Home > Reviews > GNOMEO & JULIET – Chris Bacon and James Newton Howard

GNOMEO & JULIET – Chris Bacon and James Newton Howard

gnomeojulietOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

There’s not a lot you can say about gnomes, really. They’re ugly little buggers, with their pot bellies and their pointy hats and beards and pipes and fishing rods. They look benign, like little miniature Santa Clauses, but they have evil in their hearts, every one of them. Beloved the world over by seriously deluded expatriate Germans and middle-aged gardeners who have run out of things to do with their flowerbeds, they have become figures of ridicule, in British culture at least – but this hasn’t stopped Touchstone from making a feature length animated film featuring the loathsome little bastards.

Incredibly, Gnomeo & Juliet takes the classic Shakespeare story of tragic romance and re-imagines it with gnomes and Elton John songs. Directed by Kelly Asbury, the film has attracted an astonishingly distinguished voice cast – James McAvoy as Gnomeo, Emily Blunt as Juliet, and supporting turns from Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters and Ozzy Osbourne – as well as a contribution from world famous rock artist Elton John. John has worked in film before of course, providing original songs for The Lion King and The Road to El Dorado, and even writing a conventional (and very good) score for the 1999 romantic comedy The Muse. His work on Gnomeo & Juliet is a three-pronged application of music, featuring several of his classic songs, two new ones penned especially for this film, and orchestral renditions of his songs within the score itself.

Nelly Furtado’s cover version of “Crocodile Rock” is a bit peculiar, but the six classic John songs – “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, “Your Song”, “Rocket Man”, “Tiny Dancer” and “Bennie and the Jets” – are as great as they always were, and hearing them is always a pleasure for fans of his music, of which I am one. I’m not entirely sure quite what classic Elton John songs have to do with garden gnomes, but I’m happy to go along with it. Fans of Lady Gaga (which, again, I am) will be disappointed to learn that her version of the song she wrote with John for the film, “Hello Hello”, does not appear on the soundtrack: the version here features John’s vocals only. It’s a peppy, upbeat little tune for two dwarves in love, but the version featuring Lady Gaga’s vocals is better. The other new song, “Love Builds a Garden”, is a nice enough ballad with a rhapsodic piano melody and a horticultural theme, which is very pleasant indeed.

The score for Gnomeo & Juliet is by Chris Bacon, the former protégé of James Newton Howard; he worked on Howard scores such as King Kong, Lady in the Water, Michael Clayton, I Am Legend and The Dark Knight as an orchestrator, conductor, synth programmer and technical advisor, before making his mark as a composer in his own right with the animated features Space Chimps and Alpha & Omega. He really was credited as ‘Chris P. Bacon’ – Crispy Bacon – for several years, but has now seemingly dropped the middle initial as he is getting more high profile solo projects.

The conceit in the score is in the fact that Bacon and Howard have interpolated the melodies of several Elton John songs into fabric of the score, arranged for full orchestra. The four score tracks – “Gnomeo and Juliet”, “Dandelions”, “Bennie and the Bunnies” and “Terrafirminator” – run for just over 17 minutes, and it’s actually quite fun playing ‘spot the song’. Variations of “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer” appear in the quirky opening cue, “Bennie and the Bunnies” features rousing renditions of both “Bennie and the Jets” and “I’m Still Standing”, while the raucous “Terrafirminator” re-imagines “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” as a wild and woolly Carl Stalling-style action sequence, which is something I never thought I’d live long enough to hear. Parts of “Terrafirminator” are actually very impressive in terms of being proper action material, and in parts it (somewhat improbably) reminds me of James Horner’s Willow, with thrusting string rhythms, brass triplets, rousing trumpet calls, light chorus, rumbling percussion, and even a chugging electric guitar towards the end of the cue.

When the classic John melodies are not playing, the music is generally light and undemanding, with charming orchestral lines, a magical feel, and a great deal of amiable Mickey Mouse action that makes excellent use of the more whimsical end of the orchestra: dancing strings, light woodwinds, harps and chimes. Most notably, “Dandelions” has an especially lovely performance of the new “Love Builds a Garden” melody on acoustic guitars with a light choral backing that is really quite delightful, before swelling into a majestic rendition of “Your Song” that is thoroughly splendid. With Howard’s help, Bacon is clearly comfortable in front of his orchestra, and manages to arrange the songs in such a manner that they almost feel organic and part of the score instead of a cynical conceit. He’s got a big future ahead of him.

Although Gnomeo & Juliet is not going to be a big hit with traditional score fans who are looking for a ‘proper’ James Newton Howard material, I actually found myself enjoying this album quite a bit. As an Elton John fan, I’ve always liked his songs, and the way Bacon and Howard treat them in the score is clever and fun, which is a lot more than you can say about a lot of film music these days. And besides, who can’t love a soundtrack which finishes with a performance of the insanely catchy Disney classic in “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room”?

Rating: ***½

Buy the Gnomeo & Juliet soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Hello Hello (written by Elton John, Stefani Germanotta and Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John) (3:44)
  • Crocodile Rock (written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, performed by Nelly Furtado feat. Elton John) (3:26)
  • Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting (written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John) (4:54)
  • Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John and Kiki Dee) (4:33)
  • Love Builds a Garden (written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John) (3:34)
  • Your Song (written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John) (4:01)
  • Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time) (written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John) (4:42)
  • Tiny Dancer (written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John) (6:14)
  • Bennie and the Jets (written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John) (5:20)
  • Gnomeo and Juliet (4:22)
  • Dandelions (4:24)
  • Bennie and the Bunnies (2:52)
  • Terrafirminator (5:24)
  • The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room (written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, performed by Wally Boag, Fulton Burley, Thurl Ravenscroft and The Mellomen) (2:37)

Running Time: 60 minutes 07 seconds

Buena Vista Records D001341292 (2011)

Music composed by Chris Bacon and James Newton Howard. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Jeff Atmajian, Jon Kull, Conrad Pope and John Ashton Thomas. Additional music by Stuart Michael Thomas and Gad Emile Zeitume. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Jim Weidman. Score produced by Jim Weidman, Stuart Michael Thomas and Ali Dee Theodore. Album produced by Elton John and David Furnish.

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