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EPIC – Danny Elfman

epicOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Epic is an environmentally-themed animated adventure film for children, directed by Chris Wedge and loosely based on the novel ‘The Leaf Men and The Brave Good Bugs’ by William Joyce . It follows the adventures of a young girl named Mary Katherine who, while on a visit with her eccentric scientist father, is magically shrunk down to tiny size by Tara, Queen of the Forest, who lives nearby. Entrusted with delivering an ancient prophecy regarding the queen’s heir, Mary Katherine soon becomes involved in an aeons-old war between the heroic Leaf Men, who protect the forest, and the Boggans, who want to destroy it. As all these animated films these days, the film boasts an impressive voice cast, including Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Jason Sudeikis, and music stars Beyoncé Knowles, Pitbull and Steven Tyler.

The score for Epic is by Danny Elfman, writing his second score of 2013, and who – quite unbelievably – turned 60 years old the week the film opened in the United States. Waxing lyrical about Elfman’s career, his litany of classic scores, and his milestone birthday would probably be an appropriate thing to do at this point, but instead I’m going to concentrate on the music for this film, which by and large tries – and succeeds – to live up to its name.

Featuring a large orchestra, chorus and a number of regional specialty instruments, Epic is large-scale, loud, thematic and has several moments of genuine power and beauty. Elfman has always had a knack for capturing a sense of wonder and innocence through his music, and this score continues the trend, going all the way back to the early days of his career, but now we have the added bonus of being able to enjoy Elfman’s more sophisticated and accomplished compositional techniques alongside the heightened emotional content.

Parts of Epic are really superb, especially when the main theme comes into play and the orchestra builds to its largest forces. There’s a definite Irish lilt to the opening cue, “Leafmen”, which mixes sprightly string rhythms with George Doering’s acoustic guitar picking and an ooh-aah choir to fun effect. These stylistics, parts of which will provide long-time listeners with echoes of his 1993 score for Black Beauty, find their way into the dynamic “Moonhaven Parade”, the beautiful “Many Leaves”, and the gorgeous penultimate cue “Return”, maintaining a tonal center which firmly roots the score in its world.

The action music, in cues such as the second half of “Pursuit”, “Ambush”, the impressive (but incongruously titled) “Small”, the bold but brief “Kidnapped”, the alternately daring and ominous “Escape”, and the stirring “Epic Final Confrontation” is lively and energetic, often pitting fragmented statements of the main theme against florid, brisk and lively percussion rhythms and rich orchestrations that encompass much of the ensemble. Woodwinds tend to play quite a large role in keeping things light and airy, giving the world of the Leafmen a sense of harmony and nature, and the way the rhythmic core of these cues is passed around between string, brass and percussion is often enthralling.

More textural atmospherics dominate other cues. The opening moments of “Pursuit” and “Alarms”, for example, have more than a hint of the more dissonant parts of Edward Scissorhands, combined with some quite abstract woodwind phrasing and some of the slithery string effects from his Batman scores, while other cues such as “Tara’s Chamber” mix chimes to create an ethereal effect with darker, more tantalizing music for expressively bowed strings. The chimes give more sweeping pieces such as “The Selection”, “Tara’s Gift” and “False Start” a sense of magic and majesty that is quite excellent, and switch gears to give a sense of mysticism and subtle foreboding in “Rings of Knowledge”. The finale of this cue is quite superb, rising to a beautiful, poignant, gentle crescendo for orchestra, choir and flute.

One thing I should note: for some reason, Elfman’s central theme reminds me greatly of Irving Berlin’s classic 1926 song “Blue Skies”, and I can’t shake it from my subconscious – listen to the aforementioned “Ambush” and tell me I’m not dreaming. I’m sure it’s completely coincidental, much as the flash of the Canadian national anthem was in Oz The Great and Powerful earlier this year, but it’s still mildly distracting.

This small grumble aside, there are really no other complaints to be made about Epic. Perhaps the main theme could have been a little stronger and more front-and-center, but the lack of a really dominant melody is more than counteracted by the rich and lustrous orchestrations and the overall sense of magic Elfman brings to the rest of his music. Epic most definitely represents Elfman writing firmly in his warmly-hued comfort zone, creating whimsical and wondrous worlds through his enchanting writing, but Elfman’s comfort zone is arguably more comfortable than almost anyone else’s these days, and fans of his world will want to stay there for a while. Happy birthday.

Rating: ****

Buy the Epic soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Leafmen (1:17)
  • Pursuit (2:40)
  • Tara’s Chamber (3:03)
  • Meet Dad (0:34)
  • Moonhaven Parade (1:27)
  • Alarms (0:41)
  • The Selection (2:13)
  • Ambush (4:17)
  • Tara’s Gift (2:05)
  • Small (2:29)
  • Girl Meets Boy (3:24)
  • Rings of Knowledge (2:35)
  • Antlers (2:10)
  • Kidnapped (0:54)
  • In the House (3:39)
  • Many Leaves (1:54)
  • Escape (4:45)
  • False Start (3:07)
  • Epic Final Confrontation (3:19)
  • Return (4:18)
  • Epic Finale (1:34)

Running Time: 52 minutes 25 seconds

Sony Classical 88883735322 (2013)

Music composed by Danny Elfman. Orchestrations by Edgardo Simone. Additional music by Paul Mounsey. Featured musical soloist George Doering. Special vocal performances by Julie Minasian. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by Bill Abbott and Lisa Jaimes. Album produced by Danny Elfman.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,
  1. Shaun
    June 13, 2013 at 5:37 am

    Black Beauty was 1994. I just skim for date errors. 🙂

  2. January 2, 2021 at 11:40 am

    Who wrote ” rise up ”
    for closing credits of epic

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