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Review by Brad Green:
What a time to go fishing around in Australian waters! Just when a belated inquest is launched into what really happened to Harold Holt, the PM who hasnít turned up for a single Question Time since he went for a dip off the Mornington Peninsula in 1967. The seas around that southern shore are notoriously hazardous, but no less dangerous than the calmer, eastern coastline if youíre the kind of marine life likely to be filched for display in a dentistís waiting room tank. Thatís the initial fate of the protagonist in this latest PIXAR charmer, and come to think of it Iím pretty sure I read a conspiracy theory suggesting that much the same thing happened to Holt -- Loony Conjecture Volume 101 from memory, falling somewhere between the Martian hypothesis and the unlikely speculation that the poor man simply drowned.†

Of course the magicians at PIXAR arenít so much concerned with the past as the future. After already dazzling us with computer simulations of light and shape and facial expression, they set themselves a new challenge here by evoking the murky milieu under the sea. They also set a new challenge for Thomas Newman, who unlike cousin Randy (score composer for all four previous PIXAR features) and to a lesser extent brother David (Ice Age; 102 Dalmations; Anastasia), is less known for effervescent, animated orchestrations as for being the broodiest of the Newman brood. His metier being unsettling, quirky or darkly dramatic soundscapes for films such as American Beauty, The Salton Sea and Road To Perdition.†

What we find here isnít so much Newman changing tack as the filmmakers angling for a soundtrack somewhat more scaly than Randyís zippy concoctions of swinging brass, swirling strings and melodic winks. The plot might be for the kiddies and the wit and visual wonder for all ages, but the score is strictly for connoisseurs. Forget the junior fish-burger, the forty cues of this soundtrack create nothing less than a freakishly extravagant seafood platter -- the kind which invites you to dive among bizarre shrimp-like crustaceans with monstrous heads bigger than their edible bits to discover confit of Patagonian tooth fish as the piece de resistance.†

On many soundtracks, a leviathan tally of cues doesnít really reveal anything. It may merely represent a division of music into manageable fillets. In this case, however, each brief track exists as its own tone poem. Instead of relying on recurring motifs to keep the score together, Newman establishes a sonic texture and then churns out a long series of short musical adventures. The main title Nemo Egg evokes an ocean ambience with piano and strings; around the next corner of coral we find the whacky woodwinds of Field Trip; and as the odyssey continues we encounter the conga, flute and wah-guitar funk of Foolproof; a captivating descending piano figure in Lost; a syncopated, rhythmic pot pourri in Filter Attempt; the delirious kookiness of Fish-O-Rama; a piano frolic funkier than tartar sauce in Curl Away My Son; a couple of jazz capers with stings in their progressions like the tentacles of an oversized jellyfish; and throughout, variegated tinges of exotic scales and indefinable instrument tonalities.

At the end of the journey, we end up on an entirely different shore. Beyond The Sea is a terrific old swinger originally made famous by Bobby Darin, and the version here is lifted from Robbie Williamsí 2001 release Swing When Your Winning. Beginning smoothly and building to a rollicking big brass sound, itís a worthy rendition of a great song. Among contempo rockers, Williams has about as much technique and versatility as any, and while he lacks some of the charismatic phrasing of the great swingers and crooners, he certainly doesnít sound like a popster reaching beyond his range.†

Notwithstanding that vibrant closing number, anyone expecting to be reeled in by Randy Newman-esq hooks might well find this CD disappointing; but his cousinís score does offer infinite possibilities for those prepared to dive into less familiar waters. Indeed if youíre in the mood it can almost spark the imagination as effectively as a good old fashioned conspiracy theory. Is Nemo really doing time in a mini-aquarium, or is that a red Chinese submarine urchin I detect in the background?†

Published September 11, 2003

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TITLE: Finding Nemo
ID: Disney/PIXAR
SCORE: Thomas Newman
FEATURED ARTIST : Robbie Williams

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