Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Created in 1947 by legendary Disney animator Carl Barks, the character Scrooge McDuck was popular for many years before finally being given his own animated TV series, Ducktales, in 1987. The show followed McDuck – Donald Duck’s Scottish uncle, the richest duck in the world – and his three grand-nephews (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) on a series of adventures, most of which either involved seeking out treasure, or thwarting the efforts of various assorted villains who were themselves seeking to steal Scrooge’s fortune. The show was a smash hit over its first three seasons, and paved the way for other new high quality Saturday morning series to be commissioned, including Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, and TaleSpin. Of course, a movie spin-off was inevitable, and so the summer of 1990 saw the premiere of Ducktales – The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp.

The film is directed by Bob Hathcock and sees Scrooge and his nephews travelling to the Middle East to inspect a recently discovered chest that contains the great treasure of the thief Collie Baba. Once there, the group finds an old lamp among the hoard, which Scrooge lets the children keep. It becomes apparent that the lamp contains a genie and soon the gang is rushing headlong into an adventure that involves a master thief named Dijon, an evil sorcerer named Merlock, and an ancient talisman which potentially allows its owner to control the world. The voice cast includes Alan Young as Scrooge, Disney legends Russi Taylor and June Foray, Richard Libertini as Dijon, Christopher Lloyd as Merlock, and Rip Taylor as the Genie.

The music for the Ducktales TV series had been written by the great Ron Jones, with a famous and catchy theme by pop songwriter Mark Mueller, but for the movie the producers turned to Hollywood royalty in the shape of composer David Newman. Newman is, of course, the son of the legendary composer Alfred Newman, nephew of fellow composers Emil Newman and Lionel Newman, brother of Thomas Newman, and cousin of Randy Newman. He had already enjoyed a great deal of commercial success in Hollywood prior to 1990, having written the scores for a series of popular comedies including Throw Momma from the Train in 1987, Heathers in 1988, and both Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and The War of the Roses in 1989. He had also worked with Disney on an animated film before, scoring The Brave Little Toaster in 1987, but Ducktales gave Newman his first real opportunity to emulate his father’s classic fully orchestral swashbuckling adventure scores – and he grasped it with both hands.

Ducktales – The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp is a rip-roaring extravaganza full of themes, bombastic action, and orchestral inventiveness. This is cartoon music, first and foremost, and is full of all the frivolous tempo changes, whiplash-inducing stylistic shifts, and light-hearted adventure that one would expect from a Disney movie such as this. However, Newman is a sophisticated composer with a storyteller’s brain, and he ensures that the score remains grounded through the inclusion of several recurring themes. There are character themes for Scrooge McDuck, Merlock, Dijon, and the Genie, plus two separate recurring action/adventure motifs, a unique motif for the treasure at the heart of the story, and a more downbeat idea relating to the loss of Scrooge’s fortune, as well as frequent allusions to Mark Mueller’s theme from the TV show. Perhaps the only real criticism one can level at the score is that none of these themes ever really emerges as a strong, identifiable idea for the score as a whole. The themes are so well-integrated into the body of the score that at times they tend to disappear into it, to the extent that if you’re not actively listening for them they never really leave a strong impression – which means that the score could potentially just float by as a series of dense and beautifully orchestrated action and chase sequences that never develop a unique identity.

This is not to say that the score is bereft of highlights, because it absolutely is not. The opening cue, “Coming In For A Landing,” introduces both of the score’s adventure motifs right from the outset, as part of a series of bold and rambunctious action music sequences that also frequently make allusions to the TV series theme. “The Seal of Collie Baba” introduces the busy march-like theme for Scrooge McDuck, the sinister and slightly insidious oboe theme for Dijon, and the more ominous cello-and-brass theme for Merlock in sequence, before eventually leading into the action-packed “The Pyramid,” which takes several of these themes and interpolates them into a series of wonderfully vibrant passages of orchestral flamboyance.

“Webby Discovers the Lantern” clearly has John Williams and Indiana Jones as a frame of reference, and is a superbly entertaining piece of melodrama and bombast that blends together Dijon’s theme, Merlock’s theme, the main Scrooge theme, and several of the recurring action motifs. The brass writing in this cue is especially complicated and impressive; Newman really puts his horn players through their paces here, making them layer multiple triplets on top of each other simultaneously, creating a dense bed of imposing bravado over which the thematic nuggets are placed. Counterbalancing this is “Scrooge Gets Depressed,” which is much more low key, and features some interesting writing for strings and solo trumpets. Similarly, “Back Home” is a fun, upbeat, but far-too-short piece of orchestral pageantry that acts as a scene-setter for when Scrooge and his family returns to McDuck Manor after their adventures in the desert.

The middle section of the score, from “Meet the Genie” through to “Ice Cream Sundae From The Sky,” is the most light-hearted and playful section, and underscores the sequences of the Ducks releasing the genie from his lamp, and dealing with the fallout from his un-constrained presence in Duckburg. “Meet the Genie” introduces the Genie theme, a silly, carefree piece full of crazy woodwind textures, offbeat rhythmic ideas, and a touch of the circus. Both “Mrs. Beakley Meets the Elephant” and “Ice Cream Sundae From The Sky” feature the Genie theme prominently, alongside multiple statements of the main Scrooge theme, but I fear that the unbridled chaos and effervescent mickey-mousing that Newman employs throughout them may be a little too saccharine for some listeners. Newman’s orchestra darts around like a thing possessed, jumping from xylophone runs to string scales to tinkling glockenspiels, harp glissandi, and fluttering woodwinds with gay abandon. The music never gives the listener time to breathe and, consequently, it all becomes a bit too much – it’s abundantly creative and a masterclass of orchestration, but your brain never has the opportunity to focus for more than a few seconds before Newman is off doing something else.

Thankfully, the final third of the score is much more focused, and sees Newman engaging in some of the most impressive action scoring of his career to that point. The seven-track run from “Merlock Sneaks Into The Mansion” through to the end of “Merlock Takes Control” is just superb, essentially a 35-minute action-adventure extravaganza, and includes several lengthy cues of more than 5 minutes where Newman is given the opportunity to really develop his music in a coherent manner, and reach for some notable heights of grandeur. Despite the comedy sound effects and Carl Stalling-style ‘sneaking around’ music in the opening few minutes, “Merlock Sneaks Into The Mansion” eventually grows to offer several rousing statements of Merlock’s theme amid a series of stirring whirligig action sequences based around the Genie’s riotous textures. Listen for the guest kazoos at 4:37!

“Merlock Goes For Scrooge” briefly revisits the regal McDuck Manor motif at the beginning of the cue, but quickly becomes much more sinister and oppressive, with both Dijon’s theme, Merlock’s theme, the main Scrooge theme, and the Genie theme competing for supremacy amid a whole host of yet more vibrant orchestral passages. I don’t know exactly what Newman is doing with his brass section at the 3:33 mark but the effect is fascinating, and sounds like one of Jerry Goldsmith’s more abstract flavors. “Dijon the Master” opens with a big statement of the adventure motif, followed by a scintillating variation on Merlock’s theme, but quickly settles down into a series of increasingly imposing statements of Dijon’s theme as the character asserts his dominance and malevolence. At times “Mission Impossible” feels like an Elmer Bernstein can-do march, full of positivity and entrepreneurial spirit, arranging the main Scrooge theme in the style of The Great Escape (but, sadly, with no Lalo Schifrin).

“Merlock Takes Control” underscores the film’s climactic scene where Merlock – having finally acquired the combined power of the lamp and the amulet – turns Scrooge’s money bin into a floating fortress of evil. All the score’s main themes are in play, weaving in and out of the most gregarious action writing yet; there’s a fabulous version of the Dijon theme arranged for tuba, a bold and heroic horn variant of the main Scrooge theme that starts at 1:56, and much more besides. The way the music adopts a sense of increasing speed and intensity as it develops is impressive, as are Newman’s full-throated action motifs which career headlong through the orchestra at breakneck pace. The conclusive couple of minutes are appropriately warm and inviting, and feature several memorable celebratory statements of the main Scrooge theme once Merlock and Dijon have finally been vanquished. The ”End Credits” then provides a nice conclusive summary of the main themes to finish, although some may be a little disappointed to learn that the orchestral statement of the Ducktales TV theme is not included; the version on the CD is Newman’s intended original take, into which the TV theme was edited in the final cut of the movie.

Despite the popularity of both TV show and film, the score for Ducktales – The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp was not released at the time the film came out. A hissy bootleg of the music appeared on the secondary market at some point in the 1990s, but for almost 30 years this was the only way to hear Newman’s terrific music – until 2017, when Intrada Records and producer Douglass Fake finally released it. The album contains more than an hour of music, including a couple of alternate bonus cues, and was released in a handsome package featuring liner notes by John Takis.

Fans of the Ducktales TV show – of which there are many – will love finally being able to get their hands on this wonderful musical souvenir from the movie. Similarly, those who have always been drawn to David Newman’s defiantly old-school orchestral writing will enjoy his unashamedly front-and-center approach here. Having said that, I can definitely see how some listeners will be turned off by the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink feeling the score has, as well as by Newman’s irrepressibly chipper and frolicking style. Newman’s action writing is undeniably impressive, but for my taste I prefer the slightly more coherent approach of subsequent scores like The Phantom, Operation Dumbo Drop, Galaxy Quest, and even parts of Anastasia. But, despite all this, Ducktales – The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp remains a fun diversion, a raucous blend of comedy, adventure, and heart that even the most miserly ducks are sure to glean some enjoyment from.

Buy the Ducktales soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Coming In For A Landing (1:56)
  • The Seal of Collie Baba (4:34)
  • The Pyramid (2:55)
  • The Ducks Use Their Marbles (1:10)
  • Webby Discovers the Lantern (4:43)
  • Scrooge Gets Depressed (1:17)
  • Back Home (0:22)
  • Meet the Genie (2:30)
  • Mrs. Beakley Meets the Elephant (1:39)
  • Ice Cream Sundae From The Sky (1:43)
  • The Story of the Talisman (2:25)
  • Morning Becomes Merlock (1:00)
  • Merlock Sneaks Into the Mansion (6:01)
  • Scrooge Gets the Lamp (0:20)
  • I Wish For the Treasure of Collie Baba (1:48)
  • Merlock Goes For Scrooge (6:16)
  • Dijon the Master (4:25)
  • Mission Impossible (5:45)
  • Merlock Takes Control (10:06)
  • End Credits (4:18)
  • The Pyramid (Original) (2:54) BONUS
  • Merlock Goes For Scrooge (Long Version) (2:27) BONUS

Running Time: 70 minutes 52 seconds

Intrada ISC-372 (1990/2017)

Music composed and conducted by David Newman. Orchestrations by David Newman. Ducktales theme by Mark Mueller. Recorded and mixed by Tim Boyle. Edited by Craig Pettigrew. Score produced by David Newman. Album produced by Douglass Fake.

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