Composed By: John Powell
Label: Walt Disney Records
Finally! John Powell scores a Disney movie! Forgive my excitement, but for all the animated movie scores Powell has composed it’s a wonder and a shame Disney hasn’t had him on board to do one of theirs. Now it’s happened and the results couldn’t be better.
Disney’s animation department has wallowed for over a decade, playing third fiddle to Dreamworks (Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda) and 20th Century Fox (Ice Age, Robots) and generally hiding in partner Pixar’s shadow. With the release of Bolt Disney launched itself back into the game, producing a movie worthy of the name on their letterhead. Among the many elements that make the movie a success is its soundtrack; not a surprise given the man they tapped to compose it.
As I mentioned before, John Powell is no stranger to animated movies, having written the scores for Kung Fu Panda, Horton Hears a Who, Shrek and all three Ice Age films, just to name a few. Part of what makes him such a great fit is the range he is able to play to within the same film. Given the tendency of animated films to go from comedy to drama to tragedy and back to comedy in a matter of minutes, it takes a solid, flexible composer to keep up.
The movie opens with a sweet and delightful scene of puppy attacking a clearly malevolent toy carrot while awaiting adoption in a corner of the pet shelter. The moment grows sweeter when a little girl comes in and picks the puppy out, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The cue, simply titled “Meet Bolt” is equally magical. Powell shows his lighter side right off the bat, following it up with a beautiful piano and strings rendition of Bolt and Penny’s theme. It’s the perfect set up for an action adventure movie with a lot of heart.
The swing couldn’t be more dramatic for the movie or the score as both jump directly to the next scene, an unexpectedly fast paced action sequence that you can’t help but compare to The Incredibles. Not a problem for Powell who has a lot of experience with getting audiences blood pumping. His work on Mr. and Mrs. Smith and the Bourne trilogy are some examples of his ability to generate a musical adrenaline rush and he carries it through with “Bolt Transforms” and “The Scooter Chase”. As always Powell’s talent with percussion shines through. Though action packed, he keeps it playful, giving nice nods to over-the-top seventies action TV shows.
Wherever Bolt goes, Powell faithfully follows. Whether the dog is in New York, Las Vegas or hitchhiking across the American Midwest, the composer finds music to match. A little bit of east coast mob (“Meet Mittens”) or Copeland-esque horns and flutes (“House on Wheels”), Powell finds the perfect match every time.
Another set of highlights are the cues for Bolt’s copious rescues (“Where Were You On St. Rhino’s Day”, “Rescuing Penny”). The music soars with the kind of surging strings and brass bravado that will send a chill down your spine. It’s something of a trademark for Powell. If you need a solid example, go break out your Shrek DVD and fast forward to the dragon flight scene. Close your eyes and hit play.
The score wouldn’t be complete without Bolt’s television show theme. It would be even less complete without Rhino singing along with the theme just like he does in the film. I dare you to listen to it without cracking a grin, whether you’ve seen the movie or not.
Bolt’s score is a gem, but if it has a weakness it’s in the amount of music actually included on the disc. Even after you roll in the two songs from the film, “Barking At The Moon” by Jenny Lewis and “I Thought I Lost You” by Miley Cyrus and John Travolta (which was nominated for a Golden Globe despite the creepiness that is Travolta singing country-style) the entire disc adds up to little more than half-an-hour and the fun is over all too soon. Fortunately Powell packs makes every note count. This is definitely one for the collection.
REVIEWER’S FAVORITE TRACK: “Rescuing Jenny” – Apart from being one of the few cues over three minutes long, it has the most exciting and energetic moments from the entire score (complete with a thunder bolt sound subtly rolled in) followed immediately by a beautiful piano solo of Penny and Bolt’s theme. On top of that, it’s my favorite scene from the movie.