ScoreKeeper Reviews Danny Elfman's CHARLOTTE'S WEB Score!!
Greetings! ScoreKeeper here with an aural window into one of the more anticipated scores of the year, CHARLOTTE’S WEB (2006) by Danny Elfman.
Admittedly, I am an ardent fan of Elfman primarily because his work transcends the contributions of a mere musician. He is a filmmaker who routinely displays his virtuosic knowledge of storytelling in almost every score. His instincts on how music works in a film have always impressed me, and there aren’t many composers who compare with his pin-point emotional accuracy.
Although I grew up with an affinity for the animated CHARLOTTE’S WEB (1973) as well as the book, not much has piqued my interest in this latest version other than Elfman’s attachment. It seems an ideal vehicle for Elfman’s unapologetic brand of magical music with a wistful twist.
Upon absorbing the music it will most certainly place me in my local theater when this film hits screens on December 15th. Here is a track listing of the score as it appears on the CD (Sony Classical 88697 02989 2) which is due out December 5th:
1. MAIN TITLE (2:12)
2. THE INTRODUCTION (1:27)
3. LULLABY/ESCAPE (4:05) performed by Dakota Fanning
4. INTRODUCING CHARLOTTE (5:52)
5. IN THE MUD (1:00)
6. TEMPELTON (2:29)
7. THE PLAN BEGINS (2:57)
8. “SOME PIG” (1:29)
9. THE WORD SPREADS (2:55)
10. THE FALL MONTAGE (0:49)
11. THE DUMP (1:50)
12. “RADIANT” (1:43)
13. THE BIG DAY (0:54)
14. “HUMBLE” (2:52)
15. “TERRIFIC” (1:23)
16. FAREWELL CHARLOTTE (1:11)
17. WILBUR’S HOMECOMING (8:58)
18. ORDINARY MIRACLE (3:30) performed by Sarah McLachlan
The score commences with the “Main Title” and immediately Elfman begins to paint a picturesque panorama of the story’s setting. The first few brushstrokes of the score bounce off the canvas using Copland-esque rhythms while a staggered entry of pizzicato and arco strings dance with the surrounding accompaniment. The orchestra then rises to a rousingly energetic anthem of the main theme before politely subsiding to allow the first violins to continue unabated while a flute chirps in the distance. Elfman’s ubiquitous vocalize choir signals the coda with their lilting punctuation of each phrase.
The texture is decidedly orchestral but with the addition of guitar, fiddle and a simple battery of percussion it maintains an intimate, folk-like balance with a hint of Americana for good measure. When hearing this music there is little doubt the story takes place on a farm, but in typical Elfman fashion, he has swaddled it in a blanket of pure imagination. You are certainly aware something magical will happen here.
The following piece, “The Introduction,” begins like a thoughtful question before blossoming into an effervescent piano solo as virtuosic as it is beautiful. This rare display of concerto-like piano writing, not often heard in film music, was explored by Elfman in his first concert work SERENADA SCHIZOPHRANA (2005) in the first movement entitled “Pianos.” In the context of the film, it adds significantly to the allusion of a spider weaving a web.
One might be surprised to find Dakota Fanning performing the vocals in “Lullaby,” but in fact the subtle maladroitness in her voice gives it its guileless charm. It reminds me of the way Joe Hisaishi uses the child’s song in many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. The “Lullaby” theme is beautiful; a simple waltz analogous to Victor’s theme from CORPSE BRIDE (2005). It’s stately simplicity lays the foundation for what will evolve into Charlotte’s theme.
One of the first noteworthy cues on the disc is the indefatigable “Introducing Charlotte” which begins with a quote of Charlotte’s theme in the high violins. Showcasing Elfman’s innate sense of development, each phrase of the theme is then sent through an array of acrobatic variations. It’s impressive to hear Elfman weave a tremendous amount of material from such small threads of music. It’s a skill he has practiced intensively over his long career and one that is essential to perfecting the craft of musical composition. “In the Mud” demonstrates these skills as well with a fleeting burst of rapid developments of the main theme each cloaked in a variety of guises. I particularly love the intermittent double-stops on the fiddle. It’s not overwhelming at all but it gives it a dash of country spice for taste.
Elfman demonstrates devotion to his craft throughout this score, but the magnitude of his talent is never more evident than in the music for Charlotte and her web. It began with “The Introduction,” expanded to the stately “Introducing Charlotte” and then develops further in “The Plan Begins.” The virtuosic piano writing and soaring choir return capturing not just the activity of the moment but the magic enveloping it as well. Many will reflect on the music for EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990) while hearing this piece. It’s certainly one of my favorite tracks on the disc.
There are four messages which Charlotte weaves into her web. Elfman managed to capture each one in their own unique way. Not just in the meaning of the word itself but also by reflecting the reaction of those who witnessed it. The motorized energy of the “Main Title” makes a triumphant return at the revelation of “Some Pig.” It’s more folksy and slightly less orchestral than it’s opening counterpart but markedly more spirited and exhilarating.
The second of Charlotte’s messages, “Radiant,” picks up where Charlotte’s previous music left off. The piano returns once again along with these particularly cool percussive string harmonics which are doubled with celeste and a refrain of Charlotte’s theme on solo flute. “Humble” is the most intimate and perhaps the more playful of the four messages while “Terrific” reprises the excitement of “Some Pig” with a sprightly return of the main theme.
One of Elfman’s more refined specialties is ending a film. He indubitably knows how to finish a movie and CHARLOTTE’S WEB is no exception. “Farewell Charlotte” and “Wilbur’s Homecoming” represent some of the most beautiful music in the score. The former features a gorgeous refrain of Charlotte’s theme for strings, flute, celeste and choir. Subtle pauses in the progression of the melody suggest “But wait...” before its final rising cadence fades into complete stillness. Its unadulterated beauty can only be matched by its emotional fortitude.
“Wilbur’s Homecoming” is equally as powerful and at eight and a half minutes long, wraps up many of the musical ties woven throughout the score. Here we hear Elfman’s signature celeste, a gorgeous violoncello solo, and the subtle shading of a female choir all volleying fragments of the main theme, Charlotte’s theme, Tempelton’s theme and other leitmotifs. The main theme climaxes with full orchestra, guitar, choir, and a large brass section. I’m particularly partial to the melismatic choral parts which are a slight departure for Elfman. He tends to use choirs more for punctuation and shading. Here we get wonderful Mozartian vocal passages that traverse up and down the scale weaving in and out of each other. Simply sublime.
One of the traits I admire in Elfman’s work that appears evident in this score is that he doesn’t blanket long periods of the film with homogenous material. He treats each second of the story differently than the previous and subsequent seconds of the film. He’s constantly evaluating the film’s needs and giving each measure of the music a particular function in hopes of fulfilling those needs.
There are hundreds of hours worth of functionless film music being written these days. With Elfman I can always be assured that he’ll not only write music that I’ll have a particular proclivity to listen to outside of the film, but that it will also serve its role as a functional entity within the confines of the story.
Having heard the music for CHARLOTTE’S WEB countless times these past two weeks, I'm pretty sure that I love listening to this music. Now I have to wait patiently until the middle of December to find out if this music will function as spectacularly within the context of the film as it does when separated from it.
Other Articles By ScoreKeeper:
Klaus Badelt (05.25.06)
Bear McCreary (06.07.06)
Lalo Schifrin (06.18.06)
John Ottman (06.27.06)
Joseph LoDuca (08.21.06)
Alex Wurman (08.23.06)
Jeff Beal (09.08.06)
Chris Lennertz (09.29.06)
John Debney (10.15.06)
Howard Shore (11.15.06)
Clint Mansell (11.27.06)
THE DAVINCI CODE (2006) by Hans Zimmer (05.06.06)
THE PROMISE (2005) by Klaus Badelt (05.25.06)
NACHO LIBRE (2006) by Danny Elfman (06.10.06)
MONSTER HOUSE (2006) by Douglas Pipes (07.12.06)
PETITES PEUR PARTAGÉS by Mark Snow (08.29.06)
ScoreKeeper Reviews The Super Fantabulous ELMER BERNSTEIN'S FILM MUSIC COLLECTION!!
Who is Composing Which Scores This Summer (and Beyond)?? (05.09.06)
Elfman Removes his Credit from NACHO LIBRE? (06.12.06)
ScoreKeeper on John Williams’ New NBC Sunday Night Football Theme (09.01.06)
ScoreKeeper on Danny Elfman’s CHARLOTTE’S WEB Interview (09.05.06)
ScoreKeeper Considers the Film Music of Fantastic Fest (10.03.06)
ScoreKeeper’s Smolderin’ Potpourri of Cool Film Music News and Bits and Things!! (10.09.06)
ScoreKeeper Re: Marilyn Manson's Cover of NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS Tunes!! (10.26.06)
Basil Poledouris Is Gone (11.08.06)
Reviews THE DAVINCI CODE (2006) by Hans Zimmer (05.06.06) THE PROMISE (2005) by Klaus Badelt (05.25.06) NACHO LIBRE (2006) by Danny Elfman (06.10.06) MONSTER HOUSE (2006) by Douglas Pipes (07.12.06) PETITES PEUR PARTAGÉS by Mark Snow (08.29.06) ScoreKeeper Reviews The Super Fantabulous ELMER BERNSTEIN'S FILM MUSIC COLLECTION!! (10.15.06)
Miscellaneous Who is Composing Which Scores This Summer (and Beyond)?? (05.09.06) Elfman Removes his Credit from NACHO LIBRE? (06.12.06) ScoreKeeper on John Williams’ New NBC Sunday Night Football Theme (09.01.06) ScoreKeeper on Danny Elfman’s CHARLOTTE’S WEB Interview (09.05.06) ScoreKeeper Considers the Film Music of Fantastic Fest (10.03.06) ScoreKeeper’s Smolderin’ Potpourri of Cool Film Music News and Bits and Things!! (10.09.06) ScoreKeeper Re: Marilyn Manson's Cover of NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS Tunes!! (10.26.06) Basil Poledouris Is Gone (11.08.06)
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Nov. 30, 2006, 11:07 a.m. CST
by Mister Man
Chill with the adjectives, Mellifluous Man.
Nov. 30, 2006, 11:08 a.m. CST
by Osmosis Jones
Who would you idiots rather be listening to, Steve Jablonsky?
Nov. 30, 2006, 11:25 a.m. CST
... you morons. He wrote the greatest superhero themes of all time with Batman. And, its good that scorekeeper is constantly writing about worthwhile interesting things on this site... unlike many others. Keep it up dude. Elfman will be sorely missed on Spidey 3, as will John Dykstra. I pray these two holes will not be too massive.
Nov. 30, 2006, 12:52 p.m. CST
Just add water.
Nov. 30, 2006, 1:03 p.m. CST
I mean some of his music is really redundant but it's still pretty good.
Nov. 30, 2006, 1:18 p.m. CST
Equals flames on Optimus.
Nov. 30, 2006, 1:19 p.m. CST
After BATMAN and PEEWEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, my favorite Elfman score is the one for BACK TO SCHOOL.
Nov. 30, 2006, 2:07 p.m. CST
He has a recognizable style (that you can even hear in the Simpsons-Theme!), but John Williams got that too.<br> BTW: Best Elfman-score = Beetlejuice!
Nov. 30, 2006, 2:47 p.m. CST
Everything else is a copy of that one score.
Nov. 30, 2006, 4:36 p.m. CST
we're losing so many masters it's depressing. nice review btw, If I were you I wouldn't have reviewed it. you know the kids will only talk trash about it. to them Zimmer and his synthesized repetitive garbage is what constitutes as real music
Nov. 30, 2006, 4:38 p.m. CST
people think the repeats of music from the first movie was his choice. I guess they don't know that he wrote a lot of music but was cut out because it wasn't close enough to the temp music.
Nov. 30, 2006, 5:05 p.m. CST
by Det. John Kimble
Yep, that's an Elfman score. And it roxxors.
Nov. 30, 2006, 5:36 p.m. CST
Just listen to his soundtracks in chronological order to see (hear) how he's grown as an artist. He is one of the most creative composers in the business, especially with his opening themes (Mars Attacks, MIB, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I swear some people on this site think it's just cool to hate everything.
Nov. 30, 2006, 5:41 p.m. CST
is incredible. But I'm sure most haters have never heard that one.
Nov. 30, 2006, 5:47 p.m. CST
I did hear about Shirley Walker. I wrote an article about it a couple of hours ago. Hopefully it'll get posted soon. BTW, thanks.
Nov. 30, 2006, 7:45 p.m. CST
mind-blowingly good! That alone puts him on the top list. He has consistently been interesting and compelling.
Nov. 30, 2006, 9:21 p.m. CST
by Evil Hobbit
Hisaishi and Elfman indeed share a lot of similarities in the way they write music for film. I find one of the strongest things in Hisaishi's music his ability to create sweeping emotional music, crescendo upon crescendo by beautifull strings and humming brass but still being able to restraint the orchestra to not outdo themself. Elfman has a touch of doing this as well, peaces of Big Fish and the more rescent Corpse Bride pop in mind. I didn't had a chance to hear Dakota's vocal use in this score yet, it's still being shipped, but if it is like Hisaishi's use of children vocals in Miyazaki films I totally agree. And it fits the picture of restraint beauty. I remember a track from Nausicaa that was playing the theme in full orchestra only to suddenly hold back for a flashback where she stands alone in the valley as a young child. Highly rendered in warm colors using a children vocal in the score. It's such a peacefull and fruitfull addition that just made that scene more emotionally engaging then the average sentiment a lot of composers would write for it. It worked so well because aldo it reflects as a past that is long gone for Nausicaa and the memory of it is sad, the real emotion of it was a happy one. So the vocal was happy and warm. This way of writing is close to the characters and the story and I think Elfmans way of writing is also composing to tell the story in musical rendition. In this way you can always see the story when you listen to the music. A lot of times scores tend to only 'Mickey Mouse' the images onscreen and when listening to it at home you only relive a few moments of scenes instead of the story. A score like Elfmans or Hisaishi tend to do the last which makes the music and album a real joy to listen to at home. A truly great composer who for me belongs to one of the very best of our time.
Nov. 30, 2006, 9:57 p.m. CST
But you have great observations on film music. I'm a huge fan of Hisaishi and I never made the comparison between he and Elfman's work until this review. I agree with you on their similarities. It's been interesting to ponder. In CHARLOTTE'S WEB I don't think the child's vocal is used quite as prominently as Hisaishi would have taken it (I don't know though, it's only one phrase on the CD...maybe it's used more in the film) but it did strike me as something Hisaishi would have done if only for that moment. Nausicaa is a gorgeous score! As much as these two composers can get powerful it's indeed their restraint that I think makes them shine. Listen for that with Elfman's "Farewell Charlotte." It's so subtle but so incredibly powerful! Great post. Love the thoughts you planted in my brain.
Nov. 30, 2006, 11:40 p.m. CST
by Evil Hobbit
I love Hisaishi. His work on Miyazaki films is brilliant but I would also love to see him collaborate with Kitano again one day. Kikujiro, Hana-bi, Dolls. Great stuff.
Dec. 1, 2006, 3:29 a.m. CST
..other than just hating the few big genre ones you all know. Elfman has a LOT more going on than just superheroes & choirs. Check out "Black Beauty", "Sommersby", "Good Will Hunting"..even "Big Fish", then come back here and tell us he's doing the same score over & over - that's just ignorance. Try using your imaginations. It might hurt a little, but try.
Dec. 1, 2006, 9:30 a.m. CST
...buys and listens to a movie soundtrack? Go buy a Boards of Canada album and listen to some real music geeks.
Dec. 1, 2006, 9:33 a.m. CST
And Danny Elfman has indeed spent the last fifteen years rehashing the score to Edward Scissorhands.
Dec. 1, 2006, 10:36 a.m. CST
TIM BURTON thinks he's a visionary and won't stop making the same twiggy movie. When working with OTHER directors, Elfman can make new music.
Dec. 1, 2006, 12:14 p.m. CST
Is it just me or is there a story about a composer or a particular score every day now? Don't get me wrong, composers are underrated...but are they really COOL in terms of movie geekdom? I mean, who gives a shit? If Bernard Hermann rises from the grave and scores something, hey, now THAT'S cool, but otherwise, come on... Best Boys and Gaffers are important to the making of a movie, too, but we don't have fifty articles on them here... I mean, I listen to classical music, but I don't think these discussions necessarily fit here. But that's just me.
Dec. 1, 2006, 7:15 p.m. CST
http://superherohype.com/news/spider-mannews.php?id=4962 it's just a rumor at this point. he'll probably do what Zimmer usually does which is just right 2 or 3 themes and have Young expand those themes in the movie
Dec. 1, 2006, 10:49 p.m. CST
Dec. 1, 2006, 10:53 p.m. CST
Dec. 1, 2006, 10:58 p.m. CST
Harry, you and your cheap ass fucking website, you need to UPGRADE!
Dec. 4, 2006, 2:32 a.m. CST
May 16, 2007, 7:43 a.m. CST
May 20, 2007, 3:26 p.m. CST
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