Aggie's Music

I usually blab about film scores on this blog, but I don't mind the occasional tangent towards other interests. :)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Randy Newman's score for "Cars"

I might as well start off with a soundtrack review, since I haven’t been able to finish reading that film music book I briefly talked about in my last post. I’m just not much of a reader. Maybe by the end of the summer...

Anyways, I’m going to review Randy Newman’s new score for ‘Cars’. Yes, the songs on the soundtrack are really good (my top favourites being Sheryl Crow’s ‘Real Gone’ and Rascal Flatts’ remake of ‘Life is a Highway’), but I want to concentrate on the score since not a lot of people have done that.

But first, and most importantly, I must impose on all of you to see this movie. Not the fact that my review contains spoilers, but because this is a VERY good film. I’d rather see Cars again then go to the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean or Superman Returns. It is a remarkable movie and I wish these words could pop out of the screen and slap sense into you in order to see it. Oh, if you have seen it, then that’s good. You’ll know my reasons for this paragraph.

Now, onto the review. Oh, wait.. I almost forgot..


Man, that looks ugly, but I’m a nice girl. Okay, here we go.

I am a fan of Randy Newman’s scores and songs. Not a lot of people are turned on by his voice or way of narration, but I simply love him. Makes me wish I lived my years in the 70s. I’ll admit I’m a new fan.. I got into him thanks to his musical work on the Toy Story films, A Bug’s Life, and Monsters, Inc. I was very excited to hear that he was doing the score for Cars, although it’s expected since John Lasseter used him for every Pixar film he directed.

The Cars soundtrack is easy to overlook. Lemme check my soundtrack... without the songs, Randy Newman composed around 20 minutes of work. That sounds whimpy compared to the average amount of time for a film score. But then again, Gustavo Santaolalla wrote almost the same amount for Brokeback Mountain. But I won’t go into that effortless score.

It’s difficult to get into the score right at the beginning. Sheryl Crow’s ‘Real Gone’ blasts through the speakers as the cars are racing around the oval track. You get so typed up with that in addition to the animation, you don’t feel Newman’s first track, ‘Opening Races’, get into place. It’s dumbed down so you can hear the sound effects.

Right from the beginning, you can tell Newman had fun bringing horns into this film, like he did in A Bug’s Life. Forget the strange guitar rock moment in the first track... I can’t really explain that part... I can only giggle at it. Not a bad opening though.

That’s not the only track that seems to get lost into the music. The scene before McQueen gets lost, when the sexy cars come in with their music and that Kenny G. song to lull Mack to sleep, is acting like it did with the first track. But, luckily, it’s a completely different scene and you can sort of feel the tension through the music of ‘McQueen’s Lost’. Quiet at first, but then transforms into a fun melody that guides McQueen through the road.

I’ll explain a few tracks in one paragraph... the ones that involve country style. I’ve never heard Newman do a take on country, but man does he nail it. I’m talking about ‘Bessie’, ‘New Road’, and ‘Tractor Tipping’. The latter is so much fun to listen too, even by itself. Every crowd that I’ve been to in theatres laughed at that particular scene.

One of my favourite tracks is ‘McQueen and Sally’, because this is the place where the animation hits your heart instead of your eyes. The racing scene was very lovely, but when McQueen sees that waterfall and those horns hit the high note (I almost felt like they were gonna miss the note... I think it’s pretty high for a brass instrument) and the orchestra joins in, you feel all warm inside. Not a lot of people think of the horns as a "warm" instrument.. string instruments usually come to mind. Hahahaha.

My favourite track, which, sadly, isn’t on the soundtrack, is when McQueen goes into Doc Hudson’s office and is in awe when he finds a Piston Cup.. the one thing he longs for more than anything in the world. It’s a simple track, but it truly brings that scene alive, the second McQueen sets his eyes on that cup.

Remember my last paragraph, because I’ll bring it up later on. One of the things that I adore about scores is when a melody is reused in a later scene of a film. If you think I’m talking about a ‘motive’ (like the theme to Star Wars or Jaws... funny that I used John Williams’ scores as examples), that’s not it. Motives are one thing, but when there is a melody that isn’t quite a motive, yet it is used in a later scene to remind someone of the earlier scene when it was first used, it can be very powerful. Newman sets a perfect example.

At the final scene, where the three race cars (including Lightning McQueen) face off in one race, there is some anticipating music. It’s about as predictable as anticipation music gets, but Newman’s still good at it. The best track during the final scenes is the last one, ‘The Big Race’, where an exciting major-minor melody really gets you into the mood. Now, here’s where the ‘reused melody’ idea comes in. One of the race cars (Chick Hicks) totals The King and when McQueen sees this on the big screen while driving, the music goes silent and he stops in his tracks... right before finishing the race of his life! He looks at the damaged race car, and is reminded of the image that Doc Hudson showed him when he was in a big crash after winning all those Piston Cups. A solo horn is played as McQueen goes back to help The King (Chick Hicks has passed the finish line by then), and it’s the same melody played during the scene where McQueen discovers Hudson’s Piston Cups.. but only with one instrument. This melody reminds us of that scene, and more importantly, connects those two scenes together. McQueen was dreaming of winning the Piston Cup his whole life, and in the end, he realizes that it’s just an empty cup.

That’s one of the things I really loved about this score. Melodic connection. It’s not just about the story fitting together, it’s the music as well. I loved the fact that Newman decided to use only one horn to reuse that melody, because it shows that even a single instrument can set the mood.

To be honest, this is the only score that I was looking forward to this year. I might as well go back in time and pick on some of the best. A few of my favourite film composers of all time are David Newman, Randy Newman, James Horner, Bernard Herrmann, and Jerry Goldsmith. They’re very distinct and I’ll be sure to explain why in future posts. I reaaally have to figure out how to post music on here like youtube does. If anybody can find me youtube clips of the Cars scenes I’m talking about, that’d be awesome. Thanks... I’ll try and post sooner than last time.


  • At 5:53 AM, Blogger Dominic said…

    I've just found this review, and I totally agree with you! Cars is such an underrated and misunderstood score!! It really is one of my all-time favorite scores, and I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only one!! However, Randy didn't write just 20 minutes of score - that was just the puny amount that Walt Disney Records decided to include on the OST. He actually wrote about an hour of score. I feel I must bring to your attention (if you don't already know) that the FYC (For Your Consideration) Disc for Best Original Score 2006 has 28 minutes of the score on it (sadly still not from your favorite scene) including the cue "Doc Racing" which is totally awesome. The other tracks also have previously unreleased material in them, including "Opening Race", "McQueen & Sally", "New Road", and others. In other words, the cues on the FYC are as they were originally written - not the edited and cut & spliced versions on the OST. This is particularly evident in "Opening Race" and "The Final Race". Here is a link to the FYC score that I've uploaded for you: Cars [FYC]

    Thanks again for such a smashing review!!


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