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Review by Brad Green:
I wonder what Robert Louis Stevenson would make of this treatment of his classic tale? Probably something more positive than his reaction to critics who over-analysed it: he always maintained that Treasure Island shouldn’t be taken too seriously as it was simply his attempt at the archetypal romantic adventure. More than a hundred years of popularity screams his success, and while the author might have raised his eyebrows at those who would prise apart the story for meaning and metaphor, I’d like to think he would acknowledge the suitability of cinematic animation in bringing it to life. While there’s the possibility he’d be bemused by the new locale of the loot, I suspect he’d be pleasantly startled at the music the story has inspired. If there was a soundtrack playing in the back of RLS’s brain as he put the narrative together, it was probably a raucous chorus of Fifteen Men On A Dead Man’s Chest with the occasional embellishment of a screeching parrot. James Newton Howard, however, has honed in on the romance of the adventure and delivered an absolute marvel of a soundtrack – with barely a sea shanty in earshot. 

Howard has been going on quite a ride with these Disney animations. First he time-trotted back to the Mesozoic Age for Dinosaur, than a quick dip under the waves for Atlantis and now this literary launch into space. Always a versatile composer, he has taken to the genre like a pirate to a treasure hunt. With animation scoring, the music is often required to set scenes and provide overt emotional triggers; to an extent that would turn live action drama to kitsch. So it’s something of a free reign for a composer who revels in exploiting the full spectrum of an orchestra. 

The score for the spectacularly successful Dinosaur has been widely acclaimed; Atlantis wasn’t as popular a movie but the music was even better; and now Howard has taken the location of this latest to heart and reached higher again. The melodic hooks are captivating; the orchestral timbres glitter like stars; and from thematic brass fanfares to blithe celtic jigs he manages a very clever dance along the border between Disney convention and a distinct new flavour. He also checks his enthusiasm for combining samples with real orchestra – a technique that tarnished Dinosaur – and mostly limits the electronica to percussion and effects. For the action cues, he augments the orchestra with a little electric guitar to excellent effect. Overall, the pace is unrelenting, the entertainment value unwavering and fresh sonic jewels replace each other faster than you can say “pieces of eight”. 

Prefacing the score are the obligatory couple of pop songs. I wasn’t previously familiar with the name John Rzeznik, but when I heard his rough-hewn yet tuneful vocal against an edgy guitar arrangement the Goo Goo Dolls immediately sprang to mind. Suffice to say that some quick research revealed the former to in fact be the lead singer of the latter. It’s a characteristic style, and I like it. The disappointment here is that the songs don’t come close to the quality of the little pop gem from the City Of Angels soundtrack. Not that it matters. There’s tasty enough cake here without any cream. 

There’s now only one place left for the Disney-Howard combination to go. If they do end up in the future, let’s just hope that Howard takes this red-hot form with him, and leaves the samples buried. 

Published January 23, 2003

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TITLE: Treasure Planet
ID: 91521 336102
SCORE: James Newton Howard
SONGS: John Rzeznik

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