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TOY SOLDIERS – Robert Folk


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Toy Soldiers is an action drama directed by Daniel Petrie Jr., from a screenplay written by David Koepp. The plot concerns a Colombian terrorist, Luis Cali (Andrew Divoff), who launches a violent assault on an elite American prep school where the son of the judge who is prosecuting his drug lord father is a student. When his intended target cannot be found, Cali instead takes the entire school hostage, including the dean (Louis Gossett) and headmaster (Denholm Elliott), demanding that his father be released. However, Cali doesn’t count on a group of resourceful and rebellious students – Sean Astin and Wil Wheaton among them – who take steps to end the siege before the authorities can end it themselves. The film was a modest box office success back when it was released, but it has mostly been forgotten these days, which is quite unfortunate because it is not without its guilty pleasures.

One of those guilty pleasures – or, perhaps, simply a genuine pleasure – is its score by Robert Folk. Toy Soldiers was one of a series of outstanding scores Folk wrote towards the end of 1990 and into 1991, with the others including The Never Ending Story II and Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time, all of which taken together arguably represent the career high point for the composer in terms of music quality, project profile, and box office clout. Toy Soldiers is perhaps best described as one of the best Jerry Goldsmith scores that Jerry Goldsmith never wrote; it’s a perfect example of the type of thematic, punchy action music Goldsmith was writing at the time, filtered through Folk’s outstanding dramatic sensibilities. For far too much of his career Folk was lumbered with scoring an endless series of terrible Police Academy sequels and other stupid comedies, but Toy Soldiers is an example of what great things he could come up with for an interesting film that required drama, action, thematic density, and intelligent structure.

The score was recorded in Dublin with the Irish Film Orchestra, and is a mostly fully orchestral affair, with just a few electronic elements to add some color and texture. There are at least three main themes running through the score, two of which represent the Regis School and its pupils. The first, as presented in the opening cue “Regis School,” is a preppy and privileged-sounding melody for elegant strings and a bright, vivacious trumpet solo, the musical embodiment of upper-class educational prestige. The second Regis theme relates to the pupils who fight back against the terrorists, and is a more militaristic, nobly heroic variation on the first theme that gets its most prominent and rousing statement in “All’s Well,” which takes the same orchestrations but adds a sense of quiet dignity and warm camaraderie into the mix, and builds to a wonderfully sweeping finale.

Meanwhile, the main antagonists have a Terrorist theme, which gets its first recognizable outing in the second cue, “Escape from Barranquilla”. The theme is replete with striking strings, dangerous brass, and tempestuous percussion, and after a strong opening statement then becomes part of the fabric of the score’s first main action sequence, a punchy, thrilling musical escapade filled with rapped snare drums, energetic string runs, bold brass calls, piano clusters, tolling bells, and numerous statements of the aforementioned Terrorist theme. It’s super fun, and will especially appeal to fans of Jerry Goldsmith’s 1980s and 90s action material, with which Folk’s writing shares many stylistic similarities.

The first third of the score contains several statements of the two main Regis School themes. “Billy Escapes” is upbeat, scampering caper music, full of leaping woodwinds, and jaunty brass phrases. “Joey’s Death” is a more stark and solemn version that leans heavily into mournful solo trumpets, and at times gets quite dramatic and heavy. “Regis Captured” begins with a restatement of the school-specific melody, where the cheerful trumpets are underpinned by chugging strings, but it develops into a more dangerous-sounding finale, with dissonances in the brasses, and an aggressive encroachment of the Terrorist theme. “Reflections” offers a wistful string variation which is very appealing.

However, much of the bulk of the score’s middle section is given over to action, reflecting the manner in which Cali and his terrorists take over the school, and the ways in which the Regis students fight back. An early highlight is “Closing In,” which is unusual in the way Folk uses shrill woodwinds and ticking percussion to add to the sense of impending danger. The cue quickly emerges into a fabulous piece of bombastic action, full of scintillating string runs, flashy brass triplets, and relentless Horner-esque metallic percussion. The same can be said of the subsequent “Removing the Chips,” which plays like a march, militaristic and intense, and is full of snare drum riffs underpinning choppy brass pulses, accompanied by allusions to the main theme in the strings. There are several sequences of thrusting interplay between trombones and trumpets which really raise the energy levels tremendously. This is something that has always been a hallmark of Folk’s action writing, even going back to the early Police Academy sequels; the complexity and clever interplay between all the sections of the orchestra underlines his compositional prowess, and his knowledge of how to really make the ensemble shine. The instrumental lines are crisp and clear, so you can hear exactly what every section is doing, and how they complement each other.

Several other action sequences also stand out. “The Cellar” comes back to the militaristic march idea with a rhythmic core that reminds me of Goldsmith’s Lionheart. “Jack Gets It” is rampaging, energetic, and frenetic, full of shrieking woodwinds, shrill string flutters, and howling brass passages. Parts of “Uneasy Quiet” have a staccato relentlessness that reminds me of Goldsmith’s Capricorn One. “Back to Regis” contains a superb action arrangement of the Regis School theme. “Border Killing” is noticeably more intense than several other cues, and contains a dynamic statement of the Cali Terrorist theme. “Narrow Escape” is one of the few cues in which Folk uses synthetic elements, again mirroring Jerry Goldsmith’s similar usage, and in doing so makes it a tonal cousin of scores like Inner Space.

Towards the end of the score Folk embraces some subtler tones to create an atmosphere of drama and suspense that at times is quite palpable. In “Snap Out of It,” for example, Folk arranges his noble main theme with a nervous intensity and a sense of growing anxiety. “Interrogation” is filled with stark strings, menacing brass clusters, and stabbing metallic percussion. “Regis Surrounded” has hints of the score for Patton in the way the brass echoes through the rest of the orchestra, but then “The Plan” offers an excellent statement of the Regis Boys main theme which is anchored by a militaristic solo trumpet, and is imbued with an ambitious, can-do spirit. The conclusive “The End of Cali” is an action music bonanza, energetic, rhythmic, and resounding to fulsome statements of both main Regis themes. Punchy piano lines underpin the orchestra throughout the cue, giving it all a compelling sense of forward motion; the climax of the piece is hugely impressive, and is a timely reminder for those who might have forgotten (or who might never have known) of what a superb action composer Robert Folk always has been. The final cue, “Toy Soldiers,” then offers conclusive statements of the two Regis themes, noble and emotional, with especially prominent writing for oboe, bright brass, and sweeping strings.

The score for Toy Soldiers was released by Intrada Records at the time the film was released, but quickly went out of print and for most of the past twenty years or so has been a prized collectable commanding hefty prices on the secondary market. Copies do still crop up from time to time, but the fact that the entire score is available to stream online makes the price sort of moot these days. However, no matter how you choose to experience it, you must add Toy Soldiers to your playlists. It’s one of the best thematic orchestral action scores of the early 1990s, and overlooked gem which will absolutely appeal to fans of Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, and all those other composers who excelled at writing action film music like this. As I mentioned earlier, 1991 was one of the banner years of Robert Folk’s career, and the triple threat of this score, The Never Ending Story II, and Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time, represent some of the most outstanding film music he ever wrote.

Buy the Toy Soldiers soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Regis School (1:51)
  • Escape from Barranquilla (3:43)
  • Closing In (2:28)
  • All’s Well (2:00)
  • Billy Escapes (1:46)
  • Joey’s Death (3:43)
  • Regis Captured (3:51)
  • Reflections (2:19)
  • Demands (3:14)
  • Removing the Chips (3:59)
  • The Cellar (1:34)
  • Jack Gets It (1:38)
  • Uneasy Quiet (2:11)
  • Back to Regis (2:29)
  • Border Killing (4:03)
  • Narrow Escape (2:58)
  • Snap Out of It (4:06)
  • Mouthwash Incident (1:51)
  • Interrogation (1:45)
  • Regis Surrounded (1:32)
  • The Plan (2:11)
  • The Wrath of Joey’s Father (1:14)
  • The End of Cali (4:08)
  • Toy Soldiers (4:57)

Running Time: 65 minutes 31 seconds

Intrada MAF-7015D (1991)

Music composed and conducted by Robert Folk. Orchestrations by Robert Folk, Randy Miller and Peter Tomashek. Recorded and mixed by Brian Masterson. Edited by Ken Wannberg. Album produced by Robert Folk.

  1. April 29, 2021 at 1:02 am

    They don’t make ‘m like this anymore. Toy Soldiers remains one of my all time favorites and ‘The end of Cali’ must be the greatest action track ever! Why are there hardly any other action tracks like this? Big orchestra and rythmic percussion that builds to a great finale. Main theme is also of great beauty. Bravo Robert Folk!

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