: (Randy Newman) A highly lovable
tale about the city where all the monsters that live under the bed
reside, Monsters, Inc.
offered a formula for success that
promised to rival the popularity of Shrek
in 2001. The film was
the fourth collaboration between Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar, earning
a place alongside the two Toy Story
films and A Bug's Life
as superior entries in the new generation of computer-generated
animation. And like those predecessors, Monsters, Inc.
charms without the need for perpetual songs. After a number of years in
the late 1980's and early 1990's when the realms of animation films and
scores were defined by the pairing of Walt Disney and composer Alan
Menken, the late 1990's and early 2000's experienced a splintering of
the animation world. With Dreamworks, Fox, and Pixar all joining Disney
in the animated filmmaking scene, several different composers began
competing in a rivalry of quality film music for the genre. For
Dreamworks, it was John Powell. For Fox, shortly, it was David Newman.
For Disney and Pixar, it was Randy Newman. For Disney's dramatic side,
it was James Newton Howard. In the periphery of straight-to-video
releases were John Debney and Joel McNeely. Eventually, the battle for
the most attention in the animation music scene came down to the vastly
different styles of Powell (and often his cohort Harry Gregson-Williams)
and Randy Newman. Film music fans who value the scores for these often
wacky animation films took a strong liking to Powell's style, which
melded large orchestral ensembles with state of the art electronics.
Fickle mainstream audiences (and those who by far purchase the most
albums), however, were still more interested in the songs because of
lingering desire for musicals, and in the era of Monsters, Inc.
nobody wrote more popular songs for the genre than Newman. His lazy jazz
was synonymous with Disney and Pixar pictures in the days before Thomas
Newman's involvement, and little kids and their parents seemed to love
it each and every time.
In fact, Randy Newman was so popular from his
widespread awards and public appearances that his Monsters, Inc.
album initially performed strongly even with the mighty competition from
another soundtrack album that was released on the same day: John
Williams' Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
. Even against
such odds, Newman excelled. In a year of extremely strong competition,
was nominated by the Academy for both its score
and song, winning the latter award after years of frustrating loses for
Newman. But why all the love? Randy Newman was to Disney music in 2001
what Miss Cleo was for television psychics. In other words, whenever you
mentioned Disney music to the day's 8-year-olds and their parents, that
Randy Newman sound automatically popped into their minds. Even later in
the decade, the same was generally true. His slurring voice and upbeat,
jazzy scores had become a sort of icon. The sound certainly works in the
films, and it's a seemingly faultless marketing combination. Lost in the
mix, though, was the fact that Newman was still, after all is said and
done, a master of songwriting. His scores for these animation flicks are
cute and, of course, appropriate. But just as Alan Menken began doing in
his waning years at the Disney music helm, Newman eventually started
rehashing the same work that fans had heard in Toy Story
. He failed to take any chances in Monsters, Inc.
causing it become a predictable, mindless, and borderline boring
listening experience, especially compared to the refreshing attitude of
A Bug's Life
. Newman retained the same moderately sized
orchestral ensemble, acoustical elements, jazz band, and his own piano
and produced essentially the music that we had heard before. And with
in 2008, we'd hear a slightly more vintage and
dramatic variant of the same material. In a few noteworthy places,
Newman borrows a quote from a classical piece or an old Bernard Herrmann
staple, but even in his comedic interpolations of existing themes, the
orchestra treats the composition in a flat, procedural way.
The ensemble's performances yield none of the same
energy that you hear from the animation scores of Powell and Howard of
the era. For works such as Chicken Run
players sound as though they intentionally congregated to perform an
awesome piece of work, and that enthusiasm can be heard in the final
product. For the Randy Newman scores, as they progress up to
, the players become increasingly devoid of that
exuberance. There's nothing functionally wrong with Newman's style of
writing or its general application to the picture, but without any
snazzy new avenue of thought, the music quickly becomes evidence of a
composer on autopilot. There's simply nothing in Monsters, Inc.
to eclipse what was similarly done in Toy Story 2
and A Bug's
. The most frustrating aspect of Monsters, Inc.
failure to even try to take advantage of all the creative liberties that
the storyline offered it. Newman takes no chances in his instrumentation
or themes, not even inserting the wacky percussive elements that a film
such as this could have really used. Instead, we hear generic Newman
jazz that would perfectly accompany Saturday morning cartoons on
television. Even more disappointing about Monsters, Inc.
unfortunate fact that the title song, despite its Oscar, isn't very
appealing. "If I Didn't Have You" drags along without the zip that
listeners had come to expect (and even demand) from Newman. By
comparison, the song for A Bug's Life
is a fun, alluring, and
vivacious composition, enjoyable both in its vocal and instrumental
versions. Once again, both the song and score are perfectly fine for
, and Newman was indeed overdue for winning an
Oscar for his body of work through the years. But if Disney has visions
of ever winning another Academy Award for a score, then punting on
Newman was likely a prerequisite. The album for Monsters, Inc.
generous in its presentation of the score, with over 50 minutes of
orchestral material available, and no modern pop songs to spoil the mix.
Still, it's a disappointing product overall given Newman's lack of
stylistic alteration in light of so many possibilities. *** Amazon.com Price Hunt: CD or Download
|Bias Check:||For Randy Newman reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating
is 3.06 (in 18 reviews)|
and the average viewer rating is 3.04
(in 21,142 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.
The insert contains lyrics, extensive credits, and an advertisement poster for
other products related to the film, but no information about the score or film... Par
for the course.