Thomas Newman's re-teaming with director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) had the composer integrating three cuts from the musical Hello, Dolly! plus material co-composed by Peter Gabriel into his original score, and the results on CD are quite uniform, if not pretty charming.
The show tunes, as mixed for the CD, emphasize the orchestral parts with Michael Crawford's vocals dialed down a bit, and the two excerpts – “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment” – along with an extract from Louis Armstrong's rendition of “La vie en rose” fade up and out, leaving Newman's impressions of what it's like to be a lonely little robot, finding a hot chick, and helping Humanity get off it's fattened arse.
Newman's writing style is easily recognizable: he likes to use long swathes of strings, and has an obsessive fixation on soft rhythmic textures that kind of glide through tones, timbres, and patterns without a single seam or stitch. Instruments glide through harmonic parts with an incredible lightness, and his strongest themes always nail the oddball qualities of a film's characters, and deep moments of isolation or personal tragedy (which is why that opening reel of Finding Nemo was astonishingly tragic. He nailed a father's loss, and nailed the exultation when dad discovers one kid managed to survive a pretty brutal massacre).
WALL-E's own theme is a giddy creation with a rhythm that repeatedly starts and stops, mimicking a robots' innate need to stop, assess, and process before proceeding to the job at hand. Soft alto saxes treat WALL-E like a little stop-and-go machine, bubbling with curiosity, while en emphasis on soft, low-toned string bass add a humorous off-beat, but never ridicule the character.
The theme for Eve was composed by Gabriel and Newman, and it's a straight instrumental piece that's deliberately comforting; the soothing tones and gentle unraveling establishes Eve as a trusting figure, and boosts audiences' anticipation in seeing how both characters will establish a bond.
Newman also explores some unique sounds, such as a the impressionistic “Worry Wait,” which begins with a compressed crescendo wherein all instruments converge from the chaotic sounds of an orchestra rehearsal into a unified, almost metallic sheen. The loneliness in the cue's second half – via half-hazard electronic pulses – is contrasted by the bliss within “First Date,” where Newman goes contemporary pop and adds retro vocals and a strumming guitar.
It's hard to characterize WALL-E as a sci-fi score because it's steeped in so many nuances. “Foreign Containment” is an elliptical, frenetic track, and while the instrumental colours are metallic, the processed tones and electronic drones still bubble with wit, making the cue less dramatic than “Repair Ward,” where Newman uses the full orchestra.
In addition to straight score cuts (many of them quite short), there's vocal source cuts - like the “BNL” jingle – as well as the Peter Gabriel-Thomas Newman theme song, “Down to Earth,” which evokes the score sounds to ensure some continuity. A few robot sound effects appear between tracks, but they tend to fadeout before an actual score cut begins.
Only qualms: the eco-friendly packaging is a bit coarse, so the CD will either have to be removed and re-inserted carefully, or kept in a separate case to avoid the inevitable scuffs.
Disney's CD is crisply mastered, and like Newman's Finding Nemo score, the WALL-E album conveys much of the film's energy, imagery and characters, and it'll probably get a lot of spin in players for its fun rhythms, soothing tones, and engaging vibes.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan