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Horton Hears a Who by John Powell

Horton Hears a Who

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Horton Hears a Who (Soundtrack) by John Powell

Horton Hears a Who
Composed by John Powell
Varesè Sarabande Records (2008)

Rating: 6/10

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Listen to this soundclip of Horton Hears a WhoThe Jungle of Nool (393 kb)

Listen to this soundclip of Horton Hears a WhoEnter the Kangaroo (352 kb)

Listen to this soundclip of Horton Hears a WhoWe are Here (352 kb)


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“Like most of JOHN POWELL's other scores for animated feature films, you can be certain of one thing, and that is that you simply cannot be certain about what sort of musical styles or instruments might be injected into this score. ”

Music to Yopp By
Review by Christopher Coleman


From his feature debut on FACE/OFF, to his collaborative efforts with HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS, to his more recent barrage of solo projects, composer JOHN POWELL has fast become one of the most prolific and innovative composers in Hollywood. While clearly capable of delivering decent music for films in the romantic-comedy genre (P.S. I Love You) or action-dramas (The Bourne Series), some would say that Powell's creativity shines brightest when working in the genre of animated features. Some of his more celebrated scores have come from the burgeoning world of 3-D animation and include ANTZ, CHICKEN RUN, and SHREK. More recently, Powell has continued to provide an entertaining musical voice for his animated projects. 2008 is no different with two major 3-D animated films on the composers slate: his collaborative effort with Hans Zimmer for KUNG FU PANDA and the re-imagining of the classic from Dr. Suess - HORTON HEARS A WHO.

If the comedic line up of Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey wasn't enough to get you excited about the possibilities for unending spontaneous humor, then hopefully the announcement of JOHN POWELL as composer got you excited about the possibility of unending, genre-bending, underscore. As you might well come to expect for a feature like this, Powell leaves few stones unturned, and fewer stops un-pulled. HORTON HEARS A WHO is just full of the brand of zany-ness that animation composer-pioneers like: Scott Bradley, Raymond Scott and Carl Stalling would deliver, if they were writing today.

The 2008-iteration of this Horton story brings many contemporary ideals along with it...mostly in terms of the humor, but does manage to adhere to the foundation of the original Dr. Suess tale. In terms of the score as it operates within the film itself, the score was, at most times, underwhelming.  Perhaps this was due to the fact that I saw the film in the subtitled-for-the-hearing-impaired-variety, but the score was mixed so low that it was hard to appreciate. While the beginning and end of the film does feature John Powell's score front and center, in between it seems to become just as invisible as the Whos are. One's attention is much more focused on the Suessian visuals and uneven humor than Powell's music. When it comes to listening to the original soundtrack, as released by Varesè Sarabande, there is a distinctly different experience.

To start, Varesè Sarabande's release contains a fairly generous, 34 tracks totaling just under 1 hour-worth of music. Considering the film is but 88 minutes, we can be sure we've got the Hortons-share of Powell's score. Like most of JOHN POWELL's other scores for animated feature films, you can be certain of one thing, and that is that you simply cannot be certain about what sort of musical styles or instruments might be injected into his score. You might find parallel ideas with Happy Feet when the choir or trumpet accents appear such as in: Breakfast with the Mayor (8), The Town Council (10) and Mountain Chase (23). Still Powell seems to break forth from any constraints that HAPPY FEET or even ICE AGE 2 had placed upon him.  In several instances, John Powell jumps and switches styles of music and instrumentation several times within a single track!  Found in tracks such as: "Enter the Kangaroo" (5), "Hello" (11), "Dr. Larue" (12), and "Memory Game" (25), is a style that evokes those lauded names of Bradley, Scott, and Stalling. Another connection to the golden-age of cartoon-animation is Powell's use of the saxophones and bassoons. Whether it is in the nemesis Kangaroo's theme, "Enter the Kangaroo" (5) or in moments of levity or intensity, "We are Here" (29), the use of bassoons and especially saxophone resurrect a sonic-texture from animation's classic past.

As we progress through to the end of the soundtrack, JOHN POWELL's music grows in intensity. While there are a number of action cues throughout the soundtrack ["Banana Wars" (6), "Vlad Attack" (20)], the most interesting come towards its end. Tracks like "We Are Here" (29) and "Symphonophone" (30) are the epitome of "musical-suessification." With ties all the way back to the classic cartoon, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and even "The Grinch" (James Horner) the representation of the Whos is largely connected to the performance of a wide variety of musical instruments. As James Horner did, Powell does here - momentarily spotlighting instruments such as muted trumpets, tubas, bass drums, or accordion. Of course for HORTON HEARS A WHO, Powell layers in his own identifiable style with chorus, trumpet fanfares, bells and snare drums. Sadly the film ends with the big faux pas - the main characters singing REO Speedwagon's "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore." Thankfully, Varesè Sarabande was wise enough (or shrewd enough to avoid the licensing fees) to leave that unnecessary and un-listenable track off. Instead, the soundtrack concludes with an almost 7 minute suite of music from the film, "Horton Suite" (33), and, as John Powell does so well, a rapturous finale "A Big Ending" (34).

HORTON HEARS A WHO was a somewhat uneven film and that's not too surprising given that a children's short story is being stretched out to fill almost 1.5 hours.  Some of this "unevenness" is transferred finds its way into musical experience to some degree; thereby keeping Powell's latest effort a notch or two below some of his other earlier works for animated films (but certainly above ROBOTS). That being said, there is probably no better setting for John Powell's creative talents than a world from the mind of Dr. Suess. To hear a score that unashamedly puts the "looney" back in the "tunes" is a refreshing experience. Sure - it won't be something that is unceasingly listen to, but HORTON is definitely another score to be added to John Powell's pantheon of invention that should be long appreciated by many. With the box office success of this Horton tale, it would surprise few if the big, compassionate and faithful, pacaderm finds his way back to the big screen - perched atop a fragile, little egg. But if that were to happen, there'd certainly be a public "Yopp!" if John Powell was not hired to provide the score.

Rating: 6/10

 

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Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Fall From Tree 1:06  ***
2 Cave of Destiny 0:32  ***
3 Jungle of Nool 0:47  ***
4 Horton Takes a Luxurious Bath 1:42  ***
5 Enter the Kangaroo 1:13  ****
6 Banana Wars 1:03  ***
7 Saved 2:22  ***
8 Into Whoville/ Breakfast with the Mayor 3:04  ****
9 Club Nool 1:41  ***
10 The Town Council 1:13  ***
11 Hello 2:17  ***
12 Dr. Larue 1:17  ***
13 The Quest 1:36  ***
14 The Bridge Work 2:29  ***
15 Horton Dance! 0:24  ***
16 Handle with Care 1:21  ***
17 Bedtime 1:56  ***
18 Snow Day 1:18  ****
19 Horton Tells of the Kangaroo's Duplicity 2:30  ***
20 Vlad Attack 1:54  ***
21 Power Grab 2:45  ***
22 Kite Flying Day 1:22  ***
23 Mountain Chase 2:08  ****
24 Clover Filed Search 2:16  ***
25 Memory Game 1:04  ***
26 For the Children!! 0:59  ***
27 Angry Mob 2:40  ***
28 Roping and Caging 1:03  ***
29 We are Here 1:04  ****
30 Symphonophone 1:12  ****
31 JoJo Saves the Day 2:22  ****
32 Hall of Mayors 1:31  ***
33 Horton Suite 6:52  ***
34 A Big Ending 0:53  ***
  Total Running Time (approx) 60 minutes  

 

 
   

 

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