast Train” and “Saving Penny”, which contain some fiendishly complicated brass parts, and has some enormously frantic string writing. The action music often builds repeating 4-note ostinato motif into the basses, an offshoot of the fictional Bolt’s TV theme music, most noticeably in the aforementioned “Scooter Chase” and in “Saving Mittens” and which is actually sung on-screen by the heroic hamster in “Sing-Along Rhino” in one of the best examples of breaking the musical fourth wall I have heard in a while.
Elsewhere, there’s a touch of Gershwin jazz to be found, especially in the clarinet glissando which ushers in “New York”, as well as a nod to Nino Rota’s Italianate style in “Meet Mittens”, and some delightfully whimsical woodwind writing in “The RV Park” which eventually opens up into a light faux-Western pastiche complete with clip-clop percussion. The emotional high points are the unexpectedly uplifting “Where Were You on St. Rhino’s Day?” and “A Friend in Need”, the former of which is clearly a reference to Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, and has some of the same stirring patriotism Patrick Doyle brought to the original scene in Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 movie.
The two songs, “I Thought I Lost You” performed by Miley Cyrus and John Travolta, and “Barking at the Moon”, performed by Jenny Lewis, are actually unexpectedly good, in a non-threatening bubblegum pop kind of way. Not being a teenage girl, and having never seen an episode of her hit TV show, I had actually never heard a Miley Cyrus song prior to this one, and I was quite surprised to hear how strong and adult her voice is. I also quite liked the country inflection in her voice, which will undoubtedly appeal enormously to the children of middle-America; I can certainly see her snagging an Oscar nomination in the New Year, too. The other song, performed by Jenny Lewis of the indie rock band Rilo Kiley, is a more traditional-sounding country ballad, which is pleasant but ultimately unmemorable.
Bolt is the icing on the cake for Powell’s year; although it’s probably not his best score of the year (that accolade still goes to Hancock), there is still enough freshness and energy and sheer enthusiasm to make it an appealing, hugely enjoyable listen. The thematic content of the score is slightly lacking, in that there’s no truly memorable melody to take away, and the album from Disney is a touch on the short side (just 30 minutes of score minus the songs), but there’s still plenty to recommend. I’m not sure what all the nine year old Hannah Montana fans will make of the action music, but most of the John Powell fans are likely to be happy.
Buy the Bolt soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- I Thought I Lost You (written by Miley Cyrus and Jeffrey Steele, performed by Miley Cyrus and John Travolta) (3:36)
- Barking at the Moon (performed by Jenny Lewis) (3:17)
- Meet Bolt (1:49)
- Bolt Transforms (1:00)
- Scooter Chase (2:29)
- New York (1:44)
- Meet Mittens (1:25)
- The RV Park (2:14)
- A Fast Train (2:38)
- Where Were You on St. Rhino’s Day? (1:58)
- Sing-Along Rhino (0:42)
- Saving Mittens (1:02)
- House on Wheels (3:07)
- Las Vegas (2:01)
- A Friend in Need (1:13)
- Rescuing Penny (3:09)
- A Real Live Superbark (0:46)
- Unbelievable TV (1:20)
- Home at Last/Barking at the Moon (Reprise) (1:29)
Running Time: 37 minutes 08 seconds
Walt Disney Records D000278102 (2008)
Music composed by John Powell. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Germaine Franco, Randy Kerber, Kevin Kliesch, Dave Metzger and John Ashton Thomas. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by Thomas Carlson. Album produced by John Powell.