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Up by Michael Giacchino


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 Up (Soundtrack) by Michael Giacchino
Disney - Pixar's Up (DVD)
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Up (Soundtrack) by Michael Giacchino

Composed by Michael Giacchino
Walt Disney Records (2009)

Rating: 8/10

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“Giacchino's UP gets a huge "thumbs up" from me. The experience of his original score went from mediocre to marvelous with a single viewing of the film. ”

It Crosses the Heart
Review by Christopher Coleman

Pixar's streak of critical and popular success is uncanny. With the possible exception of CARS, no matter how much hype, they seem to deliver one delightful film after another. After ten feature films, so lovingly and painstakingly put together, it really shouldn't come as a surprise any more, but somehow I find myself tickled with such surprise as I watch their handiwork each time. In UP, we have the simple tale of a lonely, aging man, Carl (voiced perfectly by Edward Asner), who has lost the love of his life and a specific promise of adventure they had covenanted to share. In a desperate act to make good on his promise to his late-wife, Ellie, Carl constructs the most unique "mobile-home" you'll ever see. With helium, latex, and the wind as his means, Carl is determined to bring his home to Paradise Falls in South America, rather than let it fall into the evil clutches of property developers. On his journey, he is befriended by the immediately likable, Russell, who is determined to earn his final "boy scout" merit badge by assisting an elderly person. With equal resistance, Carl's gang is further increased by the tag-alongs: Kevin, the elusive "snipe," Dug, the outcast from a pack of villainous pooches and, finally, Charles F. Muntz, the one-time adventurer.  What struck me about UP is that there isn't one glaring thing that makes the film so enjoyable, but a combination of many small elements. As with most Pixar creations, the characters are distinct and likable, not in spite of their flaws, but because of them. Their subtly, clever writing continues and their attention to fine detail never sharper. Counted among Pixar's "small elements" was the hiring of Michael Giacchino to provide the musical character for UP.

I'll first admit that upon first listen to this score, I was not overly impressed. The music was about what I had expected.  The score felt like an accurate musical depiction of our central character's hey-day era of the 30s - 40s, but nothing to get overly excited about. There was one clear theme that coursed through the entirety of the score. Solid, but again, I wasn't stirred to cheers yet. The action sequences were en par for Giacchino, which means that they were well crafted, but perhaps suffering only due to his own success and listener familiarity. Giacchino's UP simply didn't make a major impression on me. In fact, I thought that he had invaded a little of Randy Newman's territory. Then, I saw the film and my perception of the this score was changed considerably.

UP has it's share of laughs and entertaining action sequences, but it arguably delivers more "heart" than any previous Pixar film. While I have been moved to some degree in very specific moments of previous Pixar films, UP was the most touching yet. The film hits upon some serious ideas and issues (hence the PG rating), but emotionally this pays dividends.  Of course, it is one of the goals of the score to heighten the emotional content of any given scene, but, as further credit to Pixar's storytelling, the experience of all the other elements of UP (the writing, the voice acting, etc.) greatly affected my perception and appreciation of Giacchino's efforts. That simple title theme came to carry and emit all of the emotional weight shown in Carl and Ellie's relationship and Carl's determination to fulfill his promise to her. The title theme is a simple waltz, played on piano; sometimes echoing the romance between the two but also the loneliness of Carl after her passing. In "Married Life" we hear the most blissful performance of the theme as muted trumpet, violin, oboe, strings and piano take turns romancing the couple as well as us, the audience. Moving on through the story, Giacchino takes this little melody and tweaks, molds, and re-wraps it into a dozen or more variations - all of them different in the vibe they create but equally enjoyable to listen to.

As UP moves from it's emotional first act, the score takes its first turns in tone. The shift to the adventurous begins with "Carl Goes Up" which, if memory serves, was a piece that was replaced by a famous selection from the opera, "Carmen." As we progress further we hear the theme reprised many times, and ever the more heroic. Among the most dynamic performances are those found in action/chase tracks such as "Escape from Muntz Mountain" (13), "Memories Can Weigh You Down" (16), and "Seizing the Spirit of Adventure" (19). Oddly enough, the exhilaration heard in these tracks far exceeds any such feeling found in comparable action pieces from his earlier summer-work, STAR TREK. Perhaps it is simply that UP is a better fit for Giacchino's action style.  At the film's conclusion, with Carl having made his journey "to" and back again, MICHAEL GIACCHINO also returns his original theme to its home. In Carl's moment of emotional-breakthrough ("It's Just a House"), we hear the title performed simply at first, but then with a full and bright orchestra, removing that tinge of sadness that permeated the theme prior to. Finally, in "The Ellie Badge" (21), we hear the piece return to the simple, innocent performance on piano and strings and it is clear that Carl's childhood joy and love of life has been returned to him.

Of course, UP would have been sadly one-dimensional, if it were not for the additional motifs that Giacchino works into the story. Russell, Carl's uninvited, boyscout-guest, and their nemesis, Charles Muntz, are given noteworthy signatures, too. While introduced in a wrapper of latin-jazz in tracks such as "Walkin' the House" (7) and "Kevin Beak'n" (9), Russell, our little do-gooder, finally earns his own heroic, musical badge in "The Small Mailman Returns" (17). And what would this story be without it's villanous element?  Giacchino introduces the adventurer, Charles F. Muntz at the onset of the film, with a tune crafted in the iconic style of the 1930s ("Up with Titles"), but later becomes a mysterious melody in "The Explorer Motel" (12) and lastly a menacing anthem in "Seizing the Spirit of Adventure" (23). It is more than a little wonderful to hear MICHAEL GIACCHINO usage of these leading motifs; continually playing them off one another and crafting them to fit a wide variety of events and emotions.

Michael Giacchino's UP gets a huge "thumbs up" from me. The experience of his original score went from mediocre to marvelous with a single viewing of the film. While it is to be expected that hearing the music in its proper context is going to generally have a positive effect on one's relationship with the music on it's own, I cannot think of a recent film and score that this was more evident in. What I find strange is that Disney Records chose to release such an excellent effort as a digital-download only.  To their credit, the three sound-effect tracks are relegated to the end of the soundtrack, but unlike their release of Wall-E, they are not directly attached to any of the music tracks. MICHAEL GIACCHINO's score, which features: a nod to the classic cartoon scores of Carl Stalling, Milt Franklin and Raymond Scott, and his own, easily identifiable flare for solid action scoring, is refreshing wind that blows over a tired and dusty landscape of sameness that plagues the studio landscape. Big "ups" to Pixar for continuing to have the creative-guts to produce features like UP (not to mention their incredible shorts, like Partly Cloudly, which each feature) and to Michael Giacchino for not being afraid to return to "good, old fashioned" scoring techniques that have made classic animation features endure the tests of time and trend.

Rating: 8/10

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Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Up With Titles 0:52  ***
2 We're in the Club Now 0:43  ****
3 Married Life 4:10  *****
4 Carl Goes Up 3:33  ****
5 52 Chachki Pickup 1:14  ****
6 Paradise Found 1:03  ****
7 Walkin' The House 1:03  ***
8 Three Dog Dash 0:51  ****
9 Kevin Beak'n 1:14  ****
10 Canine Conundrum 2:03  ****
11 The Nickel Tour 0:52  ****
12 The Explorer Motel 1:26  ***
13 Escape From Muntz Mountain 2:43  ****
14 Giving Muntz the Bird 1:57  ****
15 Stuff We Did 2:13  ***
16 Memories Can Weigh You Down 1:22  *****
17 The Small Mailman Returns 3:11  ****
18 He's Got the Bird 0:29  ***
19 Seizing the Spirit of Adventure 5:19  *****
20 It's Just A House 1:59  ****
21 The Ellie Badge 1:30  ****
22 Up with End Credits 7:38  ****
23 The Spirit of Adventure 2:29  ****
24 Carl's Maiden Voyage (Skywalker Sound) 0:51  n/a
25 Muntz's Dark Reverie  (Skywalker Sound) 0:52  n/a
26 Meet Kevin in the Jungle  (Skywalker Sound) 1:32  n/a
  Total Running Time (approx) 54 minutes  





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