Music Reviews

Randy Newman

Monsters, Inc.: Original Soundtrack

Disney

“The soundtracks get me through.” I read that online somewhere recently. The writer was talking about Howard Shore’s excellent Fellowship of the Ring score and a pre-release version of John Williams’ Star Wars Episode II score, but the sentiment can be applied to any good soundtrack. If it does its job well, then it will serve as a bridge until you are able to see the film again, whether it is in the theater the next week, or on DVD when it’s finally released. Until Disney’s Monsters, Inc. makes it to DVD (09/17/2002), the soundtrack will have to get me through. Thankfully, Randy Newman makes that happen effortlessly.

Yes, the soundtrack includes the songwriter’s Oscar winning “If I Didn’t Have You,” twice actually – once performed by Sully and Mike (John Goodman and Billy Crystal) and once performed by Randy himself, opening and closing the album, respectively. Both versions hold their own charms. I never tire of hearing Randy alone with a piano, personally, and this is the only track where we get to hear him. But I’m sure kids (of any age) will smile at the actors singing in character as they did over the end credits in the film. That Newman deserved an Oscar is agreed on by most, it seems. But “did he deserve it for this song,” or “did he win because of previous snubs” are two viewpoints that have been debated at length recently. I tend to fall in the latter camp, feeling that this song was derivative of his other Disney themes, and not his best work (or even his best nominated work). However, I do congratulate him for his success.

The rest of the album is Randy conducting his score. This is some of the fullest and richest music for animation I have listened to in a long time, from the Monsters, Inc. intro which jazzes up the “If I Didn’t Have You” theme, to the hyper-kinetic “Ride of the Doors.” Newman is able to switch gears in an instant, from upbeat numbers evoking memories of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown scores, to moody, dangerous numbers reminiscent of John Williams. A key aspect present here, however, is imagery. While I have always adored the music that Guaraldi composed for the Peanuts gang, individual pieces never seemed to tell a story, separate from their visual counterparts. Newman’s tracks start slow and build to an apex, they fly and twist, then plummet back to Earth. That is what a cartoon needs in a score, and I haven’t heard a score this well aligned to a piece of animation since the old Warner Brothers shorts that Maurice Noble scored. That, my friends, is high praise indeed.

The only negative I can note for this album is the lack of originality. While Newman does match music seamlessly to the corresponding film, it all does seem evocative of something I’ve heard before. With the eclectic tempos and arrangements, I’ve heard it many places before, but still, none of it seems particularly fresh. Newman’s influences are far and wide, but they are also evident. This did not detract from my enjoyment of the album, however, as I appreciate all of these influences.

One nit to pick: while the album credits Newman as composer and conductor, and credits the trio who perform the main title, I was unable to determine which orchestra performed the rest of the score. This is a disservice to these fine musicians, as they performed stirring renditions of these tracks, and set the standard for anyone to follow, either performing these songs or recording a sequel. I will be listening to them whenever I feel the need to visit Monstropolis until I can see the movie again. The soundtrack will get me through, just fine.

Monsters, Inc.: http://www.monstersinc.com


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